Menard Fastest On Final Day

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TALLADEGA, Ala. – Approximately 50 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams concluded a two-day Car Of Tomorrow test session at Talladega Superspeedway on Tuesday, and the initial reviews were positive from both drivers and crew chiefs.

The COT, NASCAR’s next-generation race car which will be used fulltime on the Sprint Cup circuit next year, will make its debut on a restrictor-plate track during the running of the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega on Oct. 7. The test session was designed to give the teams an idea of what to expect next month, and most of them seemed pleased.

“I’m excited about it,” said Kurt Busch, the 2004 NEXTEL Cup champion. “It’s going to change the element of how Talladega races, and I think it will be twice as exciting.”

Indeed, despite the element of the unknown surrounding the new car, there were few complaints about how the COT handled on a restrictor-plate track. In fact, Bob Osborne, crew chief for the No. 99 Ford driven by Carl Edwards, said he has enjoyed the challenge of combining the new elements of the COT with the technology of restrictor-plate racing.

"The Car Of Tomorrow here is fun to work with,” Osborne said. “It’s challenging, but with the way this track is laid out and how smooth it is, it makes it a lot of fun.

“I don’t want to say that we’re running great, but I’m pretty happy.”

The biggest concern entering the test session was how the COT would handle the multi-car draft that is common at Talladega. Again, there appeared to be no complaints.

“They seem to draft well,” driver Casey Mears said. “It’s different than our other cars and the process of getting through the draft. That whole characteristic of how they suck up and what happens when you get right on somebody is definitely a lot different than our other car. It’s just a different characteristic. But once you get used to it, you start learning what the air is doing a little bit better and what the cars want versus our old cars. It’s fun. I enjoy it.”

After seeing top speeds hit the mid-190s during Monday’s test, NASCAR decided to use a slightly smaller restrictor plate (31/32nds instead of a full 1 inch) in order to lower the speeds. Paul Menard turned in the fastest lap time on Tuesday with a top speed of 193.045 mph. A total of 23 drivers posted top speeds in the 191-192 mph range.

“For the most part, we’re just getting adjusted to the car as far as what the car likes,” driver Ryan Newman said. “Drafting has been a lot of fun. I feel like the car drafted well. The speeds were a little bit fast (Monday) and they slowed the cars down, but that’s understandable. We have the tools to slow them down. NASCAR did a good job with that.”

Newman said the slight decrease in speed was offset by the smoothness of Talladega’s 2.66-mile tri-oval, which was repaved last year. So regardless of what restrictor-plate package is used for the UAW-Ford 500, Newman said the COT should put on a good show for the fans.

“The track has plenty of grip in it still. It doesn’t feel like the track has lost much grip,” Newman said. “We’re running about the same speed, and the bumpers on these cars line up a lot better, so you can push a lot harder. It should be a lot of fun. It should be a great race.”

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