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Junior: COT model still "most frustrating thing"


CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has used his clout to get things changed in NASCAR before. His next target is the Car of Tomorrow.

A day after struggling with the new-look car at Richmond International Raceway, Earnhardt Jr. called on NASCAR to make it easier to turn and handle.

“It’s going to take some time to figure it out, but right now it’s about the most frustrating thing I’ve had to deal with in this sport, and I’ve had to deal with some pretty frustrating things,” Earnhardt said Monday.

Junior was running in the top 10 for much of Sunday’s race until Jeff Green spun him. He finished 13th, but claims he knew he didn’t have a car that would win. Jimmie Johnson’s victory gave Hendrick Motorsports four wins in four races with the new car, which is being phased in this season and could be used in every race by 2008.

Earnhardt finished seventh, fifth and 19th in the previous COT races, and while that’s not bad, Junior hasn’t enjoyed any of them.

“Everyone is struggling with getting the cars to turn. Even when you’re running in second or third position, you’re just the best of the worst cars out there,” Earnhardt said. “Nobody’s cars were that fun to drive. You’re just trying to be the guy with the least amount of problems when it comes to handling and that seems to get you toward the front.”

When Junior has spoken up in the past, people have listened. When he complained about a dip last year at Texas Motor Speedway, it was fixed before he returned last month. The driver he’s endorsed to get the final spot into the annual All-Star race always seems to get voted in by the fans.

Speaking before testing began Monday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Earnhardt also chastised RIR for not sealing the track before Sunday’s race. But Junior, the sport’s most popular driver, is most concerned with using his clout to get NASCAR to take a serious look at how to improve the COT.

Earnhardt met with Nextel Cup director John Darby at the testing session. Darby said Earnhardt chalked up his remarks to frustration with the car, and Darby indicated NASCAR wasn’t considering any changes on behalf of its star driver.

“No, because one of the things you can’t do is fall into a position of where every time somebody brings a complaint to us, we have a knee-jerk reaction, then this car will be evolving forever,” Darby said.

The COT was the culmination of a seven-year project to find a safer car that would produce more side-by-side racing and make it easier to pass. With a detachable wing on the back and an adjustable splitter on the front, it was also designed to allow teams to use the same car at all tracks, saving teams money.

“They were open to suggestions on the wing versus the spoiler and all the other things when they were building the car and they implemented those,” Earnhardt said.

“Hopefully, they’ll be open to some criticism and more suggestions on how to improve it.”

Junior isn’t alone. Numerous drivers have complained about the way the car handles, but not as forcefully.

“Well, certainly Dale Jr. has a little bit more star power, and Tony Stewart, than I do,” Greg Biffle said. "So I have to be careful what I say because I get a little bit more ripped or branded than they probably would.

“But it is a difficult car, to get to what do you want it to do. It’s hard to influence the car to do stuff.”

But just what needs to be done is uncertain, and not everyone even thinks the car should be tinkered with. Car owner Ray Evernham believes much of the griping stems from Hendrick’s dominance.

“What changes would he make? You can’t just sit there and [complain] at NASCAR. I say don’t make changes -- let us figure it out,” Evernham said. “I think that Dale Jr. and those guys are probably in the same boat that we are: spread too thin and what used to work doesn’t work anymore.”

The COT will be used again this weekend at Darlington, a track known to tear up tires. Junior hopes he doesn’t tear up the car.

“I’ll be just trying to keep it off the fence. I think it’ll be hard not to hit the wall,” Earnhardt said. “The way these things get tight, it’ll be hard and slow, real slow. Very, very frustrating. Really, really, really frustrating.”


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