Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow Getting ANY Better?

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest news from the past week or race weekend. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This week’s participants:
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Race Trax AND Tuesdays/That’s History)
Mike Neff (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans AND Fridays/Full Throttle)
Toni Heffelfinger (Mondays/Busch Series Breakdown AND Fridays/Second Fiddle)
Vito Pugliese (Frontstretch Contributor)
Meegan Sweeney (Frontstretch Contributor)

Brett Bodine held a Q&A on NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow at Daytona this week to appease the fans, and recent reports actually state that dozens of cars have been approved. Is this all positive PR spin, or a sign things are actually heading in the right direction?

Meegan: It might be PR spin in NASCAR’s favor. They want the fans to all like the car so they can move forward.
Amy: NASCAR had to approve some cars soon. That one-car race at Bristol was looking less and less attractive.
Toni: These things have to be on track by Bristol, so it better not be PR spin. Time is short because, like Amy said, it’s not going to be cool to see only one car run at Bristol.
Vito: They don’t have much of a frame of reference to disapprove things. They need to be lax right now, otherwise the teams can gang up on them and be vocal about how they really feel about the program.
Meegan: Yeah, especially when the Toyota CoT is approved. I saw that go through the wind tunnel on that ESPN2 series with Michael Waltrip. They have the Toyota template, but their measurements were not correct, so the fab shop guys are learning as fast as they can.
Toni: What I am not understanding is what is going on here, exactly, to cause the delay? Did they not get the proper specs out to all the teams? Why can no one seem to build them to pass tech?
Mike: The problem I’ve heard is the CoT cars require a certain thickness of steel in the tubing. The kits that were sold specified that thickness, but the tolerances allow it to be less than that by five thousandths of an inch. When the steel comes in at that thickness, it doesn’t pass.
Vito: The first race is at Bristol, so it isn’t like aerodynamics or body configuration is going to be that big of a deal… that is, as long as that goofy wing on the back or that stupid front splitter doesn’t fly off into the stands.
Amy: I almost wonder… NASCAR is never, EVER going to admit they made a mistake and scrap this thing, right? But if nobody’s cars pass tech, they can’t race them, thereby getting out of the whole mess in the short term.
Toni: So should we take bets on whether this thing even runs at Bristol, or if they have to scrap plans and run the old cars?
Amy: The teams’ concerns about not being able to repair the splitter are legit. And if bottoming out at a place like Charlotte or Atlanta damages it, there could be very few cars contending at the end of a race.
Vito: I can see them running them at the plate tracks or just the short tracks and not moving forward with it, then it’s going to fade away. The front ends of those cars are absolutely horrible.

See also
What's the Call? NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow?

Mike: But the air is being diffused differently around the car and theoretically will help eliminate aero push.
Amy: The splitters on a truck are much more durable – but if one of those is damaged, that team is done for the race.
Vito: Knaus was saying that the thing acts like a hydrofoil on a boat. If you get behind another car, the thing takes off worse than it does now, because ALL of the air then gets removed from the front of the car.
Mike: Well, the CoT isn’t going anywhere. They’ve spent way too much time and effort on it so far.
Toni: Yeah, and now you have two manufacturers switching models with this thing. If you scrap it, you screw up their plans too.
Meegan: I just wish they’d actually LOOK like stock cars.
Vito: The stock Monte Carlo SS actually looks pretty tight.
Mike: I wish they’d cut everything off below the front bumper and make them look like a street car.

Can Kerry Earnhardt be a successful driver running for DEI?

