The 2007 Nextel Cup season will introduce numerous changes to the sport, including a new type of car, new automaker and a change to the current points structure. Here’s a brief overview of what will be different in the Nextel Cup in 2007.
The Car of Tomorrow
The COT has been a touchy subject, to put it nicely, in NASCAR since its inception in 2004. The car, which is designed to keep drivers safer in crashes, was designed to make racing less dependent on aerodynamics than it is now, where cars at a lot of the intermediate tracks can’t pass each other because of “aero pushes.” The car is also bigger and boxier. It’s been described as a shoebox on wheels, has a splitter on the nose to help with downforce and a rear wing that looks like some of the rear wings on modified imports all around Columbia.
While drivers and owners initially voiced their displeasure about the cosmetics of the car and the cost involved in the project, opinions are starting to come around on the COT, which NASCAR says will limit costs for teams once the car is fully implemented in 2009 after being run in 16 of the races on the Cup circuit this year.
“I think the car will be fine,” said Carl Edwards, who also said he is pleased with the improved safety of the car. “It’s the same car for everyone.”
If the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Dodge Charger and Toyota Camry were indistinguishable to the casual fan now, the Car of Tomorrow will make that problem even worse. All of the cars, no matter the model, will be exactly the same; the only separating characteristics coming from the nameplate and headlight decals.
The emergence of the giant automaker into the Nextel Cup and Busch Series would be the 2007 season’s most-discussed development if it weren’t for the COT. And like the COT, Toyota’s entry has come with dissension. Jack Roush, Edwards’ car owner, declared at the preseason media tour in January that it was “war” with the automaker, which he believes will increase costs in Nextel Cup by paying extra for staff and technological research. Roush, who once paid an employee in yen for driving a foreign truck to work, apparently didn’t notice that Toyota has had American-based manufacturing plants for a number of years.
But Toyota, who dominated the Craftsman Truck Series when they entered in 2004, shouldn’t expect that type of success immediately in Nextel Cup.
Increased competition to qualify
Long gone are the days of “field fillers,” who qualified at the back of the pack and dropped out in the beginning laps to collect a paycheck. At least 49 teams are planning to run the full schedule, with all but one or two of them having the backing of a sponsor with very deep pockets. Along with those deep pockets come high aspirations, and with just 43 spots available each week, it’s guaranteed that at least one mega-bucks team will be left out of every race. The teams from the top 35 in owner’s points are already guaranteed a starting spot in the season’s first five races, leaving the other 14 teams to scramble for eight spots.
Toyota, which will be fielding seven full-time cars, only has guaranteed starting spots for Dave Blaney, who finished 27th last year, and Dale Jarrett, who has the past champions’ provisional bye virtue of the 1999 championship. It’s feasible that at least one Toyota could miss each of the first dozen races because of a lack of speed and owners’ points.
During the media tour in January, NASCAR President Brian France announced that some tweaks would be made to the format of the Chase for the Nextel Cup, which was instituted in 2004. This year, the Chase field has been expanded to 12 from 10, but 10 teams will still only be guaranteed spots at the banquet. Also, every team in the Chase will start with 5,000 points, with 10 points added on for each win. For instance, Kasey Kahne, because of his 5 victories before the Chase last season, would have started in first place with 5,050 points last year instead of in tenth with 5,000. Many believe that NASCAR instituted the expansion to prevent stars like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart, who have each missed the Chase once in the past two seasons, from ever missing the Chase again.
Increased emphasis on winning
NASCAR also announced with the Chase changes that race winners will receive five extra points. Race winners will receive 185 points, up from 180, and could increase that total to 195 if they lead the most laps.