ABINGDON, VA -- With 24 years experience in NASCAR's top division, Morgan-McClure Motorsports has witnessed the rise to domination of multi-car teams, expansion of the sport into new markets and the entry of a foreign manufacturer to competition.
While the team's checkered past -- three Daytona 500 victories in four years -- has been marred by recent disappointment -- 39th in 2006 owner point standings, failure to make this year's Great American Race -- there's reason for optimism.
The sport's newest challenge, the Car of Tomorrow (click at bottom of the page for accompanying story and video walkthrough), has been designed by NASCAR with single car operations like MMM in mind. CLICK HERE for video of the crew chief sharing his thoughts on the new car, which debuts debut Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. It will be raced at 16 events this season.
"When we've run these cars at all these race tracks, and learn some of these initial problems and how to get across them, then I think it'll be less of an advantage to have a lot of teammates or a room of engineers and a mountain of technology," said Chris Carrier, crew chief of the No. 4 State Water Heaters Chevrolet, driven by Ward Burton.
NASCAR cites driver safety, improved competition and cutting costs as the impetus for the COT -- which features a rear wing and front "splitter".
But some critics quickly rose to question economics of the COT project.
Among them were MMM co-owner Larry McClure. In October he told NASCAR.COM the COT could put him out of business, as building new cars while maintaining and improving the current models was draining his pockets. CLICK HERE for video of Carrier explaining the "juggling act."
Meanwhile, with a COT rule book that is more concrete about the construction of cars, NASCAR contends teams can use interchangeable cars at all types of tracks, save money on construction of specialized chassis in the long run. CLICK HERE to watch Carrier share his thoughts on the COT's tight specifications.
Despite earlier protest from the owner, Morgan-McClure's crew chief simply says the COT is, "now a part of life." And, ready or not, this weekend is show time. CLICK HERE for the video.
"You're not ever all the way ready to go anywhere, you just have to come to a point and say, 'OK, it's time to load the car up.' But there's always a time when that car leaves that you think, 'If I only had 10 more hours, if I only had two more days this might be better or I'd try this."
Carrier believes that a year to 18 months down the road, once the initial time and expense of building the new cars has been absorbed, smaller operations like Morgan-McClure will indeed benefit from the change.
The challenge, he says, is surviving the impasse. CLICK HERE to watch Carrier explain.
"I think in the end it will be better for the vast majority of race teams," Carrier said.
"There's not anything more complicated (about the COT), it's just different."
In fact, NASCAR's Car of 'Tomorrow' is considered by many to be a retardation of technology. Defending Food City 500 champion Kurt Busch began the COT test at Bristol with Rusty Wallace's 1999 set-up under the hood. Jeff Gordon told Sirius Satellite Radio he was disappointed NASCAR did not take the opportunity to start from scratch with a true car of "tomorrow." Tony Stewart calls the COT a "flying brick."
And some claim the stringent COT rules -- entailing all cars be shipped to Concord, N.C., for NASCAR certification before they even take a lap -- limits the creativity of engineers.
Again, Carrier believes all these factors can play to the advantage of smaller teams with less financial support. As new COT templates are lowered over the body to measure numerous contact points, the practice of teams slanting their deck lids and hoods to gain an aerodynamic advantage will end.
"The changes you're going to make are in the wing, the angle of the wing, the type of side pods you run on the wing and what you do with the splitter," Carrier said. "All those are things that you change by taking four or five bolts loose and moving something, tighten them back up, be on your merry way. You can make a pretty big aero change in 10 or 15 minutes right there in the garage area."
In February's two-day COT test at BMS, Ward Burton drove the MMM Chevy Impala to second spot on the time sheet.
“It’s just like any other race car. It has its own unique characteristics," Burton said of the test. "The adjustments may be a little different, but it gets loose and tight just like the other cars we drive. I’ve been giving Chris [Carrier] and the team feedback and they have been making changes to the car that has made it better.”
However, a late spin sent the nose slamming against the inside retaining wall, the crew scrambling to prepare for this weekend's COT debut. CLICK HERE for video explaining why repairing the COT is so difficult.
So, if history is any indication, concerns swirling around the COT will be but a faint afterthought when tomorrow arrives full-time, perhaps as early as 2008.
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For a video walkthrough of changes to the Car of Tomorrow, CLICK HERE.