Car of Tomorrow debuts today

Today NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow (COT) becomes the Car of Today (COT). Wait a minute, that's the same acronym.

That will never do. How about if we call it the Car of Now (CON)? No, if I do that, people will think I'm accusing NASCAR of a CON job, and I would never do that. OK, well just call it the New Car (NC) and let it go at that.

Whatever you want to call it, NASCAR's project to enhance safety while squashing innovation by crew chiefs makes its racing debut just after noon local time today. The fact that NASCAR chose to debut the car at Bristol rather than one of its many cookie-cutter 1.5 mile tracks is curious.

Bristol is usually such a wreck-fest due to the nature of putting 43 fast, large race cars on a half-mile track, that any issues brought about by the new design are likely to be lost in the general chaos. And with Martinsville, another short track, coming up next weekend, there may not be many cars in any condition to run the next scheduled test at Richmond the following week.

The whole idea of the project was to improve driver survivability and cut costs for teams in the long run. I applaud the safety aspect, but question the cost-cutting part of the equation.

OK, the idea is that teams will have to build fewer cars, as the new inspection template tool (the "claw") will eliminate a lot of the bodywork aero fudging that has led teams to build multiple cars not only for different types of tracks, but even for individual tracks and specific races. But the initial cost in building a fleet of new cars and doing the engineering to make them go fast is horrendous, and the teams with big budgets will still be at the front of the grid.

So it's no surprise that Jeff Gordon's Hendrick Chevy sits on the pole for the new car's debut, with teammate Jimmy Johnson not far behind in sixth. Gibbs Racing and Roush-Fenway are also in evidence at the front end of the field. However, I was happy to see A.J. Allmendinger finally make a race this season, surviving a close encounter with the wall on his qualifying run.

But Michael Waltrip continued to disappoint his team, sponsors, and fans by failing to make yet another race. At least Dale Jarrett qualified on time and didn't have to use another of his remaining two past champion provisionals.

At the top of the "unintended consequences" column of New Car pluses and minuses is the probability that the ranks of the "Buschwhackers" will be thinned. Those Cup regulars who run the Saturday Busch race in part to learn things to help them on Sunday are finding that there is little or no correlation between the Busch cars and the new Cup design.

So perhaps the Busch regulars will have fewer of these invaders to contend with week in and week out. By the way, NASCAR President Mike Helton has said that there are no plans to phase the new car design into the Busch series anytime soon.

The regular Busch teams don't have the resources to implement the change at this time. Basically, it would kill the series, so for the foreseeable future Busch cars will remain the same while the New Car will be the only design in Cup car 2009, maybe 2008.

The Indycar Series (formerly known as IRL) made its season debut under the lights at Miami Homestead last night, after my deadline. It was Danica Patrick's first race with her new team, Andretti Green Racing.

Sarah Fisher is also back in the series lineup, and these two ladies will be joined by Grand-Am driver Milka Duno later in the season. Duno will drive in 10 Indycar races, starting at Kansas in late April. She will also run the Indy 500, with her rookie test at the Brickyard scheduled for April.

When the green flag waves on the Kansas race, it will be the first time in history that three female drivers start an Indycar race. I wonder if Katherine Legge will be moving over from Champ Car to make it four.


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