Cars going through their paces during testing of the new rear spoiler this week at Talladega (All photos: Getty Images for NASCAR)
THE ONLY WINGS IN NASCAR SHOULD BE HOT OR CHICKEN
There's an old saying that "To the victor goes the spoils."
Well, next week, the true victors or winners will be Sprint Cup drivers and fans. After nearly three years of having to endure the cumbersomeness, let alone potential unpredictability, of a rear wing, all Cup cars will return to those days of yesteryear when every Ford, Chevy, Dodge and Toyota on every race track from Loudon to Fontana will once again have spoilers on the rear deck lid.
So long wing, hello spoiler at Martinsville, which is where the transformation -- or the return to the tried-and-true -- begins next weekend. After considerable testing (and there's still two more days of testing due next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway prior to the M-ville race), the spoiler -- albeit a newer, taller and wider version -- will come into existence.
When the Car of Tomorrow was first unveiled, three things immediately struck first-time viewers: the boxy shape of the car, essentially making it devoid of any characteristics that would differentiate between car manufacturers (remember how Tony Stewart called it "A Flying Brick"?), as well the splitter on the front end of the car and the sports car-style wing on the rear of the car.
A rear wing? That's about as out of place in stock car racing as Tiger Woods is at a gay bar. In other genres of racing, sure, a wing is appropriate, but not on a stock car.
While drivers and fans have gotten used to the front splitter and semi-used to the COT design, the wing has been a bane of contention from Day One. It looked out of place, felt out of place to many drivers and it unknowingly and unexpectedly became the key point in several spectacular end-over-end crashes of drivers like Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and most recently, Brad Keselowski. When you reach speeds of over 160 mph, having a wing on the rear of a race car that suddenly is pushed from the rear ... well, you might as well have an air traffic controller in the scoring stand, prepared to warn planes in the area that we have another Cup car cleared for takeoff.
Don't believe me? Look it up. Most airplanes get enough lift for takeoff generally between 160 and 180 mph. Anything above that -- like Keselowski, who was traveling at 190 mph at Atlanta a week ago Sunday when Edwards got into his rear end and sent him airborne -- and the risk of the car taking flight and staying aloft for a much longer time before it comes crashing down to earth, typically in an end-over-end barrel roll, is a virtual certainty.
So, Wednesday NASCAR announced that the wings will go to wing heaven ... err, make that the wing junkyard (hey, maybe the sanctioning body can sell 'em used to the Indy Racing League and get at least a little return on their investment) ... and the triumphant and overdue return of the spoiler will make its debut next Sunday at Martinsville.
I commend NASCAR for, if not admitting it was wrong, at least having the sense to finally realize there was a serious problem with the concept, design and implementation of the rear wings. Everyone -- with the exception of NASCAR officials, it seems -- hated the wings. The wings were supposed to produce more downforce to keep race cars stuck to the pavement, and I will admit they did that for the most part. But like trying an unknown medicine for the first time, they also came with an unrealized side effect that put drivers and fans in jeopardy -- namely, taking flight at the wrong time and place.
It makes sense for NASCAR to debut the spoilers at Martinsville. It's arguably the slowest track on the circuit, plenty of data can be collected off the cars to see how they perform -- remember, the COT has, for the most part, only been run in testing, development and in race situations with the wing on it, not a spoiler -- and it allows drivers to kind of ease into the wing slowly.
In my mind, NASCAR is doing the right thing by starting out at M-ville, followed by the one-mile track at Phoenix, the high-speed 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway (the second-fastest non-restrictor plate track on the circuit) and then the mother of all superspeedways, Talladega -- in that order. You could liken that four-race progression to an orchestra that starts out in a waltz and eventually builds to a loud, fast crescendo. If the most of the kinks aren't worked out by then, then we could have a problem.
Sure, putting a spoiler on the back end of the Impalas, Fusions, Camrys and Chargers will take away some of the handling in the steering wheel that drivers had, but if they could adapt to the wing, they can re-adapt to the spoiler pretty quickly. After all, virtually all of today's Cup drivers have spent 90 percent or more of their stock car careers racing with a spoiler first, wing second under their belts.
If there was Cup racing back in the Roman Empire, we'd have heard "all hail to the king." More recently with the debut of the COT, we essentially heard "all hail to the wing."
All I can say now is thank you, NASCAR, for having the vision to make the right decision and rid the sport of wings. Hail, hail, the king ... err, I mean, the wing is dead!
(click on graphic below to enlarge)