As Dodge made the shocking decision to pull out of NASCAR earlier this week, the other three manufacturers were hard at work, putting their latest models through a grueling test at Darlington Speedway. While the participants called the test a success, it's much too early to see what they could mean for the racing over the next few seasons.
But it's not too early to start the debate over what the new car should bring to the table beginning in February at Speedweeks.
When the Car of Tomorrow first premiered in the spring of 2007, it promised safety, affordability, and better overall racing. Unfortunately, that last goal was never realized. Kyle Busch won the first race in the current car and famously declared that he couldn't stand to drive it and that "this car sucks."
I must have missed the part of my NASCAR education where I learned that NASCAR was a work and that their drivers competed in the most leisurely of strolls each week. Stock car racing was meant to be difficult, otherwise anyone could do it. Super late models are harder to drive than the current car, and that's coming from several of the drivers who have competed in both.
The car of tomorrow never got a chance to live up to its potential. It started with a change to the nose, and then the skirt, and eventually the reintroduction of a spoiler. These were all changes that helped the aesthetics but diminished the difficulty of driving at NASCAR's highest level. Today's car is so aero-sensitive and perfect that some speedway races require very little lifting.
That wasn't possible when the car first premiered on a speedway at California Speedway in 2008. The COT was much boxier back then, resembling the equally frustrating to drive machines of the mid-1980s - the same car that produced some of the best races in NASCAR history.
A similar direction was planned for the COT, but drivers insisted that the cars were too much to handle and NASCAR soon reverted back to the status quo. And while the lack of short tracks compared to previous seasons bare a bulk of the blame, the current formula leaves a lot to be desired as well.
Intermediate tracks can be entertaining if the track conditions are right for it. Look no further than last year's Advocare 500 (Atlanta) where teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson had a slippery side-by-side duel to the finish line, producing one of the greatest speedway races over the last 10 years. That race became an instant classic because the tires were worn and the track was slick. Similar results would occur if NASCAR took aerodynamics out of play for 2013 and beyond.
After all, wasn't that the style of racing NASCAR was built on? Bristol Motor Speedway set the precedence of listening to the fans instead of the drivers when they decided to upgrade their facility and eliminate the progressive banking. That was just another example of many, where fans and drivers disagreed on what constitutes good racing. Outside of safety concerns, NASCAR should always defer to fans when it comes to the quality of their product. The sport dies without their excitement and financial support.
So here's hoping that NASCAR does the right thing and listens to the fans when it comes to the development of the next-generation car. The future of the sport may depend on it.
So how about you? How do you think the Car of Tomorrow fared in six years of service? What sort of changes should NASCAR make from the current car to the 2013 model? Tell us in the comments section below!