As the 2012 Sprint Cup season winds down to what we hope is a dramatic conclusion in Homestead next month, so too is the tenure of the COT. When the 2013 season begins at Speed-weeks in Daytona, we will have some new cars. The COT car was a project undertaken after the death of Dale Earnhardt on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. It was commissioned to solve three problems, improve driver safety, cut costs for race organizations, and improve competition.
Image Courtesy Getty Images for Nascar
The project which was a culmination of a seven year design cycle that was announced in January of 2006. The car was officially used in 16 races during the the 2007 season beginning at the Food City 500 in Bristol. It was slated to begin full usage at the start of the 2009 season, but teams were strapped financially trying to build the new car, and still having to build and maintain the old design. The schedule was moved up and began at the beginning of the 2008 season.
The cars prior to the COT were unique to the manufacture’s production cars, but the package included a standard design created by Holman Moody, and was first used for the 1966 Ford Fairlane.
The results of the COT design in solving the driver safety problems led to the race cars getting bigger and boxier. The bigger, boxier chassis was necessary to give the bigger drivers like Michael Waltrip, and Elliot Sadler more room to escape in a situation where the car was on fire, or upside down, or both.
The COT, being fixed at 206 inches in length, was six inches longer than the old Monte Carlo, and 11 inches longer than the Toyota Camry. The COT is also six inches wider at 78.5 inches, than the Monte Carlo, and a little more than 2 inches wider than the Ford Fusion, and again, almost seven inches wider than the Camry. To make the boxy look, the car is almost 3 inches shorter than the previous designs.
The splitter was mandated to add down force previously handled by the valence, which was always the source of controversy between race teams. This was one of the places that Nascar said improves competition, but this is where the competition was curtailed. This is the area that keeps the smarter teams from gaining a little advantage.
The good things brought by the COT was moving the driver further toward the center of the car, making room for safety devices in the side panels. This is also mandated, and as we saw in a race this season, if the car looses the padding in the door or side panel, the car is blacked flagged and removed from the track.
In 2011, Nascar allowed some redesign of the splitter, and added some roundness to the nose. They also gave teams some adjustment options on the splitter, as well as, removing the rear wing. They went back to the spoiler concept of the older cars, and at restrictor plate tracks we had what in Florida was called “Love Bug Racing”. If you have ever been to Florida in the spring and fall, you will know what I mean. It produced the nose to tail racing we saw in Daytona and Talladega during the 2011 season.
I personally do not like the COT, which by the way, meant the Car Of Tomorrow, and is now known as the Car of Today, and will be glad to see it go. I suspect some of the older drivers like Jeff Gordon will be be waiving good bye with a smile. Jeff has never adapted to this car, and it basically short circuited a brilliant career.
Take a look at the numbers. Jeff has 86 Cup wins in his storied career. He has had only 9 wins since the change, He won all four of his Cup titles in the older car, and none since.
I embrace the safety changes the COT brought to Nascar, and do not want to see anyone seriously hurt on the race track, but I also feel like the COT is the source of boring side by side, single file racing that depends on fuel management and tire wear to give us a winner each week. The recent fix to this problem has been the green white checkerd finishes we’ve seen due to ambigeous debris on the track , late in the races.
I’m certainly looking forward to the 2013 season, and the new cars. Nascar needs desperately to do something dramatic to get fans back where they belong, in seats at the track, and maybe this is a first step in the right direction.