NASCAR has that
new-car smell. Two months ago Toyota became the Nextel Cup's first foreign auto
manufacturer. And at this weekend's Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn., the Car of
Tomorrow debuts. The new race car (essentially a set of rigorous specifications
that manufacturers must adhere to) will run in 16 events this season. It is the
product of a seven-year study on how to make cars safer, cheaper and more
uniform. The CoT is relatively big and boxy—while not quite a Volvo station
wagon, it could run slightly slower than drivers are accustomed to. Tony
Stewart (above), for one, is keeping an open mind. "It still comes down to
feel," he says. "If you're comfortable, you're going to go fast. If
you're not comfortable, you're going to be a little timid."
Instead of the rear spoiler there's an adjustable aerodynamic panel that
smooths out the air behind the car. It will improve balance (less turbulent air
behind helps keep the car grounded), and the adjustability helps cuts costs.
Teams won't have to build special cars for specific tracks.
Big Brother is a big part of NASCAR's future. The CoT's body contains nine I.D.
chips that will help spot illegal setups: If the chips are altered or shifted
from their 220-point prerace inspection position, scans by NASCAR officials
will catch the illegal in-race tinkering.
Taller drivers like 6'4" Michael Waltrip will travel in more comfort. The
roll cage is 2 1/2 inches higher and four inches wider than on the current Cup
car, making the CoT considerably roomier and safer.
Teams can tinker with an adjustable aerodynamic element on the front too. The
splitter can be shifted forward or back four to six inches to direct air below
the front bumper. As with the rear wing, that flow helps keep the car firmly
planted on the asphalt.