While the bodies and templates are altered from year to year -- and sometimes from race to race -- chassis beneath the sheet metal of NASCAR's premiere division have gone virtually unchanged for nearly three decades.
"The car we run now was last updated in 1980," said Gary Nelson, former NASCAR vice-president of research and development, who helped spearhead the Car of Tomorrow project. "The body styles have changed, but the basic chassis was 21 years old at the time [the COT project began]. There have been several technological advances over the years. So we decided to start from a new foundation and went from there."
Though some drivers and crews have taken issue with the COT's cost, handling and looks, there is one feature of the program that all are in support of -- keeping the sport's stars safe.
"The first priority was to try and give the driver a little more room in the cockpit," said Chris Carrier, crew chief of the Morgan-McClure Chevrolet driven by Ward Burton.
The driver's seat in the COT has been moved 4 inches towards the center of the car, the left-side roll bars covered with steel plate. To provide drivers easier exit from the car, and more room in the event of a violent crash, the roll cage is two inches taller and 4 inches wider. CLICK HERE for video of Carrier explaining the alterations.
A composite material is also placed between the roll bars and body of the door areas, designed to absorb some of the energy a driver's body endures in a crash. CLICK HERE for video and a closer look.
The front of the COT features an adjustable "splitter." This bottom flange is held in place by braces, can come out from the body of the car a minimum of four inches and maximum of six inches. The splitter cannot be more than four inches off the racing surface. CLICK HERE for video of the splitter.
"With four inches of ground clearance, it's kind of going to be like trying to drive your personal vehicle over a curb or the sidewalk," Carrier said of the COT's transition from the apron of Bristol Motor Speedway and onto the 36-degree banking. CLICK HERE to watch Carrier explain what he expects of the splitter in Sunday's debut.
COT rear wing
The rear of the COT features a wing, similar to what is found on cars in the SCCA road racing series and Formula 1. Side pods of the wing can be adjusted by the crews to make the car handle differently. CLICK HERE for video and a closer look.
COT on the track
Whether fans like to COT or not, they shouldn't get too used to its specifics. As NASCAR prepares to roll out the COT full-time, modifications and tweaking seem inevitable.
"I know they've already researched some possible changes in the areas of the wing and the splitter -- the two bolt on parts of the aerodynamic package," Carrier said. "There's a world of possibilities in those two areas, changing the car aerodynamically and changing the balance of these cars huge amounts.
"In that respect it's better for teams, especially those without mega-bucks and several teammates, to remain competitive."
As far as how it will handle, legends of the sport are optimistic. With a wider body and more upright windshield, the COT will increase drag and punch larger holes in the air, taking away the aero-push teams have fought when behind other cars on intermediate tracks. Some hold out hope the COT will put the onus back on a drivers' abilities rather then the equipment beneath them.
"It's going to be like driving your car home on a curvy road and it's just rained, but you want it to feel likes it's dry," Carrier said of handling in the COT. "NASCAR wants the cream to rise to the top, they want something to separate the guys on the top of their game from the guys that are not."
Even with all the COT this week at BMS, the effects of it's aero-changes will likely not be measured until it hits larger tracks. So, this Sunday prepare to buckle in for another rough and tumble slugfest at the Bristol bullring. CLICK HERE to watch Carrier share his expectations for the Food City 500.
"It's the same, it's a survival deal," Carrier said of the Food City 500, where MMM must qualify their way into the field.
"There's going to be a lot of concern this time over two things; taking care of the front splitter and rear wing. You knock those two things off or damage them, and it will severely inhibit your chance to do well."