This process can take as few as two or three passes through the gauntlet or as many as nine for one team. Teams must follow a set of construction plans to build the car, as well as a whole section in the rule book explaining the process. The base frame/rollcage cost of the COT is higher because of this process. One car builder told us it used to cost about $8,500, and it now costs around $18,000 for a bare frame and rollcage with some sheetmetal.

THE PROBLEMS CREATED BY THE COT
Most top teams had the older car figured out so that it turned well and was fast and consistent. With the COT, most teams are lost. With a loss of 300 pounds more downforce at the front than at the rear of the cars, drivers complain that the cars won't turn. Gee, we wonder where we've heard that before.

With the addition of a rear wing capable of producing loads of, well, added load, we have a car that's seriously front-grip deficient. So teams are looking at making changes to the front geometry, rear wing angle, and other factors to help get the cars to a neutral handling status again.

Since the rear wing is mostly exaggerating the problem, many teams have learned they need to adjust it to maximum angle of attack and in effect stall the wing so it produces less downforce. With the problems they have with less front grip, the last thing they need is a wing that can add rear grip.

BACK TO THE FUTURE
In reality, the COT handles much like the Street Stock cars we are all familiar with-they lack front grip. Observing the cars on TV tells the tale. We see where the car is either pushing up the track, or if the crew has loosened it sufficiently, it's tight/loose, but either way it's slow.

One driver reported that each time he entered a certain turn, the car behaved differently. One time it pushed and then snapped loose on exit (the old tight/loose syndrome) and the next time it turned well and was loose all the way around the turn. It's this uncertainty that unnerves many drivers.

In the past, the teams have put a significant portion of their resources into aero technology and will now have to rethink how they engineer their cars. The chassis dynamicist will now be in demand and the aero engineers can either find another genre or try to get up to speed on their dynamics lessons. Mechanical engineers will be in demand and any new technology that leans in that direction will need to be utilized.

CONCLUSION
It's an exciting time for all of circle track racing. Maybe now we can finally find common ground with the top levels of stock car racing by virtue of having common goals and experiencing common problems. We'll be here to report on how the top teams in Nextel (soon to be Sprint) Cup handle this new set of complications and how they utilize their technical know-how in solving the handling problems with the COT.

As we continue with this story in coming issues, don't look for results of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races or interviews with drivers about how a race went for them and their sponsors. We are still, and will always be, a technical source for the racers, be they short track or Nextel Cup. We're still with ya, man.