The Dodge Avenger, which joins the Dodge Charger in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition this season, makes its racing debut Sunday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway — the first NASCAR Car of Tomorrow (COT) race.
Preparing for NASCAR’s 16 COT races in 2007 has kept the candle burning at both ends for most NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams since the end of last season. The Avenger, Dodge’s racing version of the COT, has been tested at tracks throughout the country getting ready for the ultimate test in Thunder Valley, Tenn., this coming weekend.
The all-new 2008 Dodge Avenger, the street-legal version of this great new race car, is a mid-size sedan combining bold, aggressive Dodge styling with innovative interior features, high-levels of safety and reliability, exhilarating performance and excellent fuel efficiency of 30 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway (32 mpg based on 2007 EPA fuel economy standards). Production of the all-new 2008 Dodge Avenger began at the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Assembly Plant in February and will start to arrive in dealer showrooms next month.
NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow program is a collaborative effort by the sanctioning body, manufacturers, teams and industry suppliers to develop a safer, less expensive race car using a more common design. The common design will debut on a very uncommon track where the winner is often determined by survival of the fittest as well as fastest.
The intimidating .533-mile Tennessee oval is the highest-banked and fastest short track on the circuit. It’s banked 36 degrees in the corners and 16 degrees in the straight-aways. Five hundred high-speed laps at Bristol are not for the feint of heart.
“Dodge is ready for the challenge at Bristol, and we think the Dodge Avenger is the car to beat,” said Mike Accavitti, Director – Dodge Motorsports and SRT Marketing, Chrysler Group. “We believe that the Avenger can bring Dodge a championship in the future, and we can’t wait to start that campaign this weekend.
“And, for the first Dodge driver to win a COT race, we will donate an all-new Dodge Avenger to the charity of his choice,” Accavitti added.
Dodge drivers also feel the new Dodge Avenger has great potential for the future.
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 12 Alltel Dodge Avenger, holds the qualifying record at Bristol with a sub-15-second lap of 128.709 mph set on March 21, 2003. Newman and his Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Avenger, joined about 50 other teams for a COT test at Bristol in late February.
Many Dodge teams were pleased and eager for a return visit to see how their Dodge Avengers stack up against other Cars of Tomorrow in race conditions.
“You can test it all you want, but we’re not going to know what we’re really dealing with until we race it,” David Stremme, driver of the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge said. “Some of the guys have been complaining about it, but I’m anxious to race it. Anything can and usually does happen at Bristol, so it should be a very interesting race for the competitors and a very entertaining one for the fans.”
Busch won last year’s Food City 500 in only his second start in the Penske Racing Dodge. The 2004 series champion has won five of the last 10 races at the .533-mile track, and No. 2 Miller Lite crew chief Roy McCauley said he’d bet on his driver to win a dump truck race at Bristol.
“With the Avenger there’s a large window of opportunity, and the people that do their homework the most will exploit that window of opportunity initially,” McCauley said. “The garage area is full of the smartest racers in the world, and they will catch up. Everybody will catch up, but I think a couple of cars will be dominant initially because they’ve done their homework ahead of time.”
Former Bristol winner Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge, is chomping at the bit to become the first driver to win in a Dodge Avenger and also the first NASCAR driver to take the COT to victory lane.
“I think we’re all excited about getting the Avenger on the racetrack for the first time and to carry it to Bristol of all places, we’re definitely going to test its durability and how it holds up under pressure,” Sadler said. “Bristol is an action-packed race, and it’s always a tough race. Being the first COT race in the history of NASCAR makes it even more exciting.
“Everybody will bring their best stuff,” added Sadler. “You want to get started on the right foot. The Avenger is a great tool. We feel like Dodge has done a great job giving us everything to work with correctly. Hopefully, we can put it all into motion and have a good weekend.“
Some drivers contend that it will be more difficult to pass at Bristol with the COT, subsequently resulting in more caution flags in the 500-lap event. Other drivers maintain that the COT will not get a true test of its potential until later in the season. Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge, says the Dodge Avenger 500 on Mother’s Day weekend in May in Darlington, S.C., will provide the first real test for the COT.
“That will be the first bigger track we have with the Avenger,” Kahne said. “It’s going to be an eye-opening weekend. It’s going to be tough to make that car work there. It’s going to be much different than what it’s been in the past, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“I think Darlington is going to be a bigger change in the way cars run than Bristol. I think Bristol will be similar to what it’s been in the past with the COT, and Martinsville will be similar. Darlington will be a big change, and that’s when all 43 drivers and teams will figure out the cars are a lot different than what we’ve been racing.”
Like Bristol, Darlington demands the most out of man and machine. The aerodynamics of the Dodge Avenger might not be tested on the short tracks at Bristol and Martinsville, but drivers will become familiar with the car that’s scheduled to compete in half of the final 10 Chase races.
Bristol will provide the first hurdle for the COT, and that’s just fine with Busch.
“I just always get a spring in my step when we come back to Bristol,” Busch said. “I enjoy this place like no other. At this place, 500 laps is without a doubt the hottest ticket in NASCAR.
“We’re definitely excited about the Dodge Avenger and what it can do for our team. Having the first COT race at Bristol will be just like jumping into a full tank of sharks and swimming around with them. It’ll probably come down to survival.”