The COT report card is a mixed bag: On safety improvements a definite A, on cost savings a disappointing D.
The irony is that one of the changes made for safety is one of main reasons we had such a dramatic finish at Chicago in the Chase opener . The fuel cell is about four gallons smaller than it used to be. The idea was to have less gas in the car should a fire erupt. But the byproduct is that the fuel window is much tighter than it used to be.
And that has made for some unpredictable finishes. While some complain that the sport has become more about conservation than “flooring it,” the truth is that very seldomly do we get four or five cars just as good as each other coming off the hauler on Friday. It’s a cyclical sport where almost every week one car shows up markedly better. A variable like fuel mileage becoming more of a premium guarantees that we get some head-scratchers with 30 laps to go that otherwise would become blowouts.
I can’t help but look at the current fuel cell and compare it to Alexander Cartwright deciding arbitrarily that bases should be 90 feet apart when he invented baseball. Cartwright, pretty much accidentally, got it just right. Even on a routine play, fielders usually beat out runners by little more than a step and a half, making for quite a bit of drama should anything go wrong.
The current fuel cell is modern-day base paths. It seems to be a perfect formula to create excitement.
And, of course, that perfect storm is about to get thrown out the window.
Nobody’s blaming NASCAR for going to fuel-injection in 2012. The other problem with the COT is that it didn’t address brand identity, a motivation for already-hurting car manufacturers to be tight with their NASCAR spending. Just as the shape of NASCAR machines have no relationship to their dealership brethren, carburetors are dinosaurs compared to what we see on the street.
Only thing is, some folks in the garage have been a lot more creative than others about turning that dinosaur into a thoroughbred. With fuel injection and increased mileage for everybody, is that variable going to more or less become an occasional issue?
If so, how many people are going to pay $125 for a race ticket or spend a gorgeous Sunday afternoon chained to their couch so they can see somebody drive away the last 25 laps, their only potential foil being a hot dog wrapper on his grill?
Progress just about always has unintended consequences. But this one should have race fans pretty worried.