Friday, October 5, 2007
Reduced sight lines another COT worry at Talladega
By David Newton
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Imagine driving down the interstate with the bumper of your two-door sedan pressed against the back of an 18-wheel tractor trailer truck.
Not much of a view, right?
That's what Nextel Cup drivers say they'll face in the Car of Tomorrow during Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway.
The taller body and rear wing create a lack of visibility that most agree will be the single-largest -- and potentially most dangerous -- challenge as the new car makes its debut on a track larger than 1.366 miles.
They say it will create problems in the draft, a necessary evil on restrictor plate tracks, that could increase the likelihood of the "big one" every driver fears.
"When you're tailgating a semi-truck on the interstate and you can't see around them it's a little bit intimidating," Matt Kenseth said between Friday's practices on the 2.66-mile track. "When you're behind a [car] and can see everything that's happening in front of them you can react if there's a reaction on the road.
"Here, if you're right up on somebody, a wreck could happen and you're not going to have any idea, you're not going to see it until you're probably in it. It's a lot bigger difference than I thought it would be."
Denny Hamlin, who was parked by NASCAR for the first 15 laps of the second practice because of aggressive bump drafting, said the lack of visibility will be a "huge factor."
Not only can't you see what the three or four cars ahead of you are doing as normally is the case, he reminded, you can't see hand signals from drivers in the car in front of you.
"You used to rely on a guy waving us off, don't bump draft me," he said. "Now you don't even have a hand signal that you can throw out there.
"I don't think anybody is willing to stick their hand out the left side. That's way too dangerous in these things. I told my crew to make sure my belts are extra, extra safe this weekend."
NASCAR officials say there's nothing that can be done to improve visibility without changing the design of the car, which won't happen.
The only option, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said, is to be more cautious.
His biggest fear is that a car three or four ahead drops out of line and begins moving back at a fast rate.
"And you don't know how much they're checking up in front of you and you run over the top of a guy," he said. "It's that domino effect that's going to get guys in trouble.
"I don't know any way around that. Even if you're a foot off of his bumper I don't know if there's a way around that."
Clint Bowyer jokingly said Gordon's sight problems at Talladega are height related.
"He's just too short," he said with a laugh.
Bowyer admitted his sight lines aren't as good in the new car, but he isn't complaining because everybody faces the same problem.
"You've just got to rely on that car in front of you, and if you're not comfortable with that car in front of you, you better be getting out of Dodge," he said.
Carl Edwards already has told his spotter to be on top of his game.
"If I'm behind a guy it's like a big blind zone that is bigger than it ever was before," he said. "You can't see anything in front of him. It's like a flock of birds, when they all change directions at once.
"If everyone is in a line and the guy has a problem and everyone sees it we can all turn at the same time. When you get a little bit of a delay, whatever you call that effect where everybody piles up, that is going to be a bigger factor now than it was."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.