NASCAR happy with COT, may accelerate rollout
by Pete McCole
March 1, 2007
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The Petty Racing Dodge Car of Tomorrow
Dodge/Getty Images

Over 50 NASCAR Nextel Cup teams converged on Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday for a two-day test in preparation for the debut of the new Car of Tomorrow, which will take to the track for its first race here on March 25.

Denny Hamlin set the fastest overall time of 15.706 seconds (122.170 mph) while leading two of the three sessions in the new Chevrolet Impala CoT. Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, also in a Chevy, was second-fastest to lead the evening session with a fast time of 15.727 seconds (122.007 mph). Fellow Chevy pilot Ward Burton was third fastest overall at 121.689 mph.


The Evernham Racing Dodge of Kasey Kahne
Dodge/Getty Images

Kasey Kahne clocked in fourth fastest overall with a top speed 121.628 mph in a Dodge Avenger. Greg Biffle was the fastest Ford, coming in sixth quickest at 121.497 mph.

Rookie A.J. Allmendinger, who has yet to qualify for a Nextel Cup Series event this season, was the fastest Toyota driver with a lap of 119.895 mph, 28th quickest in the afternoon session.

The overall speeds were more than six miles per hour slower than the track qualifying record of 128.709 mph, set in 2003 by Ryan Newman.

Wednesday’s test marked the first time teams have had a chance to put the new design through its paces on the bumpy, half-mile oval known for its close quarter racing and sheet-metal grinding crashes.

Despite earlier grumblings and complaints from team owners and drivers alike, most have come to accept the new car of the future, which, in a few short weeks, will become the car of today.

“From a driver's perspective, once you get in the car, it's just a car,” said driver Jeff Burton. “In my world, it's no longer about the Car of Tomorrow; it's just about a car, trying to do it better than everybody else. In my eyes, that's where we are.

“My car doesn't drive like a spaceship, it drives like a race car. The Car of Tomorrow is here today. For us in particular, we're just trying to build a database that we can start, you know, compiling information so that when we do come back here, when we go to Dover, other places, hopefully we can be as good as we need to be.”

So far, the biggest challenge facing most teams has been the new suspension on the Car of Tomorrow, which limits how far the shocks will travel, making the car difficult to handle around Bristol’s bumpy half-mile.

“This is a challenging race track because it has such high banking, fast speeds, the loads are very difficult to deal with,” said Jeff Gordon. “They are not allowing us to really mess with the heights of the car. Now we are on these bump stops and all these things that are new that we are learning on how we do the suspension. We are limited on how much travel we can have. We can't really adjust the height of the car so we are stuck with that.”

The spring Bristol race is one of 16 races where the Car of Tomorrow will take to the track, followed by 24 races planned for 2008 before moving to full-time in 2009.

According to Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby though, that schedule could be accelerated to bring the Car of Tomorrow up to full-time for the 2008 season.

“The three-year rollout schedule was actually developed out of what the owners felt comfortable with as far as a pace to replace their current inventory of racecars," Darby said. "What's come to light is that these cars are much easier to build. They can build them much faster than the current cars we're running. And with that fabrication process, they believe they can shorten those timelines - especially if they don't have to have the other program working over here.

"Whether we would expand the COT schedule for the 2007 season is probably not likely. But could we be all-in for 2008? I think that's very probable."

However, not everyone was so quick to agree with Darby’s idea.

"I think it is too early to commit to that,” said Gordon. “I understand from a financial standpoint, especially because I think there are a lot of teams that are behind because of the schedule that we are on with building both cars, but I think until we get through some races, it is too early.

“I think there might be a lot of changes that may need to happen for the good. I think that is why we are running it this year so we can get the car out there, put it in race conditions and really through the inspection process, go through qualifying, go through race prep, everything that it is going to take and really evaluate this car fully.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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