Race Weekend Central

2009 Season Preview: Should NASCAR Fix the Car of Tomorrow?

After another long offseason, NASCAR is set to return to our lives with the 31st Annual Bud Shootout in less than two weeks! That means it’s time to get the blood racing and your mind fixated on another year of our sport. This week, we’ll get you thinking on six big questions facing NASCAR this year; as we try and find the answers, the staff you know and love will come at you with our usual blend of facts, opinion and most of all, a sense of humor. After all, we’ll all need to laugh if these predictions blow up in our face come November.

Today’s Season Preview Topic: After an up-and-down first full season with the Car of Tomorrow, NASCAR implemented no changes to the design over the offseason. Will that result in better racing in 2009 as teams get a handle on the new car, or will no testing lead to necessary midseason changes to increase the quality of racing?

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: (Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)

It seems like the problem with the Car of Tomorrow isn’t just with the car, it’s with the tires. So, the biggest concern to me is how well Goodyear’s been able to adjust to this new type of chassis after perhaps the worst season in NASCAR in 2008. If their testing at places like Atlanta gives us a Dover-type compound on those 1.5-mile tracks, I think half the problem is on its way to being solved.

But with that said, the big complaint amongst teams across the board is that there’s still not enough places to make adjustments in this car. The dreaded aero push still exists, and the difficulty of getting these things to handle often makes side-by-side racing tough on larger tracks. If a trend towards boring racing continues, then I think the sport’s hand will be forced to at least make a minor adjustment (can you say “bump stops?”) I just hope they have the fortitude to do it quickly – by Memorial Day weekend – instead of wading through another miserable season of single-file parades.

Toni Montgomery, Senior Editor: (Fridays/Rick Crawford Driver Diary)

Here’s an idea: stop trying to play with the quality of racing – thereby making the cars a moving target – and just let the teams get used to them and figure them out. Every time NASCAR does things to improve the quality of the racing, it seems to go in exactly the opposite direction. How about letting the teams try to make those improvements for a while?

Amy Henderson, Assistant Editor: (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

It’s actually a good thing that NASCAR did not make wholesale changes in a year where teams are so severely restricted from testing – that could have been downright dangerous. However, they should have been making tweaks to the CoT all along. While teams will have a better handle on the car, the car itself isn’t going to handle any better without extensive testing of setups – and because of that, I think the racing will be badly lacking as the season wears on.

The other thing I find very disturbing is NASCAR’s approval of Ford’s new purpose-built engine – one which Ford has no plans to offer to the public, which has always been a requirement of NASCAR. The engine block was the last thing stock in this sport, but now it’s gone. And in its place, not only do the Ford teams get a huge advantage from the new design – which ultimately will allow them more downforce by allowing them to have more tape covering the nose of the car – but its introduction cripples the Chevy and Dodge teams, whose engines were designed within the rules, not outside them.

NASCAR never should have approved the new engines in a year when the other teams will not be allowed to test anything that could give them back the downforce which Ford will have – downforce that NASCAR should be ashamed of themselves for allowing.

Cami Starr, Fantasy Racing Editor: (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans)

Without testing, we’re stuck with the same old car as last year. To make the racing better, I think NASCAR needs to make a series of smaller changes as the crew chiefs continue to develop the car throughout the early stages of the year; but even if that happens, expect the car’s second full-time season to serve as a testing period they didn’t have the last three months.

Matt Taliaferro, Assistant Editor: (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)

NASCAR would be wise to listen to the crew chiefs that know better than anyone what adjustments are needed to increase the quality of racing with the CoT. Unfortunately, the stubbornness of the sanctioning body in this area will give witness to a season much like we saw in 2008.

However, the crews will still figure certain things out that will inch the development along. I mean, whoever thought we’d see cars wagging sideways while running in a straight line – a setup that became all the rage last season?

Bryan Davis Keith, Assistant Editor: (Sundays/Nationwide Breakdown)

The pressure is on Goodyear and Goodyear alone here. The biggest problem for Cup racing in 2009 was tires, and with no official testing this year, Goodyear is – for the first time as the exclusive tire provider – going to be exclusively responsible for gathering the data it needs to create its tires. And seeing as how they haven’t increased their tire testing this offseason despite a pathetic 2008 showing, expect another rash of tire problems in 2009. You’d really think that Indy would have been enough of a wake-up call, but….

Mike Lovecchio, Assistant Editor: (Mondays/10 Points to Ponder)

Year 2 of the CoT will be an improvement after a shaky year one. There will still be tire issues, but nowhere near as many as 2008, and data taken by Sprint Cup teams at each track should allow them to get a better handle on the car.

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: (Mondays/Thinkin’ Out Loud)

To be blunt, you can put lipstick and a blonde wig on a nursing sow and it still ain’t going to be Dolly Parton. (Though it might, in fact, end up as Paris Hilton’s new BFF.) The Car of Horror was designed by committee, and as we all know, a camel is a horse designed by committee.

Unfortunately, now NASCAR has themselves painted in a corner. In the current economic climate, they had no choice but to eliminate testing at all sanctioned tracks. But without more testing, the teams are never going to be able to make these cars race competitively, and the four super-teams will keep extending their dominance of the series. Of course, with unlimited funding the teams are never going to be able to make the Car of Sorrow race competitively.

Former fans of Formula 1 that watched the series degenerate into a technological exercise where a couple super-teams dominated and driver skill played an ever smaller role in race outcome will understand we’re headed down a dead-end road at 90 mph over the speed bumps with the headlights out and Brian France at the wheel sucking on a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. And as it stands written in the Book of Bob: “And when the bottom finally fell out, I became withdrawn, the only thing I knew to do was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew… Tangled Up in Blue.”

Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: (Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)

OK, let’s put the blame where it REALLY lies… Goodyear. When the years of development of the CoT were going on – a bigger and heavier car – where were the freaking geniuses at Goodyear? Hello! In case no one told you, the most important part of a racecar is where the rubber meets the road! The only thing that will lead to better racing is if Goodyear pulls their head out of their own rear wheel.

Testing will go on as usual, only on non-NASCAR sanctioned tracks. The Big Four will still have an advantage because they have more money and more money equals more horsepower. Always has, at EVERY level of racing.

Tommy Thompson, Senior Writer: (Wednesdays/Thompson in Turn 5)

The CoT is no more! It is the Car of Many Years to Come. There might be some small tweaking by midseason to enhance aero issues, but other than that, we are looking at the NASCAR version of a racecar that we will continue to see for the foreseeable future. Incidentally, it just might be the best cost-cutting measure NASCAR could have implemented, too.

Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch Truck Series Expert: (Fridays/Tearing Apart the Trucks)

NASCAR’s decision to leave the CoT alone is definitely going to play in favor of those teams that have already figured it out. I expect to see teams that excelled last season do the same this season. And even as the teams that struggled last season make improvements, those that didn’t will most likely get further ahead of the competition.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: (Wednesdays/Voice of Vito)

While NASCAR has done an admirable job of trimming costs by cutting out the majority of test sessions at sanctioned race tracks, it has dropped the ball with not allowing any changes to the CoT. If anything has been proved by the initial two years with this monstrosity, it’s that it does not drive well in its current configuration. But when drivers expressed their displeasure with the car, they were simply told to shut up and deal with it.

To be fair, it would not make much sense to institute changes to the suspension or tires of these cars, and then institute the testing restrictions that NASCAR has imposed for 2009. But something has to be done. The tires aren’t working (see Indianapolis); therefore, the cars aren’t working, and the results speak for themselves on the racetrack. Parity works in the NFL. In motorsports, it creates a parade.

Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch NASCAR Rookie Expert: (Mondays/Rookie Report)

I think there will be little, if any, changes this year. In fact, contrary to popular belief, I don’t think there has been much change since the implementation of the new car. Michigan and California are still snooze-fests and Bristol and Richmond will provide some of the best racing, just like every other season. Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush ran up front, while DEI was mid-pack and Petty Enterprises struggled, just like in years past.

What I expect to get better as a result of no changes to the car is the tire situation. The teams and Goodyear have had a full season to figure out how this new car effects the tires, and we should never, ever see another race like the 2008 Brickyard 400 again.

Danny Peters, Senior Writer: (Tuesdays/Yellow Stripe)

The no-changes policy has one benefit in that teams know exactly what they have to work with in 2009. The new car has run a full season and a half, and even with the testing moratorium, the racing should be better. Let’s be fair, though; the bar is pretty low at the cookie-cutter tracks, and just about any form of racing is going to be better than the stodgy fare we saw all too often at the 1.5-mile circuits.

Kurt Smith, Senior Writer: (Fridays/Happy Hour)

An up-and-down season? No offense, but what were the ups? Michael McDowell surviving that horrendous qualifying crash? Please clarify.

NASCAR is in a quandary here. The new car is unpopular for many reasons, not the least of which are the difficulties teams have with lack of downforce and the wear on right side tires caused by the high center of gravity. In short, Kyle Busch was right. The racing in the opinion of most (including myself) has suffered. It isn’t fun to watch drivers slide around and have so much difficulty passing. But the flip side is what I have said earlier: that if teams are struggling and NASCAR wants to help, the best thing they can do is nothing.

Things may improve on the track, but I doubt it, especially if the car needs to be crooked to go fast on a speedway. Perhaps when the economics get a little better for teams, NASCAR can mandate a few changes, like getting rid of the air dam.

S.D. Grady, Newsletter Contributor & Fan Columnist: (Tuesdays/Fan’s View)

We will have racing in 2009. We had racing in 2008, ’07, ’00 and 1985. Since the beginning of time, there have been new cars, new engines, new tire compounds and unhappy drivers. I don’t see the CoT as being a story in ’09. If changes happen, it will not be due to this car.

Phil Allaway, Website Contributor: (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV)

The racing this year will be similar to last year, since no real improvements could be made to the CoT. With NASCAR trying to cut costs, I don’t foresee any changes to the CoT this year unless the economy improves. Exceptions to this would be for safety purposes. Maybe in 2010, more notable changes could be made.

Doug Turnbull, Website Contributor: (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot & Who’s Not)

No testing will not lead to midseason changes, even though the competition will continue to be of inferior quality. NASCAR should allow teams to place testing instruments on cars during practice sessions in 2009, so they can gather data and make better setups. If nothing’s done, NASCAR TV ratings and track attendance will fall lower as the effect of the economy and the poor racing action set in.

John Potts, Website Contributor: (Fridays/Driven to the Past)

Again, like I said the other day NASCAR needs to get the cars back to where you don’t need an engineer and millions in equipment to set them up. The CoT needs to get away from the overgrown go-kart setup and bring the springs and shocks back into it. Instead, Darrell Waltrip has said the endplates on the wing help to straighten a car out when it’s sliding sideways. Just what we want – eliminate the need for driving talent.

Mike Ravesi, Website Contributor: (Mondays/Bubble Breakdown)

The racing will definitely be better in 2009 for the simple reason that for the most part, it couldn’t get a whole lot worse. With several races having fewer than 15 cars finish on the lead lap to go along with the debacle at Indy, it has to get better. However, with no testing allowed, NASCAR can only improve so much.

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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