When NASCAR fullyinstituted its newly designed Car of Tomorrow at the start of the 2008 SprintCup season, its intentions were honorable: increase driver safety and reduceteam expenses. While no driver has been seriously injured in the standardizedvehicle, there has been one major rub—the car produces follow-the-leaderracing. "We've sanitized the sport so much that it's not as exciting towatch," says former Cup champion Darrell Waltrip.
Indeed,television ratings for Cup races are down 13% from last season, and wide swathsof empty seats have been visible at nearly every track. (NASCAR does notrelease official attendance figures.) This drop-off was one reason NASCARchairman Brian France called a mandatory, closed-door meeting for drivers andowners on May 26 at the organization's research and development center inCharlotte. The conversation covered a range of issues, but the focus was on howto improve the quality of racing.
SI spoke to morethan a dozen drivers and garage insiders about what it will take toreinvigorate the sport. Here are three ideas:
• Rethink the CoT design
For example, how does the car handle in traffic? "It's like passing a semion the interstate when your car bobbles, but at 190 mph," says JimmieJohnson. "This car moves side to side so much. That's why guys are scaredto pass in the turns. You feel like you're going to crash."
THE SOLUTION:Equip the cars with more aerodynamic downforce to give the tires increasedgrip. One way to achieve this is to replace the rear wing with a spoiler. Anincrease in downforce will allow drivers to attempt more daring moves in thecorners
• Put more drama in the restarts
Currently, cars on the lead lap line up one behind the other on the outsidewhile cars one lap or more down are on the inside. Purely a case of follow theleader.
THE SOLUTION:Implement double-file restarts with the leaders side-by-side and the rest ofthe field similarly aligned based on their standing. Lining up the top carsside by side would make the restart a heart-pounding drag race to Turn 1.
• Untie the hands of the crew chiefs
Before switching to the CoT full time, NASCAR had 28 common templates withwhich every car had to comply. There are an additional 100-plus areas on theCoT that NASCAR inspects each week to make sure the cars are virtuallyidentical.
THE SOLUTION:Give the crew chiefs more discretion in, say, determining the range of motionallowed in shock absorbers. This change would allow crew chiefs to tinker withthe angle of the front tires and give them greater freedom to improve the car'shandling.
As France knowswell, the teams' expertise and ingenuity in finding speed was what the sportwas founded on.
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Cup analysis from Lars Anderson plus Mark Beech's Racing Fan atSI.com/bonus
STREETER LECKA/GETTY IMAGES
COMPANY LINE Passing in the turns is difficult because of shaky handling and the need for more downforce.