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NASCAR addresses foam issue by ordering changes


Tweaks will allow for more airflow in right side of COT.
NASCAR will issue a technical bulletin prior to the next Car of Tomorrow race advising Nextel Cup teams to reconfigure the area around the protective foam on the right side of the vehicle, where some drivers have reported apparent smoldering or melting during the past two weeks.

Officials believe more airflow will solve the problem, which plagued several drivers in the COT’s debut race at Bristol and burned a hole on the inside of Kevin Harvick’s car this past Sunday at Martinsville. Engineers from NASCAR’s Research & Development Center attended Tuesday’s test session at Richmond International Raceway, where they walked teams through the changes.

Those alterations entail moving up the protective foam to build more space between it and exhaust pipes, where some teams reported cracks in the March 24 race at Bristol. Teams were also instructed on how to install the backstop and support shelving designed to keep too much heat from getting into the area. A bulletin detailing the setup will be distributed prior to the next COT race, scheduled for April 21 at Phoenix International Raceway.

“NASCAR has discovered that some teams experienced overheating of specific components over the last two weeks. As a result, NASCAR is working closely with the teams to ensure proper installation of the safety system in the right-side door panel in order to allow more air to circulate,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said Tuesday.

NASCAR continues to stand by the Impaxx foam, made by Dow Automotive, which was designed to help absorb energy in the event of a side impact. Officials from Dow attended the test at Richmond, and vouched for the safety of their product. Some drivers suffered from headaches after the Bristol race and questioned whether fumes from the material were toxic.

“This is an approved, raw product Dow and other chemical companies have been using for more than 50 years,” said Dow Automotive spokesman Dean Case. “It’s not a radical new product no one has ever seen before. When installed properly, it works. ... It’s safe.”

The foam, being used in motorsports for the first time, was in the Car of Tomorrow during a three-day test at Bristol earlier this season. Case said that Dow only supplies the foam, and did not design the system surrounding it. When burned, he added, the foam will emit fumes that contain only trace amounts of toxicity.

“We compare it to the fire in your fireplace,” he said.

Steve Peterson, Nextel Cup’s technical director, told drivers the same thing this week. “He reassured us that that foam was OK when it smoked or whatever happened to it,” Greg Biffle said.

Then there’s the question of whether it’s even the foam burning at all. NASCAR officials are investigating numerous possibilities, including whether something else inside the car -- the coating of the chassis, for instance -- is the source of the problem. Officials at NASCAR and Dow report that Harvick’s No. 29 car was the only one to have any problems in Martinsville.

Biffle experienced a similar issue the week before at Bristol. But even though NASCAR has ordered teams to make changes on the right side of the car, he won’t go as far as to say the design of the COT is flawed.

“I’m not going to say it was a design error on NASCAR’s part until we do a scientific analysis of exactly what happened,” Biffle said. “Did [Harvick’s team] have the proper amount of distance [for an] air gap? Did they have the heat shields in place? All those things. Because we experienced the exact same thing the week before, and we fixed it and didn’t have any problems.”


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