For the past 7 years NASCAR has been working to develop a universal template for their stock cars and it made it's debut this season on March 25th at Bristol. While the front ends of the cars will still resemble those of the car manufacturers (Chevy, Ford, Dodge, Toyota) the rest of it will be strictly mandated. The Car of Tomorrow or COT is being run at 16 out of the 36 races this season as a kind of test to see how it responds in race conditions. Originally the plan was to expand its use to 26 of the 36 races next season but as it's performed very well so far this season as well as the concerns over costs to build both the standard cars and COT's for another season, it was announced earlier this year that the COT will run full time starting next season. It's kind of a sigh of relief for race teams as having to switch between the 2 different cars from race to race is not only costly but presents challenges in their shops and having to build 2 types of cars stretches team's staffs and resources.
Besides NASCAR's desire to help race teams by cutting costs by having just one universal template and the goal of leveling the playing field another primary reason for the development of the COT is driver safety. The COT's body is wider and taller making the cockpit safer and the roll cage is 2 inches taller and 4 inches wider as well. This may not sound like a whole lot but it is a significant difference when you consider just how tight the space inside these cars are. The most noticeable differences aesthetically are the bolt on style wing on the back of the car, a look which hasn't been seen on the track in a NASCAR Cup Series race since the 70's and the splitter on the front of the car. The splitter is designed to help create more downforce but at the same time it will slow down the cars a bit as the front valance is much less aerodynamic in shape when compared to the current front ends of the cars which are sleek and more missile like. A taller windshield will also make these cars less aerodynamic slowing them down a bit further. Early concerns over just how durable this new splitter will be were answered loud and clear this past Sunday at Watkins Glen as several COTs made their way into the gravel pits off of the track in racing incidents and suffered nearly no noticeable damage. Ryan Newman put the splitter to the test as he snowplowed his way through a gravel pit and got back onto the track unscathed and I actually think that the shape of the splitter helped prevent him from getting stuck there.
The top 2 pics are of my new Jimmie Johnson COT 1:24 scale diecast which arrived last week. Notice the big difference in appearance of these cars as the diecast in the forefront of the next two pictures is the current template being used by Chevy (although this is Johnson's 2006 1:24 scale diecast but the design didn't change to much in 2007) and the one in the back is the COT which is in the top 2 pictures.
The 2006 diecast here (on the right) is an elite model which has much more detail than the standard diecast releases and cost about $100. The standard 1:24 scale diecast cost about $60.
Since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. the push for developing safer cars as well as the safer barrier at race tracks has put NASCAR as one of the leaders in safety when it comes to racing series.
The COT has thus far showed signs of improving the competitiveness of races including some really great finishes! A real test for the COT will occur when it's used for the first time at a superspeedway which implements the use of restrictor plates to cut horsepower in half slowing the cars to between 190 and 200 mph in the draft (Its' estimated that these 3400 lb stock cars would reach over 220 mph without them at these tracks creating very unsafe conditions for both drivers and fans). Open wheel cars such as in the IRL are designed to reach these types of speeds with their low center of gravity, wide wheel base, and traction control. All of these elements make it much easier to drive an open wheel car than a stock car. This test will happen on October 7th at Talladega which is a Chase race making it an even more dramatic debut for the COT on a superspeedway. I'm looking forward to seeing this!
Most of my diecast collection consists of Jeff Gordon cars but my Jimmie Johnson diecast collection is growing too. Here's a close up view of the engine which is very detailed. The elite series also feature working suspensions, opening roof flaps, tethered hood and rear compartments, detailed chassis, and cloth driver window nets along with other features. The paint is of high quality as paint schemes and graphics are recreated perfectly with attention to detail. The COT will next be raced at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 25th. Watch for it!