NASCAR's future car may not live up to all its hype
Posted: Thursday February 9, 2006 1:34PM; Updated: Thursday February 9, 2006 1:34PM
The Car of Tomorrow comes in two versions: winged (bottom) and spoiler (top).
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
By Tim Tuttle, SI.com
NASCAR's so-called Car of Tomorrow now has a more definitive timetable, with the new chassis scheduled to appear in 16 races next season. The rulers of the sport project enhanced driver safety, even better racing and car-cost reductions.
Saving drivers' lives and limiting injuries is always a laudable goal, and NASCAR has made tremendous gains since the death of Dale Earnhardt five years ago. The fortification of the area surrounding the driver, along with mandating the HANS device -- protecting the head and neck from snapping on impact -- have worked.
But improving the competition? Doubtful and difficult.
Races are won because teams have superior resources and leadership and the most talented drivers. The 2007 partial-season Nextel Cup Car of Tomorrow, with its raised profile, wider body and unfriendly-to-speed aerodynamic drag, won't change that. The top NASCAR teams always find a way to separate themselves from the also-rans.
NASCAR has built its prototype from computer models, a wonderful tool to be sure but no assurance of how 43 cars will run at Atlanta. Extensive time in the wind tunnel will be spent, too, and it provides a general idea of aero performance and adjustments required to go faster. But it's not a guarantee. Many an engineer has said upon finding that numbers from the tunnel don't match what's going on the track: "They don't race in wind tunnels."
And reduction in cost? Not guaranteed.
NASCAR says the basic platform of the COT will reduce the need to construct track-specific cars, which teams currently are doing for the wide range of ovals and two road courses. That benefit will become apparent when the entire series begins using it in 2009. NASCAR also promises a more standardized car for the teams to work on, which somehow is supposed help the owner writing the check.
But the roll-out financial burdens on the teams, sponsors and manufacturers will be extensive.
For three years, teams will be running two distinctly different cars. The richest teams will have the advantage of being able to afford all-out development on both. The others will have to balance how much of their budgets to put into a car that is being phased out and how much to put into the future.