NASCAR 2007: Car Of Tomorrow

Tomorrow is finally here for NASCAR's new version of the NEXTEL Cup car.

But the controversial new "Car of Tomorrow" design has many drivers and teams dragging their feet heading into the future.

After a five-year development program, NASCAR is introducing the new design at 16 races in 2007, beginning with the spring visit to Bristol.

It will be rolled out over the next three seasons, giving teams an opportunity to ease into the new version of the car over time.

The primary design considerations NASCAR cited for the creation of the COT are "safety innovations, performance and competition, and cost efficiency for teams."

But not everyone agrees with the initiative, or that criteria.

"I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of the 'Car of Tomorrow,' said Jeff Gordon. "I think there's some technology in there that's good. Certainly safety-wise, I think there's some things that I like."

The new design features two controversial elements that have been under fire by many since the car's introduction; a rear wing in place of the current spoiler and a splitter on the front nosepiece.

Gordon takes issue with both.

"The biggest issue I have with the car is it doesn't look like a racecar," Gordon said. "To me, I think of a 'ar of Tomorrow', I think of the ingenuity, technology. But I think we could have done it by also making it look like the 'Car of Tomorrow.' Have some futuristic things in it that look cool. It doesn't have that."

Roush Racing driver Matt Kenseth is another who isn't fond of the new COT design.

"It's funny," Kenseth said after a late season test session. "You're out here and the normal car looks like a racecar, and you catch a COT and it kind of looks like a school bus or something. It looks really, really strange, so it is going to take some getting used to."

While NASCAR believes eventually the COT will help teams reduce costs employing one chassis at the various siz and shaped tracks on the schedule, initially that won't be the case.

In 2007, teams wil be forced to add a fleet of COTs to their stable, in addition to the current edition car.

"I don't see how any of this is going to save us any money," said car owner Jack Roush. "NASCAR really didn't get as much if any input from the teams as I'd have liked to see and the roll-out of this initiative is literally going to cost teams many millions of dollars."

Another issue is whether the new design will actually produce close, side-by-side racing as NASCAR hopes. The boxier, taller car was designed to be less aerodynamic and provide bettr racing.

"It makes it real stable in the back," said Kurt Busch. "It makes it tighter to get the car to turn. You've got to get that front-end splitter on the ground and free it up somewhere else." Unfortunately, just making changes to the vehicles doesn't necessarily make them competition-ready. Each team and manufacturer still needs to assess the cars' performances in heavy traffic. Though the 'Car of Tomorrow' program has tested at Daytona, Charlotte, and Bristol, among a wide array of other tracks, even the drivers themselves know that the 'Car of Tomorrow' is not totally ready to take the green flag.

More testing is scheduled in the first quarter of 2007, but NASCAR has to hope the COT will be ready to race by March at Bristol.

The clock is ticking.





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NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2006

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