Change to come one year earlier than planned

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR will use the Car of Tomorrow
exclusively in 2008, a year earlier than planned.

The COT was scheduled to run 16 races this season and be phased
into competition during the next two years. But costs skyrocketed
while car owners tried to maintain two programs -- the current car,
and the COT -- and NASCAR said Tuesday it will move up the date if
teams agreed.

"The majority of car owners actually came to us and said 'Now
that we are up and running the car, it doesn't make sense to have
two parallel programs moving forward,'" competition director Robin
Pemberton said. "It seems to us that everyone is working on the
Car of Tomorrow now and ready to use it exclusively."

The COT was a seven-year project by NASCAR to design a universal
car that is safer, less expensive and better for racing. It's been
used in five events this season, all won by drivers for Hendrick
Motorsports. The next COT race is June 3 in Dover, Del.

Most drivers have been critical of the COT, complaining about
its handling and calling it difficult to drive, but they preferred
going to one program.

"I don't like doing two different cars -- it's one or the
other," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said this month. "I'd go full time to
the COT right now. Why not? We're all struggling with it. We might
as well get all the time we can with it week in and week out, even
if it drives us all crazy."

Smaller teams have been satisfied with the results and think the
COT has helped them compete with the big-budget operations.

"I think it does help level the playing field somewhat for the
smaller teams," said Jeff Green, whose two top-10 finishes this
season came in COT races.

"NASCAR is able to keep a tighter lid on some of the trick
things teams can do, and I think that will benefit the teams that
don't have the depth of resources some of the bigger teams have. I
see it as a positive move all the way around."

But Jeff Gordon, winner of two COT races, is hesitant because
the car has yet to race on a 1.5-mile track.

"Without being on a mile-and-a-half track, I don't see how we
can just go completely forward with it," Gordon said. "I'm pretty
optimistic about the way things are going right now. Obviously
we're running good with it. But I still think there are things that
need to evolve with this car that are not there yet."

Humpy Wheeler, president of Lowe's Motor Speedway, estimates the
COT will save teams $1 million per car annually, thus helping
smaller teams compete.

"While we will probably never again see the day when a young
rookie like Ricky Rudd or Bill Elliott shows up at a track with a
car they built in their home garage, we may see a return of the
successful one-car operation," Wheeler said. "The end result is
that in a couple years the playing field will be more level."

After two consecutive COT races, NASCAR returned to the old car
for Saturday night's All-Star race -- a snoozer that saw just three
lead changes over 80 laps. The old car will be used again at Lowe's
Motor Speedway for this weekend's Coca-Cola 600.

Wheeler thinks races will be more exciting once the COT is fully

"The Car of Tomorrow will eventually create the most dynamic
change in racing in the long history of Nextel Cup," he said. "As
drivers and crews continue to adapt, the racing will be more
competitive and we will see a significant increase in side-by-side

NASCAR has been pleased with the car through its first five
events and cites an average margin of victory of .505 seconds --
compared with 1.286 seconds in the same five races last season -- as
proof the car has improved racing.

It also says there have been six fewer did-not-finish results
through the same race sequence, and 13 teams have used the same
chassis for three of the five races.

NASCAR recognizes the car is a work in progress. Series
officials had hoped teams would want to use the COT full time in
2008 because more use produces more information on how to make

"We feel like making this decision now gives teams an idea of
what is coming and lets them put more resources into the new car,"
Pemberton said. "Teams can work on program for next year and
everyone will be able to get a better grasp on the entire

The Toyota teams have been the loudest proponents for going
strictly to the COT because focusing on one program could alleviate
many of the manufacturer's struggles. Toyota's teams have struggled
to make races this season, the automaker's first in the Nextel Cup.

"It will help us tremendously because we're a startup
organization and it would help us streamline our efforts," said
Michael Waltrip, who is running a three-car team. "It will save
everybody money. It will be more competitive going forward and I
look forward to it being all-in right away."