NASCAR has thatnew-car smell. Two months ago Toyota became the Nextel Cup's first foreign automanufacturer. And at this weekend's Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn., the Car ofTomorrow debuts. The new race car (essentially a set of rigorous specificationsthat manufacturers must adhere to) will run in 16 events this season. It is theproduct of a seven-year study on how to make cars safer, cheaper and moreuniform. The CoT is relatively big and boxy—while not quite a Volvo stationwagon, it could run slightly slower than drivers are accustomed to. TonyStewart (above), for one, is keeping an open mind. "It still comes down tofeel," he says. "If you're comfortable, you're going to go fast. Ifyou're not comfortable, you're going to be a little timid."
Instead of the rear spoiler there's an adjustable aerodynamic panel thatsmooths out the air behind the car. It will improve balance (less turbulent airbehind helps keep the car grounded), and the adjustability helps cuts costs.Teams won't have to build special cars for specific tracks.
Big Brother is a big part of NASCAR's future. The CoT's body contains nine I.D.chips that will help spot illegal setups: If the chips are altered or shiftedfrom their 220-point prerace inspection position, scans by NASCAR officialswill catch the illegal in-race tinkering.
Taller drivers like 6'4" Michael Waltrip will travel in more comfort. Theroll cage is 2 1/2 inches higher and four inches wider than on the current Cupcar, making the CoT considerably roomier and safer.
Teams can tinker with an adjustable aerodynamic element on the front too. Thesplitter can be shifted forward or back four to six inches to direct air belowthe front bumper. As with the rear wing, that flow helps keep the car firmlyplanted on the asphalt.
LEE COLEMAN/WIREIMAGE.COM (STEWART)
COURTESY OF NASCAR (CAR OF TOMORROW)