Harris: COT Change Has Teams Excited, Concerned
Editor’s note: The annual NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway is being held this week. RacinToday has a trio of writers on the Tour and will be reporting daily with opinions, features, news and notes.
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Concord, N.C. – NASCAR has often been accused of being too slow to react with rule changes when things aren’t going well on track.
Now, on the eve of the 2010 Sprint Cup season, the sanctioning organization has decided it is time to act in an attempt to make the so-called Car of Tomorrow look better and race better. To do that, NASCAR is taking away the wings that gave the COT a distinctive look and switching instead to spoilers, similar to the ones that graced the rear decks on the previous generation of Cup cars.
The change isn’t immediate. It is expected there will be an open test with the spoilers in March at Charlotte Motor Speedway. If all goes well in that test, the new configuration could make its race debut at Martinsville on March 28, or very soon thereafter.
If Monday’s first two sessions of the annual NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway are any indication, the teams have a lot of questions about the change and what it’s going to accomplish.
What exactly the change will mean for the performance of the cars, nobody knows for sure.
“I’m nervous about it,’’ said Jimmy Makar, senior vice president of racing operations for Joe Gibbs Racing. “I think there’s a lot of testing that needs to be done.
“We started these cars with a spoiler on (them) when the Car of Tomorrow was first developed and there were some issues that led to the wing. Now I’m curious if, since we’ve had time to work on the cars in other areas, whether those problems will still be there.
“Hopefully, they’re not, but I am a little bit nervous about these first tests and what comes out, especially cars in packs,’’ added Makar, a longtime crew chief. “I think they’ll be fine by themselves, but that thing that we’ve been working real hard on these Cars of Tomorrow since the inception is getting the ability to get them to drive around each other.’’
NASCAR’s decision to swap the wings for spoilers could wind up being a popular one with the fans, many of whom don’t like the looks of the winged CoTs. And the drivers seems to be unanimous in their positive reaction to making a change that could make the taller, wider cars handle better.
But the time frame for this change could be a difficult one.
“We really didn’t get any kind of parameters (from NASCAR) until late Friday,’’ explained Bobby Hutchens, director of competition for Stewart Haas Racing. “We actually had a meeting this morning. We’re building our first (spoiler) and trying to work through what that thing is going to look like and how it’s going to fit the car. We’ll be headed over there (to the wind tunnel) probably by Thursday to kind of dissect what that is.
“It’s going to 4 inches (high) at the center and I think it’s supposed to be level from side-to-side, basically to the ground. The way it was before, it contoured to the deck lid. So it’s a little bit different (than the old spoilers), but still about the same. … But it’s going to be a significant change. We just now have got comfortable building our cars with the wings.’’
Until the teams get the cars with spoilers into the wind tunnel, nobody knows what kind of downforce numbers they’ll get.
“I have no idea with these cars,’’ Hutchens said. “We’ve never had a spoiler on with the high roofs and the wide quarterpanels. We don’t have the offsets like we had in the old cars. … On the old car, I could probably have told you (the downforce) down to a couple pounds. But, on this thing, I have no clue.’’
Makar echoed Hutchens, noting that losing sideforce with the new configuration could also be an issue.
“Until we get in the tunnel and really look and understand what all that is going to mean, we won’t know exactly what the balance is going to be,’’ Makar said.
The change is going to cause extra work for the aero and fabrication departments at all the teams, and it is likely to cost the teams some extra money. But both Makar and Hutchens said that the benefits could definitely outweigh the negatives if the spoilers do what is intended.
“It’s definitely a starting point,’’’ Makar said. “From a production standpoint, it’s a cheap way to change the car, rather than changing the whole body or a nose or a tail. It’s a piece of aluminum and a rack, versus what we’re spending on the wing. So it’s a very cheap cost if it achieves what we’re looking for.’’
“I think this isn’t about costs,’’ Hutchens said. “I think this is trying to make racing better.
“If we can get the cars to drive well with the spoiler on them, I’m fine with that. All I’m thinking about is the way the cars will drive and the way they react to the change we make, what happens when they’re around other cars making passes. Those things still remain to be seen.’’
Whatever the outcome, it’s hard to fault NASCAR for trying to make a needed change. Maybe the only fault lies in waiting until mid-January to do it.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.com Comments