Race Weekend Central

Voice of Vito: So I Was Just Thinking… NASCAR Odds ‘N’ Ends

There were a few ideas I had bouncing around in my head about what to write this week. Kyle Busch continuing to win races just to spite Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans; Tony Stewart’s future plans that may include ownership of a team; Larry McReynolds’s futile struggle to pronounce Patrick Carpantier’s name’ or the continued phenomenon known as ‘Digger’ – the answer to a question that nobody asked. Instead, below are a few random musings from watching the races this past weekend at Darlington, as the track that has been deemed, “Too Tough To Tame” provided much fuel for thought.

The Dodge Challenger Pace Car: The race was called the Dodge Challenger 500 for a reason, as the public got to see the production 2008 Dodge Challenger in action. One of the more storied names in musclecardom, it had been 34 years since the name ‘Challenger’ was affixed to a Chrysler product (as opposed to a rebadged Mitsubishi front-driver) and the result is nothing short of a resounding success. What’s more, NASCAR Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash further hinted at what the future of the Nationwide Series may look like, as they continue to develop the Car of Tomorrow platform for the junior series to Sprint Cup.

“We want [the new car] to drive somewhere between a truck and Cup car,” Balash said. “And we’ve been working with drag and downforce to be somewhere in between. We want the car to drive a little easier than a Sprint Cup car; [and while] there are some components of the body that are the same, we’ve relocated them. For example, we’ve moved the rear deck lid forward, and the same distance we moved it forward, we’ve moved the front of the body forward, helping the car turn just a little bit better in the corner.”

See also
A Talk With Joe Balash on the Nationwide Series' Past, Present & Future

Hmm. Long hood, short deck? Sounds a little like the original formula used to create the styling success that were the original Mustang, Camaro and Challenger – and who’s current shapes echo those of their heyday. Hopefully NASCAR will see fit to use these vehicles as originally floated about, as the Nationwide bunch is a series in desperate need of an identity. In the early 1970s the SCCA Trans Am Series was nearly as popular as NASCAR was, and the stars of the series were as much the cars as the drivers.

They may not prove as nostalgic and legendary as Donohue’s Z/28 Camaro, Parnelli Jones’s BOSS 302 or Sam Posey’s Challenger T/A, but seeing all three on the track again would look a lot more interesting than Carl Edwards‘s milquetoast Fusion or Busch’s stupid Camry.

Sittin’ Sideways: Do not adjust your television sets and do not consult your physician. You are not having a stroke or suffering from vertigo. Those cars really are crabbing sideways down the frontstretch like a B-52 on final approach. One of the aims of the CoT was to take body manipulation out of the equation and help prevent the teams from constructing contorted, cockeyed machines that, when viewed from behind or straight on, looked as if they would be something the Super Friends would encounter in Bizzaro-world.

The teams, of course, have found a way around this by relocating the rear-end housing in their racecars, giving the cars the appearance that they have struck the wall and knocked the alignment out. This is done to achieve increased downforce and sideforce when the car is in the middle of a turn; the transition point has long been a cause of consternation and complaints among the teams, as the CoT does not turn well even when it appears to be handling correctly.

Putting the car in a state of yaw going in a straight line further enhances the stability of the car while turning, something that the Roush Fenway group has stumbled upon, much to the chagrin of Jeff Gordon.

“NASCAR knows it’s happening,” Gordon said on Friday. “They are the ones that see the cars come through inspection. They see it. When cars can’t even get on the scales because they’re running sideways, it’s something they need to address.”

From the looks of things on Saturday night it isn’t that big of an issue, as now all of the cars appear to be running a similar setup. At least the fast ones are.

Engineered Like No Other Car in the World: One of the positives about the CoT is that it is quite a hearty piece. Able to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, it seems to cripple one you really have to hit something immovable very hard, very often. Which raises a question: Is this thing too sturdy? Witness the number of impacts suffered by these cars on Saturday evening – particularly that of Stewart with Elliott Sadler in the opening laps.

Had that been the old piece, both cars would have been out of the race or come back with the fenders sawed off. By the end of the race, Stewart had one of the fastest cars on the track, while Busch ran into the wall more than Cole Trickle in the Rockingham/Phoenix/Daytona montage during Days of Thunder.

Several other drivers made repeated contact with the wall, only wrinkling the body work slightly and rubbing the paint or race wrap off the right side of the car. Isn’t part of racing conserving your equipment and not driving over your head? With the combination of soft-wall technology and a car that appears to be carved from Nerf material, it’s nothing to see them slap the wall repeatedly only to continue on with little to no effect.

Yes, stock cars are supposed to be able to run into each other and bump into things and keep on truckin’. This car has, in a way, diluted a bit of responsibility and removed elements of risk and skill from the drivers. You can just bounce off the walls like in a video game, it seems.

The rear wing is another example of this. How many times have we seen a car sideways this year that should have spun out, only to see the big rudder on the back straighten things out? Greg Biffle did it Saturday night, as did Kasey Kahne while Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch were the benefactors at Talladega.

It is reminiscent of the Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird; cars that Buddy Baker said were nearly impossible to spin out because of their massive rear wings. No, the deck lid mount on the CoT does not even begin to compare to the four-foot pylons flanking the quarterpanels on the winged warriors, but it has dumbed down driving one of these things a little. It affords drivers who may not have saved one in the old car to hang onto one of the newer cars. As these guys get used to that and are more comfortable, it may encourage some to step even further past their limits than they would otherwise be able to.

So there you have it. With this weekend’s upcoming All-Star activities, I may have some more oddities to comment on in the coming weeks, such as, why are there not more exploding school bus jumpings performed before races? Are Mark Martin and Jeff Burton compelled to compete in the burnout contest? Also, wouldn’t ‘Lug Nut’ make a much more attractive candidate than Digger?

Oh, and just so you know, racecar spelled backwards is “racecar.”

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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