Long, circuitous road leads to successful debut of CoT

Dave Ongie • Mar 26, 2007 at 1:21 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. - It wasn't perfect, but it was a start.

All things considered, Sunday's debut of the Car of Tomorrow at Bristol Motor Speedway was a success. The field spread out at times over the 504 laps of the Food City 500, but at the end of the day, Kyle Busch edged Jeff Burton by half a car length under a green-white-checkered flag in what turned out to be a very Bristol-like finish.

As a matter of fact, if you listened carefully after Busch crossed under the checkered flag and all the engines shut down, you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief coming from everyone in NASCAR who spent the past seven years developing the CoT.

But the relief was written all over the face of NASCAR President Mike Helton's face as early as Sunday morning while he sat in the pits.

Before a competitive lap had ever been run, he knew the time had come for the debate to stop and the racing to start.

"It's been a long process to get here," Helton said. "The good thing is this moment has come. Every time we have a rule change, there's a period of debate and then a point of acceptance."

Somebody apparently didn't pass the memo about acceptance on to Busch. Even though he won, he wasn't all that happy with the car he was driving.

"I haven't driven anything yet that you haven't been able to work on and fix," Busch said. "You're in a box, so there's not that much you can work with.

"They want everybody to be equal; they want the Michael Waltrips to be able to win races."

Old-school guys like Darrell Waltrip and Junior Johnson believe the new car will be just fine once a new generation of crew chiefs and drivers learns how to work without the huge aerodynamic advantages to which they have become accustomed in recent years.

"It drove exactly like the cars I'm used to," the elder Waltrip, now a racing analyst, said after taking a Roush Fenway Racing Ford for a spin Saturday morning. "Quite honestly, I was shocked at how much it drove like that '81 Buick we drove back then."

As far as the "box" that Busch feels like he and his team are trapped in, Johnson offered some advice.

"I'd make that box a lot bigger, I'll tell you that now," he said. "This is not the Car of Tomorrow, this was what they left and have now gone back to. It's a standard setup, everything was there from what Darrell and I were racing."

So instead of complaining, it's time for everyone to put their collective heads together and go "Back to the Future."

Team owner Rick Hendrick said he expects the car to improve every time out as NASCAR helps the teams make the necessary adjustments.

"We'll see how it all works out," Hendrick said. "There's a lot of smart people with these teams, and they'll keep on working on things to try to make this car better.

"I think they're going to stick to the plan, but it has to be competitive."

With 15 more CoT races on the schedule this year, the teams will have plenty of time to solve the rear wing and front splitter.

Hendrick expects to see a lot of cooperation as the long journey that began Sunday at Bristol continues to unfold.

"I know NASCAR is concerned," he said. "They want a good show and they work with the crew chiefs in the garage to try to find a fix to things.

"We're all in this together - we have a lot of work to do, but we're in this together."

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