Tuesday, August 22, 2006

COT Tests, Toyota Debuts in Michigan

NASCAR’s Car Of Tomorrow hit the track again yesterday, with a test session at Michigan International Speedway. Monday's session focused on fine-tuning the car’s aerodynamics and handling components; with cars set-up first for maximum individual performance, then for group runs in the afternoon session.

Fourteen Nextel Cup drivers were on hand at MIS to test for their respective teams and manufacturers, in anticipation of the Car’s debut at Bristol Motor Speedway next spring. The test also marked the on-track debut of Toyota's Nextel Cup program, with Michael Waltrip Racing, Bill Davis Racing and the new Team Red Bull all taking part.

Reaction from the drivers was mostly positive. While still not thrilled with the new car’s aesthetics, former series champion Jeff Gordon said, “It doesn't drive bad. This is my first time with the car, and I think this is the first time it's been on a track this big, unrestricted. By itself, the car drives pretty good. My only concern is whether or not we can make passes; get up behind a guy and be able to turn and go, or get to the outside.

“What this car is really meant to be is a car that puts on a better race. That's what I want to see."

Kurt Busch said he sees potential in the new car, adding “It's fairly comparable to what we have now. It's not like a night-and-day difference. It's real close. It's just a matter of working with the front end to try to get that splitter real close to the ground."

Waltrip -- NASCAR’s tallest driver at 6’5” -- praised the car’s more-spacious driver’s compartment, saying, “I was driving down the back straightaway, saying 'Damn, look at all this room I got!' That's a wonderful feeling, knowing that you're not all crunched down in there.”

The two Toyota Camrys ran yesterday with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series engines under their hoods, since Toyota has yet to obtaiin NASCAR approval for its Nextel Cup engine package. Despite that, Team Red Bull General Manager Marty Gaunt was ecstatic with his team’s first outing. "I don't think you can put everything into words,” he said. “It's like having a baby and watching it grow. Everything is new; new team, new car. It's really big, and we're really enthused about it.”

Lee White, Vice President and General Manager of Toyota Racing Development, concurred, saying “It's exciting after three years of working with NASCAR to finally be out and be part of the big show - even if there's not a soul in the grandstands.”

Data from yesterday’s test will be used to determine the final nose designs for the Car of Tomorrow, which are due to be submitted to NASCAR next week.

In a related story, sources say the new, rear wing assemblies for the Car Of Tomorrow will be distributed by NASCAR next season, as part of its weekly inspection process. Teams will practice with their own wings, before being issued a standardized wing for qualifying and the race. The policy is similar to the one now utilized by NASCAR for restrictor plates.

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