France admits Car of Tomorrow missed mark

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 12:14 AM

NASCAR officials rarely admit to making mistakes.

Tuesday brought one of those times,
NASCAR chairman Brian France admitted that the sanctioning body erred by not having a car that bore some resemblance to showroom models when it opted for the now-discontinued Car of Tomorrow that similar bodies for all cars in its Cup Series regardless of manufacturer. The COT, which was used for the past five seasons, was scrapped in favor of a new generation car that allows bodies similar to those used in showrooms and will debut in February at Daytona.
“We have said that we made some errors in — really in collaboration to getting to that car,” France said. “We achieved a lot of things with that car: Lower costs, as I said; safety went up; a lot of benefits that the industry and that the teams and drivers gained from that car.
“Obviously we got away from some things that historically had worked well for us: The manufacturer rivalry, which we’re excited about; the relevance issue with the car manufacturers. And then I think we put a lot more focus in the new car into the rules package surrounding the car. I can tell you we didn’t put nearly as much science into the old car as we tried to achieve better racing.”
Early reaction from drivers about the new car after tests has been positive, both about how the cars look and the possibility of better racing. NASCAR president Mike Helton said the jury is still out until the car is actually used in competition.
“On the computer, in the wind tunnel, at the race shops, at the R & D Center and at the racetracks, there’s never been as much effort put into a car to get it ready to go racing,” Helton said. “The testing that we’ve seen in Daytona, the testing we’ve seen in Charlotte shows us, and the voice that you hear that from, is the most important voice for the drivers to say that we think this car is going to offer up the best racing we’ve seen. It’s got us all going in the right direction, so we expect to see that.”
Inspections will be done with a laser system that France said is intended to prove that each car is within the rules. Hoods and decklids will be of carbon fiber to prevent the possibility of modification.
Because cars will no longer have a common body, France said he expects manufacturers to lobby for changes if they are getting beaten.
“I don’t think we ever enjoy a lot of good lobbying, that’s for sure,” France said. “But look, that’s part of it. There will be a little bit more of that, which we anticipate, to give the manufacturers the look that resembles their cars. Obviously we had to go away from the complete common (body) that really would have defined the old car. So that goes with the territory a little bit. But having said that, we’re also working closer with them than we ever have. They’re really excited about that, and that’s good for us and good for them.”
Helton indicated the sanctioning body has not devised a plan to deal with driver concussions in the wake of Dale Earnhardt Jr. sitting out races last fall after suffering two concussions in a short period.
“I think our most current issue is to take what we’ve learned from Dale’s experience and make sure the other drivers know what’s out there to collect data and for them to be in practice of, and then it’s an opportunity for us to look at what we might institute going forward.”
France and Helton also announced NASCAR is working on new equipment which will speed track drying in case of rain. The goal is cut drying time about 80 percent or from 2.5 hours to 30 minutes at Daytona.
The new equipment used compressed air and heat instead of the heat from the exhaust of jet engines that is used now. NASCAR director of racing operations Steve O’Donnell indicated that some of the new equipment should debut during Speedweeks at Daytona in conjunction with the jet dryers.