When the Car of Tomorrow was unveiled in 2007, astute racing fans knew right away something was different. The cars were noticeably bigger, sported large spoilers on their trunk, and all of them -- regardless of whether they were Dodges, Fords, Chevrolets or Toyotas -- looked eerily similar.
The new car is several inches wider and longer than the previous NASCAR race cars which were originally introduced way back in 1981. It is also boxier, less aerodynamic and slower.
Wait a second -- a race car that's actually slower and not as aerodynamic as its predecessor? Doesn't that seem like the opposite of what engineers typically want to do? Not necessarily. In this case, NASCAR officials wanted a car that is not only safer, but also easier to control.
One of the ways they did that was to add a splitter to the lower edge of the front fascia. A splitter is a horizontal panel that extends outward from the bottom of the nose of the car to provide extra downforce. A boxier body also reduces smooth airflow over the surface. The result is a NASCAR racer that is slightly slower and a bit more controllable for the driver. They now average around 180 to 190 mph (290 to 306 kilometers per hour) on the track, while the previous design was capable of well over 200 mph (322 kilometers per hour).
But one advantage to a boxier car means there is more of an emphasis on drafting -- a classic NASCAR maneuver where a driver follows another car closely while it displaces the air in front of both vehicles. At just the right moment, the trailing car can take full advantage of this reduced wind resistance and slingshot forward to pass the lead car -- sometimes for a race victory. The less aerodynamic shape of the Car of Tomorrow makes a driver's drafting skills all the more important.
Up next, we'll look at how the Car of Tomorrow is leveling the playing field for all teams competing in the NASCAR series -- regardless of whether they're sporting Toyota or Dodge decals.