How NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow Works

Safety Improvements

The goal of NASCAR's engineers was to build a car that could stand up to more punishment on the track than ever before, hopefully saving some lives in the process. In April of 2008, driver Michael McDowell walked away from a twisted, flaming wreck when his Toyota Camry hit the wall at 180 mph (290 kilometers per hour) and then proceeded to flip several times. Announcers at the Texas Motor Speedway on that day made mention of the improved safety features of the new cars.

The Car of Tomorrow is designed to leave more space around the driver. The cockpit is 2 inches (5.1 centimeters) taller and 4 inches (10.2 centimeters) wider, and the driver sits more towards the center of the car in order to increase the car's crumple zone. These crumple zones are designed to absorb the kinetic energy of an impact and, as the name implies, crumple during a collision. The main idea is to divert the energy of the impact away from the driver by allowing the structure of the vehicle to absorb most of the force.

The windows are bigger, too; a feature designed to allow the driver to escape from the car more quickly. In addition, the doors are filled with several inches of thick foam to help absorb impacts. The driver's-side door has steel-plated bars for the same purpose. Another engineering advancement within NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow: a more rigid driver's seat. The purpose is to better support the drivers when they experience high G-forces [source: Murray].

The fuel cell, where the high-octane racing gasoline is stored, is now smaller. It holds about 17.5 gallons (66 liters) of fuel, down from 22 gallons (83 liters) in the previous car design [source: FOX Sports]. The cell itself sports thicker walls, too. Less fuel and a thicker tank means a reduced chance of a fuel leak and possibly a big fire.

Have all of these added safety features actually worked? Has the new car proven itself on the track? Well, since the car was introduced in 2007, it still may be a little too early to tell. To date, the last person to die in a NASCAR race was Dale Earnhardt Sr. Perhaps the Car of Tomorrow can keep it that way.

By now you understand that NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow is different. But how do the fans like it? And why has Dale Earnhardt Jr. been so critical of it in the media? We'll find out why in the next section.