By admin | March 4, 2008
Gordon and Stewart may have changed their minds
By Richard Allen
The untimely deaths of Dale Earnhardt, Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty forced NASCAR to take a serious look at the safety of stock car racing. As a result the organization, primarily under the leadership of Gary Nelson, began building the Car of Tomorrow.
The project took a full six years from Earnhardt’s death in 2001 until the car made its competitive debut in 2007. The car was an immediate target for scorn and ridicule. It was too different from what had been. Fans and teams alike did not care for the rear wing, the front splitter or the box like shape. No one seemed to like the overall appearance of the car.
Among those early critics were Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
Gordon’s initial thought was that the car did not look like a stock car. Like many, he felt as though the wing and the splitter looked out of place.
During the off season before 2007, Stewart complained that the car was causing too much additional work for teams and drivers.
While these two drivers and many others offered disdain for the CoT’s looks or the difficulty of preparing and driving the car, no one criticized the attempt to improve safety. The car is wider and taller than its predecessor. The driver sits closer to the center of the car. Crush panels have been placed throughout the roll cage to absorb the tremendous energy of a crash.
After his late race crash in Sunday’s UAW-Dodge 400 Gordon probably did not care about the CoT’s wing or splitter and whether or not they looked out of place. He was most likely just glad he was able to walk away from such a horrific looking incident.
Stewart also crashed hard in Las Vegas after blowing a right front tire. He limped away with some assistance from track safety workers. His situation was compounded by the fact that he had been involved in another accident the day before while driving a more conventional Nationwide Series car.
Almost certainly, Stewart was glad his team had put in that extra work to develop a much safer car. He might not have been able to even limp away otherwise.
By its very nature racing is a dangerous sport no matter what type of car is being used. Both the Gordon and Stewart crashes would surely have produced worse results in the previous car. The Car of Tomorrow has proven its worth in regard to driver safety. The car seems to be making great strides in producing better competition as well. If that trend continues fans and most assuredly drivers will begin to take more of a liking to the winged machine.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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