Is Car of Tomorrow, NASCAR's future or downfall?

No one seems to be quite sure what to make of these odd- shaped, winged, boxy cars that are supposed to change the face of NASCAR. Some are using them as their deep-throated, personal wail of despair, a plea for sanity; a cry, if you will, to...

No one seems to be quite sure what to make of these odd- shaped, winged, boxy cars that are supposed to change the face of NASCAR. Some are using them as their deep-throated, personal wail of despair, a plea for sanity; a cry, if you will, to cease the madness.

Every once in a while a NASCAR change comes along that is so annoying, so intent on taking the fun out of racing, that you can only hope that drivers will instantly rise up and reject it roundly.

Have you seen it? Do you care? Have you already been, in equal turns, excited and horrified as pictures have emerged over the Internet? Or did you simply click past it on your way to making your fantasy racing picks shaking your head as you pine for the old days when drivers wore t-shirts and smoked Lucky Strikes in their cars under caution.

It's coming. It's a fact. It's not a threat. It's not a trend. It's the future.

It's the Car of Tomorrow.

But drivers aren't buying into the hype of a new car that supposedly is safer, will save the stock car racing and will cost teams less money.

"It does have some different aerodynamic characteristics and some things that we're going to have to get used to because of the hole that it punches in the air compared to what we have now," Ryan Newman assessed. "It's a bigger hole, which I think is going to make racing a little more difficult."

Does it matter? Not really. NASCAR is not a democracy it's a fiefdom. They want the Car of Tomorrow. They labored over it for five years and like it or not their offspring will debut at Bristol in the spring and be used at 15 other races in 2007.

And yes, it's a genius idea in theory. It's wonderful, awe-inspiring, weird and tremendously isolating all at once. As you can imagine, for some, it is a catastrophe of epic proportions.

"I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of the Car of Tomorrow," said four-time series champion Jeff Gordon. "I think there's some technology in there that's good. Certainly safety-wise, I think there are some things that I like. You know, I'm definitely - I drove the car in Michigan.

"By itself, it doesn't really drive that bad. I saw some guys have some cars here, at times they're off a little bit, but the cars out there on the track don't seem to be out of control or anything like that. They seem to be driving okay.

"I heard a lot of guys are having issues with the cars pushing, that they cannot get the push out of the car. That doesn't surprise me. If you look at the aerodynamics of the car, it's very rear downforce heavy. You can get all the rear downforce you want in the car. The front downforce, you're very limited. We had some issues at Michigan. We addressed those to NASCAR."

I'm stalwart in my opinion that it won't be as exciting as the Carousel of Tomorrow at Walt Disney World but you know kudos to NASCAR for throwing something against the wall and seeing if it sticks. But they are going to have to provide some sort of motivation to induce sheer panty-dampening thrills because the word on the street is that not only are the COT's ugly but that they are not going to produce the side-by-side, slingshot pass racing NASCAR has promised.

"I feel like what's happened with this car is not a lot of people took them serious, meaning the teams didn't take them serious, continued Gordon. "They were very serious about this Car of Tomorrow. Very few of the teams and engineers and really design people that could have been more involved were not involved because we thought that it wasn't something that seriously was going to happen in '07 or maybe '08. NASCAR took a stance to say, Hey, we are serious, this is going to happen. Here is the car. Either you like it or you don't like it, but you better get on board.

"Now the teams have seriously taken - are serious about it. They've gotten on board. I think we're going to start to see where we can start to massage that car and make it what I think the potential of it is. The biggest issue I have with the car is it doesn't look like a race car."

But it is, quite clearly, the shape of things to come. These boxier babies are all about design and money. They are the hot novelty. The new body type that will save NASCAR from sliding ratings, a new genus of nirvana for race fans. But if the racing doesn't improve and drivers continue to level heavy handed criticisms.well, then 'Houston, we have a problem'.

The main source of opposition is this: Teams have already spent a bundle creating COT prototypes that are already obsolete because of the constant changes that have been made to the body type. Furthermore, they are placed in the position of having to maintain production on their current cars while developing COT cars, adding burdensome costs to owners. The aerodynamic dependant COT versions have different transmission and rear end packages making the transition a greater headache for engineers.

Not to mention the obvious issue: In the end, some teams are going to figure it out and some teams aren't, which may widen the competition gap, not close it up. That would make NASCAR CEO Brian France's dream of seeing racing become about a driver's talent and not about the car collapse like a flan in a cupboard.

And then we will see the NASCAR machine scramble to fix the situation, sort of like when Matt Kenseth won the championship and they decided the point system that had been in place for decades was nothing but a big bag of hooey.

The closest correlation that rings true is the Mustang II. The four- cylinder chick mobile that replaced the much loved pony car inspiring Mustang; only to be phased out when Ford reintroduced its popular V8 model sending the "Splenda" version to the history books.

So, if nothing improves. If no bells chime, no sea parts, no Nielson computer implodes from the sheer impact of throngs of folk tuning into NASCAR, if no one smiles and says, "Wow this new car is going to make for the most exciting racing ever seen." Then a lot of highly technical reorganizing is going to have to be contemplated, because you can bet that they just won't abandon the idea altogether, why that would be too embarrassing.

That would be admitting that NASCAR has foibles. And that's just lunacy.

Right now, the early reviews sound more like a virgin after her first time: "That's it? Am I done? Should I do it again? Did I miss something here?"

To which NASCAR just smiles coyly, coldly, as stock car racing motors on under their watchful eye and TIVO users wear out their fast forward feature. Hell, maybe they know something we don't.

I mean, after all, they are smiling aren't they?

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About this article
Series General , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Ryan Newman