Meegan: No. I think the driving talent missed a generation.
Toni: Junior tests his car and it runs up front. Kerry tests it, and, well… it came back in one piece. Does that count for anything?
Amy: Yeah, but what setups were they running? If they were running experimental setups, test speeds mean diddly.
Toni: True. But it’s Kerry – has he ever impressed you?
Vito: He can be a successful truck or Busch driver. I don’t think he’s up to the level of Nextel Cup.
Amy: He’s never had a long enough chance at one of the other series to be ready for Nextel Cup. He’s never had a chance to impress me.
Vito: Kerry has driven junk the majority of his career. Dale Jr. never really had to drive a compromised racecar. He’s forced to drive over his head so he won’t get lapped.
Toni: Because no one can afford to keep him. He tears everything up. Chad McCumbee has a woefully underfunded team in trucks, yet racks up nice finishes in it without crashing. So, I don’t necessarily buy that driving over your head thing necessarily.
Meegan: That is true, Toni. I think Teresa would regret signing him.
Amy: But is he tearing stuff up because of lack of experience? He never had DEI at his disposal for several years of Busch and Cup like Junior did. Junior wrecked some stuff early on, too.
Meegan: Yeah, but he learned and learned the hard way. That was when he was younger, too. Kerry’s older.
Mike: OK, so Kerry can be as competitive as Mikey. He’s not going to run up front consistently for a while. But he can learn, and, if given enough time, can be a competitive driver.
Vito: Dale Sr. always said that KELLY was the best driver of the bunch.
Meegan: Yes, that’s true Vito, I even heard Junior say that.
Toni: Paul Menard wrecked lots of stuff, too, but he STOPPED and started finishing races. That’s the thing. Underfunded rides or not, Kerry has not stopped wrecking things.
Amy: But think about this: How different would the face of DEI be if Dale Sr. was around to build it?
Toni: It would be a lot different.
Mike: Yes, it would.
Vito: There wouldn’t be talk of not re-signing its most valuable asset.
Amy: Martin Truex Jr. and Menard would be in the Busch Series at best. Maybe Truex in Cup in a fourth car.
Mike: That whole crew swap thing never would have happened. Senior would have whipped some ass.
Meegan: He’d probably make sure that Michael wouldn’t take away his shop guys.
Vito: Martin is Cup material. I think Paul will do well, too. He’s always been running the B-team stuff, even in Busch.
Mike: Very true, Vito.
Amy: The lineup would be Junior and Mikey still… and I’d bet dollars to donuts Kenny Wallace would be in the No. 1 car.
Meegan: Yeah, but I bet he’d be mad about Steve Park and him not having a ride. He was the first signed to DEI.
Mike: True, Meegan. Park would be running for DEI in some fashion.
Vito: Park has some very serious medical limitations. I don’t think he really needs to be in a racecar. When he first came back he was talking and slurring like Joe Frazier.
Amy: Vito’s right – Dale would never have put Park back in the car after those “successful” tests.
Meegan: But those limitations have been worked through with speech therapy. Park kicked some tail in the Truck Series.
Vito: …and where is his truck now?
Meegan: Brendan Gaughan told daddy to give him his ride back.
Amy: His Busch races over the last couple of years were a disaster. Steve is a nice guy who had a bright career taken from him in the blink of an eye – not a knock on him, not his fault, but reality. As tragic as it is, his career was over when they pulled him out of that Busch car.
Toni: Well, back to what this question is really about… I do have to admit too that Dale Sr. was just starting work on Kerry, and Kerry’s story might be very different today if Dale had gotten to continue it.
Mike: Very true, Toni. Kerry would be a lot farther along.
Vito: Give Kerry a DEI Truck, Busch ride and a testing gig. Give him a REAL shot for once in his life, not driving that trainwreck of a racecar for Fitz/Bradshaw or whatever he was driving.
Amy: Bottom line, maybe Kerry will get the experience he needs in his new role. You have to believe his father would have been happy with the decision.
Toni: I just want to know what took so long for DEI to do this? It’s like continuing what Dale tried to start five years ago, finally. I never thought it would have made him happy that Kerry got dumped out the door.
Mike: Kerry will do well in DEI equipment. Could even win a plate race. But he’s not going to be a title contender yet.
Toni: And it’s maybe the only place he can get a fair shot, really. And if I’m wrong about him, I’ll admit it.

Will the recent and/or rumored merging of Busch-only teams (ppc & Braun, Biagi and Braun) become a necessary evil for teams that are increasingly outspent by those with Cup connections?

Toni: I’m not even sure how that would save them. Nothing plus nothing still equals nothing.
Amy: At this point, they might as well try anything. They can’t draw decent sponsorship without a Cup driver or ownership, so do what you have to to stay afloat in a poisoned sea.
Meegan: I think merging will have to do. But even then, would they survive?
Vito: No. The Cup teams have simply too much technology, money, resources, people, etc. What they need to do is go to a completely different type of car, like the idea of them running Challengers, Mustangs and Camaros.
Amy: Go back to six-cylinder engines, too – cheaper and NO test value.
Meegan: That, and get Buschwhackers OUT.
Amy: Yep, pony cars would solve a lot of problems.
Vito: There is too much information, too, that they can use from the Cup cars and put in their Busch cars that the BGN teams, no matter how many merge, simply do not have access to.
Toni: Now I know you can’t get all the Cup drivers out. Some are a necessary evil. But we don’t need 25 in a field of 43.
Vito: If they run the pony cars, it’s a level playing field again. Those cars have ZERO aerodynamics and look totally awesome. Too bad they sound like a demented lawn mower.
Meegan: Yeah, I actually like the manufacturers’ original models. In the Busch Series, when Truex was a regular, I didn’t really like the Cup regulars coming in and ruining his chances, but I bet he liked racing with them anyway. At least, that’s the diplomatic answer he’ll give.
Vito: There should be a limit on Cup drivers. If you make more than 10 Cup starts, you can’t run the Busch Series. Most Busch guys who get a shot at a Cup ride aren’t going to run more than 10 Cup races anyway if a ride becomes available.
Amy: Real race fans should realize the real problem here, which is that in a few years, there will be no Busch Series and no driver development. As the Gordons and Stewarts get older, nobody is ready to replace them.
Toni: It’s already starting, Amy. This is why David Gilliland and David Ragan are in Cup cars this year. And the Woods tried to bring Jon Wood through Busch, and all it did was frustrate him to get his ass kicked every week.
Mike: But there are so many young drivers in the Cup series now, how many seats are really going to come available? After Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett, Ken Schrader, Bobby Labonte and Ricky Rudd are gone, what other old-guard drivers are there?
Meegan: Gilliland wasn’t ready.
Vito: Ragan is in a Cup car because Geoff Smith at Roush Racing is an *$*#($(#.
Amy: Speaking of Roush, don’t forget to put Mark Martin on your list, Mike. Although he’s never going to actually retire.
Vito: He’s like the dismembered Knight from Monty Python.
Mike: Martin will be driving longer than James Hylton.
Vito: He just keeps coming back for more and more.
Meegan: Like Cher, he’ll always have a goodbye tour.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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