Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say goodbye to our old friend, the CoT.
On Friday at Daytona, NASCAR's new Generation 6 cars hit the track for the first time during a genuine race weekend. That means that the CoT has officially shuffled off this motor oil, ahem, mortal coil.
Some of you might remember him as the Car of Tomorrow. But now, for him there are no more tomorrows. Only six years of high-speed yesterdays, with which will we shall always remember our bygone companion for both the good and the bad. There was plenty of both.
Others might call him Gen 5. If you are among that group, we need you to leave the parlor immediately. Clearly, you didn't actually know CoT, because that "Gen" name was tacked on after he was gone and, quite frankly, you're taking seats in this service from those of us who did know him.
Ol' CoT certainly wasn't the handsomest member of the NASCAR family. I think we all remember back in 2007, when he first arrived sporting that big black carbon fiber mullet. He called it a wing. Said it helped him look cool, like Vin Diesel in "The Fast and The Furious." It didn't. Thank goodness he eventually cut it off, opting for a more sensible spoiler. And when he finally decided to get that nose job in 2011, I certainly don't think any of us gathered here today had any complaints.
"Honestly, I'm kind of divided on how I feel about the CoT moving on," says Alan Gustafson, who won the car's first race -- at Bristol on March 25, 2007, with Kyle Busch -- and its final race -- at Homestead on Nov. 18, 2012, with Jeff Gordon. "On one hand, it was very good to me. I was fortunate enough to win a lot of races with that car. But on other hand, it felt like we just kind of tolerated it. It wasn't pretty, but it was the hand we were dealt."
Brothers and sisters, let us always remember how CoT handled those early years with such grace. It certainly couldn't have been easy for him to hear Busch, the first driver he had ever carried to Victory Lane, immediately declare on national television that he sucked. And it had to have been difficult constantly avoiding television and radio so as to avoid hearing the endless criticism of his body, that his shape was too "boxy" and had no distinguishing curves to speak of. Then there were the claims that he refused to play well with others, that he wouldn't ever get close enough on the intermediate tracks and was too choosy about his playmates on the superspeedways.
But CoT, he managed to tune all of that out and just go about his business. He immortalized the words of Lord Byron, who wrote, "'Tis very certain the desire of life prolongs it," and King Richard (Petty), who added, "Sometimes it's a blessing to be hard of hearing."
As he now returns to the sheet metal rack whence he came, CoT likely will always be described as a divider. A touchstone for controversy. The continental divide of an ongoing argument about exactly what it is that defines good racing.
Sure, we can say "divider," but we could also say "provider."
After all, the statistics tell us that CoT produced one of the most competitive eras in NASCAR's 60-plus seasons. His five full seasons on the track produced at least a dozen different winners in each of those 36-race schedules. His last two years saw 33 different visitors to Victory Lane in 72 races. That's a lot. Going back to his first year, the 16-race slate of '07, CoT handed checkered flags to 28 different drivers in 196 races, including first-time winners such as Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann, Juan Pablo Montoya, Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith, David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose and Paul Menard.
"I don't care how ugly someone might say a race car is," says Reutimann, a two-time CoT winner, his only two Sprint Cup wins. "They all look pretty standing in Victory Lane."
Sure, we can say "divider," but we could also say "uniter."
"In a strange way, the CoT is what finally got us all back together. It stabilized things in the garage between the competitors, the auto manufacturers and NASCAR," explains Chad Knaus, the crew chief who won four of his five Cup titles with Jimmie Johnson in seasons when the CoT was used. "Things had gotten a little out of control with the old cars. The CoT wasn't exactly my favorite race car. But it did kind of hit the reset button on how we do car construction and how NASCAR does technical inspection. The sport needed that."
Sure, we can say "divider," but we could also say "protector."
Just ask those who have found themselves ricocheting off walls or tumbling end over end at 190 mph, wrapped in its steel arms. Ask Michael McDowell, Elliott Sadler, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Sam Hornish Jr. and pretty much anyone who has raced at Daytona or Talladega in the past five years. Today we might gather at the funeral of the CoT. But because of the CoT, we never had to gather at theirs.
"To me, that will always be the legacy of that car," says Jeff Gordon, who, mere moments after publicly bragging about the sleeker looks of the Gen 6 machine, referenced his skeleton-shaking hits at Las Vegas in 2008 and at Watkins Glen the next year. "I don't even like to think about what might have happened to me had I been in those crashes in the old car. All the safety changes that came with the CoT will still be in these new 2013 cars. That part I'm glad is sticking around. If the CoT is what it took to get us there, that's fine by me."
It's as if Jeff de Gordon is channeling the words of Charles de Gaulle, who once said, "Graveyards are full of indispensable men." Or, in this case, junkyards are full of indispensable cars. "If, in the end, the CoT's job was to be the bridge that got us into a safer future," says Carl Edwards, who nearly won the 2011 Cup title in a CoT, "Then that is certainly no shameful legacy."
And so, dearly beloved, we give one last Barney Hall call to our departed compatriot. The race car that knew all too well the sentiment of Friedrich Nietzsche, who once praised the ability
"To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly." Or in the words of another great philosopher, crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe, "Yeah, it was time to take this horse out back and shoot it."
Crashes to crashes, dust to dust.