NASCAR: Many teams want COT full time
CONCORD, N.C. -- Despite complaints about the Car of Tomorrow, most teams want NASCAR to use the car exclusively in 2008.
The COT is being phased into competition, with 16 races scheduled this season. Although the original plan was to use it exclusively in 2009, NASCAR will move it up a year if teams are on board.
Based on feedback he's received after four COT races, Nextel Cup director John Darby said teams are leaning that way.
"NASCAR has not been out in the garage promoting or soliciting the acceleration of 2008, but what we do have is a large group -- and large is a very fair label -- of organizations and owners that have come to us and said 'Let's put it all in,'" Darby said Tuesday. "There's a lot of it. And although we've heard from a majority of the team owners, we are not complete in that process."
NASCAR is expected to decide over the next few months whether to move up full implantation of the car it designed. A seven-year project, the COT is a safer car that is also supposed to cut costs and foster better racing.
Many drivers have been critical of its handling and difficulty to drive, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the car needs many adjustments before he'll be happy with it.
But in the same breath, NASCAR's biggest star said he wants to be in the COT full-time because flipping back and forth between the old car and the new one is taxing.
"I don't like doing two different cars -- it's one or the other," he said. "I'd go full-time to the COT right now. Why not? We're all struggling with it. We might as well get all the time we can with it week in and week out, even if it drives us all crazy."
Darby acknowledged that teams prefer the old cars, and are pushing for the COT mainly to simplify their operations.
"It's not because everybody is in love with the car, but everybody knows they hate working on two of them," Darby said. "It's expensive. It's extremely confusing. It's hard for NASCAR, our inspection group, to switch back and forth and try to stay focused on which rule book we are using for what week.
"I think almost everyone wants the COT all-in so we can move on."
There's one major issue with speeding up implantation, though. The COT isn't scheduled to race on 1.5-mile tracks until 2009, and teams will have zero data on those tracks if its moved up to next season.
So even though Hendrick Motorsports has won all four COT races this season, Jeff Gordon isn't positive he supports moving up the implantation date.
"Without being on a mile-and-a-half track, I don't see how we can just go completely forward with it," Gordon said. "I'm pretty optimistic about the way things are going right now. Obviously we're running good with it. But I still think there are things that need to evolve with this car that are not there yet."
NASCAR could have mandated the COT be used in next week's Nextel Challenge, an invitation-only all-star event that doesn't count in the season standings. But drivers were mixed on its inclusion in the event.
Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson support using it in the $1 million event, but Earnhardt was adamantly against it.
"That's a terrible idea, actually," he said. "That's a lot of money and I don't want the Car of Tomorrow to throw a monkey wrench in there."
Toyota officials are calling the loudest for the COT in 2008 because focusing on only one program could alleviate many of the struggles the manufacturer is experiencing. Its teams are struggling to make races this season, Toyota's first in the Nextel Cup Series.
"I am 100 percent for it," said Michael Waltrip, who is running a three-car team this season. "It will help us tremendously because we're a startup organization and it would help us streamline our efforts. It will save everybody money, it will be more competitive going forward and I look forward to it being all-in right away.
"Anybody who says they don't want it, it's because they are protecting their gold mine. These guys have so many years and so much experience on these old cars, they don't want it to go away. They have an advantage."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press