The Car of Tomorrow has become the Car of Today. What hasn’t changed about the race car running in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series since 2007 is that it’s difficult to drive.

Wider, taller and equipped with a front splitter that hugs the ground and a rear wing that gives the car a bit of sports car style, the so-called CoT is hard to balance. That makes passing difficult and draws constant complaints from the drivers, who generally dislike the car’s feel.

Worse, the templates that NASCAR technical inspectors use to make sure the cars are legal and as much alike as possible leave little room for innovation or creativity by the fabricators, designers and engineers.

At the recent town hall meetings NASCAR conducted in Charlotte for drivers and crew chiefs to air grievances and toss out new ideas, the CoT was reportedly the biggest topic of conversation.

But don’t expect major changes to the car that NASCAR designed and developed to promote cost-cutting and safety.

NASCAR chairman Brian France said last weekend at Michigan that the CoT has accomplished those goals. Even so, he hasn’t ruled out fine-tuning the one-size-fits-all concept.

“We think it has, and it doesn’t mean that, in the town hall meeting that we had a couple of weeks ago, that there aren’t some adjustments that we can make to do even better,” France said.

Longtime NASCAR star Jeff Burton, often an eloquent spokesman for the sport, said the problems are real, but he wouldn’t want to see any drastic changes to the cars.

“The fact that the cars are hard to drive, I’m not going to whine about that because this is supposed to be the hardest form of auto racing in North America,” he said. “It’s supposed to be hard.

“The only reason that being hard to drive makes it wrong is if it’s so hard to drive that you can’t race it side-by-side and you can’t put on competitive racing.”

But Burton videotapes all the Cup races and says they have been exciting to watch.

“I will take from that Phoenix race (in April) to right now and you show me a six- or seven-race stretch that has been as competitive as that six- or seven-race stretch and I will be shocked. …” he said.

The CoT was introduced with a 16-race schedule in 2007 and went to a full 36-race season last year. The biggest problem since its introduction has been wedding the tires from Goodyear, NASCAR’s exclusive tire supplier, with the new cars.

At some tracks, including Indianapolis and Atlanta, the tires have at times caused havoc. But that seems to be changing, with Goodyear working hard to find the right tire for the new car.

“I’ll tell you that Goodyear has brought tires the last three months that the cars have driven a lot better on,” Burton said. “If they continue to make those improvements I think there is less that has to be done to the car.”

Ryan Newman, who has an engineering degree from Purdue University, said the CoT doesn’t need big changes.

“Everybody has their opinion on what needs to change and whether it’s more front travel, making it a little smaller body so it doesn’t blow such a big hole in the air to make the racing a little bit better as far as drafting and things like that,” he said. “The bottom line, I still think it’s putting on a pretty good show. I mean racing has been more about track position the last six or seven years than it ever had been and part of that is due to strategy and crew chiefs taking their game to the next level.

“… Yeah, there’s things I could think about to make the race car better and (crew chief) Tony Gibson or Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt Jr. could tell you something that’s totally different and it might be better or it might be worse.”

Newman said it’s NASCAR’s job to take that information and make changes if necessary.

Jimmie Johnson, winner of the last three Cup championships, believes the key to making the cars better is communication.

“There were stages during the build of the CoT where a lot of people felt like their voices weren’t heard,” he said. “The next changes we make to this car to hopefully make it better on the 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks, that’s going to be a huge, huge step.

“It’s just nice to know (NASCAR is) listening as of now and, hopefully, this keeps moving forward.”

Given the recession, Burton said NASCAR also has to be aware of the bottom line.

“I wouldn’t support wholesale changes because of the cost,” he said.

Until now, NASCAR officials have been adamant that there wouldn’t be big changes to the CoT any time soon. But France indicated a slight change in that position.

“The new car is putting on great racing and it’s always debatable when you try something new that something’s going to be better than it was before,” he said. “It is very different from the old car. That takes some time and that’s settling in. … We think we have some things we’ll look at and they’ll be adjustments.”

If they improve racing, everyone will win.


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