Saturday, August 15, 2009

Should the Sprint Cup's Car of Tomorrow be revised today?

A combination of years of study into improved safety and for fostering a healthy competitive atmosphere created the so-called Car of Tommorrow (COT) race car to replace an older style race vehicle which was being used since the purpose-built stock cars of the 1960s. While seen as a safer vehicle in its limited introduction to the 2007 Sprint Cup schedule, the COT's effectiveness in advancing NASCAR's record for close competition remains debated.

Running for its 75th time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series at the Michigan International Speedway the COT car continues to be daunted by questions on the performance of this race vehicle. Drivers have also been vocal about the bulky, uneasy handling of the car. When Kyle Busch won the first COT car race at Bristol, his victory lane comments were far from flattering about the car's driveability describing it as "sucks". Most recently, fan favourite driver Dale Earnhardt Jr diplomatically commented through media sources on the COT car saying "I think NASCAR could probably be a little more urgent in improving our product." In almost direct response to Earnhardt's statement, NASCAR's president Mike Helton comments a day later reiterated the sanctioning bodies' policy not make any major rule changes which may open up the performance potential of the COT. Though the COT is far from deserving a critical panning, Earnhardt's proposition of an easier to drive new car could work miracles in filling the grandstands which appeared less populated in recent years as race fans must consider there limited entertainment dollars. NASCAR's reluctance to make changes to the car is on the belief that by leaving the rules unchanged Sprint Cup teams would have a consistent baseline for developing the car. Cost of these proposed changes to teams has also been mentioned an obstacle.

The main basis of the COT was to increase the aerodynamic drag on the competition cars by increasing the vehicle's size and through implementing special drag-inducing features such as an adjustable front splitter. Through actual racing, this splitter has been proving to be an Achilles heel to the Sprint Cup drivers as continuous rubbing along the ground and trip off-track would wear out the splitter's retaining brackets or even the bulletproof material itself. A component of a less aerodynamic front end than compared to the previous car, the splitter contributed also to the vehicle's long held compliant of aero tightness called understeer. While the understeer concern has been a constantly addressed issue by Sprint Cup crews, the problem is far from being completely solved. However, the new car is proving quite entertaining at restrictor plate races as the aerodynamically deficient shape meant more horsepower from engine was needed in maintaining near 200 MPH speed, This provided near normal throttle response. The COT's shape was also more catering to straight line bump drafting since NASCAR aligned the bumpers. This proved to be the best design feature of the COT. The rear of the COT as well holds a rear wing replacing the long used spoiler on the Cup car. Though NASCAR argued that this aerodynamic device was suited to the Sprint Cup COT, planning for the anticipated Nationwide COT vehicle intends to carryover the spoiler in a slight twist.

When building the COT car, one of the objectives was to reduce the cost of racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. By standardizing measurements once left up to the teams to spend countless time and resources to enhance to specific tracks, NASCAR wanted to minimize the number of cars a team had to build to be competitive throughout the full Sprint Cup schedule. In the early stages of the COT in racing, Sprint Cup teams were seemingly able to exploit this advantage with cars raced at the Martinsville short track would also appear at the road course of Infineon Raceway. As could be expected, even the well-funded teams complained about the initial investment into building cars to all-new specifications. However, what those teams would rarely convey is that many major teams would be building new cars regardless to rule changes. In this aspect, NASCAR's Sprint Cup COT provided little to no savings as the superteam's stables grew equally as robust with cars as before 2008.

In opinion, is NASCAR truly happy with the performance of the Sprint Cup COT? NASCAR may be listening to the car owners about expenses to comply to new rules, but if the show improves, the investment may pay back as COT teething problems are now eliminated within teams and as concerns in the media.

No comments:

Post a Comment