It has been decades since NASCAR's racers were just performance-modified versions of the cars you could purchase from the stock found at your local dealer showroom (hence the term stock car). These days, a NASCAR race car consists of a steel tube frame covered in a thin, sheet-metal body and powered by an old-school, big-displacement V-8 engine.
The racing teams build the cars based on the specifications and guidelines set by NASCAR. While the cars bear names like Impala and Fusion when they represent manufacturers like Chevrolet and Ford, the truth is, they're a world away from being anything like the car you can buy from the factory. Even the headlights are merely decorative decals.
The new cars have to weigh a minimum of 3,400 pounds (1,542 kilograms), with at least 1,625 pounds (737 kilograms) of that weight on the right side of the car. Remember, that's the side that takes most of the punishment if it goes into a wall.
Development of the Car of Tomorrow took about five years. In that time, it went through a battery of tests including wind tunnels, computer simulations and of course, on-track testing.
The Car of Tomorrow first competed at the Bristol Motor Speedway in March of 2007 and was used in 16 races that season before running every race in the 2008 season. Originally, the Car of Tomorrow wasn't scheduled to be used full time until the 2009 racing season; however, it was put into full-time use a year early [source: NBC Sports].
Just like developing a street car, there's a lot of trial and error involved in developing a race car. For instance, on the new car, foam that was designed to absorb energy during a side-impact actually melted (as a result of a nearby section of tailpipe) and spewed smoke during a race at Martinsville in 2007. Following the race, NASCAR ordered that less foam and a revised version of the heat shield be installed to protect the driver [source: Bernstein].
The Car of Tomorrow looks quite a bit different from the previous competitors in the series. In the next section, we'll find out why.