Officials Say Week 2 For New Car Should Be Better, Safer

Friday, March 30th 2007, 3:07 pm
By: News On 6

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) NASCAR was pleased with last weekend's debut of the Car of Tomorrow, and said Friday that several problems -- including exhaust failures that exposed drivers to carbon monoxide -- can be easily fixed.

Several drivers finished the race with a "carbon monoxidey feeling," some after their exhaust systems failed during the race, Nextel Cup director John Darby said.

Brian Vickers suffered second degree burns to his feet, and needed oxygen after Sunday's race because of his exposure to the carbon monoxide.

"The exhaust failure is the first thing we went to work on," Darby said before practice at Martinsville Speedway, where the COT will race again this weekend.

NASCAR determined teams used a thinner metal for their exhaust systems in the COTs than they typically use in the cars, and the heat generated during the race caused several of the pipes to break. Some also misapplied the padding designed to shield other components from the heat, and that caused other parts to fail, Darby said.

"When a problem and the reason for the feeling is so obvious, then it becomes a pretty simple fix," he said of the carbon monoxide getting inside the race cars.

Matt Kenseth's team was among those with a broken exhaust pipe, and he said the heat melted the protective foam inside his door. The fumes made him sick all week.

Vickers and Denny Hamlin also were left feeling sick after the 500-lap race, but NASCAR did not feel like it needed to mandate that the exhaust systems be heavier.

"The one thing I do know is there's a whole lot of really smart people out there," Darby said. "If they failed an exhaust system last week, chances are they're not going to fail it this week. ... You're not going to win a race with a flat tire. The chances of winning a race with a broken exhaust pipe are about the same thing.

"That's something the teams will fix themselves very quickly."

Hamlin said Friday that his exhaust failed in practice, was replaced and was still intact when the race was over. He said the best guess he could make was he felt sick because Bristol's bowl shape keeps fumes close, and the temperatures were high, too.

Other than that, Hamlin said, he embraces the switch to the COT.

"For the most part, I think it's a change for the good," he said, adding that in two weeks, the cars are already starting to look more like the normal race cars.

Hamlin said he also has looked into using oxygen tanks to clean out his system, especially during short track weekends, to help flush out any carbon monoxide. Jimmie Johnson has made oxygen a part of his routine at Martinsville for two years.

"There are a lot of things that breathing oxygen helps you with," Johnson said. "One of the most important things, especially after a short track, is to get the carbon out of your system. All the exhaust fumes, brake fumes, everything you ingest in the course of a race. Pure oxygen is the only thing that will get that out of your system."

Beyond exhaust, the other big COT issue came when Greg Biffle's car failed post race inspection because it was too low, and NASCAR declined to penalize him this week.

Instead, it studied Biffle's car this week, determined the back end had settled because of normal race wear and tear and said it is still studying how the COT reacts to racing. Right now, the rulebook only sets minimum post-race height requirements for races at Daytona and Talladega, but that will eventually change, Darby said.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said the view from the officials tower at Bristol highlighted several features of the cars, which are being developed to improve driver safety and somewhat level the economic playing field.

While regular NASCAR racers normally lift when bumped from behind, causing them to spin and often hit something, the COT seemed to absorb the impact better, Pemberton said, which suggests fewer cautions will result from normal bump and grind racing.

Pemberton said some teams not typically in the top 10 ran there for parts of the race, which was another positive to take from the start of a long learning process.

For drivers who still don't like the COT, NASCAR asked for patience.

"I don't think that any of us will let one or two bad apples spoil what we think was a great achievement for a lot of teams, competitors, our engineers and anybody else that had anything to do with the success of this ... car," Pemberton said.

Darby said walking through the garage at Martinsville, it is apparent already that teams have made modifications for this week based on what they learned last weekend.

"The issues that everybody's working through right now are no different than what a team goes through from leaving the fall of one season and starting back up in the spring of the next season," he said. "Those are going to be there with any car."

In the end, he added, on race day, it's still all about the competition.

"This comes from the drivers that are still maybe on the negative side as well as the ones on the positive side, the one thing that they all agree on is if that's what's out there on Sunday, then we're going to jump in the thing and race it," he said.