WE ARE introducing packers this week, and we don't mean Green Bay Packers.

On a Tuesday conference call, reigning Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said "packers" is a term "you'll start hearing a lot more of" with the Car of Tomorrow.

Packers are rubber grommets, or reinforcements, placed on the shafts of shock absorbers to limit their movement during races.

Packers and front splitters: It's the new world of NASCAR. Don't you love it when we talk tech?

As expected, the COT received mixed reviews in its debut Sunday at Bristol, Tenn.

Count Kyle Busch among those skeptical of the new cars, designed to increase drivers' safety and lower owners' costs. And Busch won the race at Bristol!

Busch said he wanted to win the first COT race "so I could tell everybody how terrible this thing is to drive. It still doesn't turn."

The consensus, however, seems to be that this is the car of the future, so let's deal with it.

"We had a tight race car," Jimmie Johnson, a Hendrick Motorsports teammate of Busch, said on a Tuesday conference call. "You'd get the car extremely loose on corner entry and exit, just to have it rotate to center. I think that was pretty common for everyone.

"I have the same complaints that everybody does, but over time, we'll work on the car and figure out a way to make it turn."

Said Jeff Burton, runner-up by 0.064 of a second at Bristol: "I think it's going to be fine, because the teams have to make it that way. Whatever you give [the race teams], they're going to do their very best to build a car that's better than the people they're racing against."

Both Burton and Bristol's third-place finisher, Jeff Gordon, think the first real test for the COT will be at Darlington on May 12. The venerable South Carolina speedway is a tight, 1.366-mile oval.

"It's going to be a handful at Darlington," Burton said. "I think it's going to be hard to drive."

Said Gordon: "Darlington's going to be the first race that we really see what this [COT is] going to be all about."

Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the site of Sunday's Nextel Cup race, and Bristol are similar size, but vastly different in banking: Martinsville's turns are banked at 12 degrees, compared with 36 degrees at Bristol. The Virginia track's straightaways are flat, whereas Bristol's are 16 degrees.

Speaking about Martinsville, Johnson said, "I'm hoping that since we don't have an abrupt transition into the corners, we can make the cars turn better, since we're not hitting the packers. I'm hopeful it will be a better race for us. We have heavy braking, but as soon as we start coming off the brakes turning the corner, I'm hopeful the car will rotate for us."

The racers at Bristol also learned about a new bumping development.

"In the past," Gordon said, "when you just got a bumper on the guy [ahead], it lifted the back of the car. These cars push it forward."

Previously, the trailing racer would bump the car ahead to break its momentum and move it to the side. Now, racers will have to adjust their strategy.

Biffle escapes penalty

Greg Biffle, who finished fifth at Bristol, will not be penalized for failing inspection after Sunday's race.

The rear of his Ford was too low after the race, which normally would warrant a penalty. But NASCAR is still adjusting to the COT and how it withstands race conditions. NASCAR officials determined the rear had settled from normal wear and tear.

Bowling for kids

Jimmie Johnson is among several Cup drivers involved with the Victory Junction Gang camp in Randleman, N.C.

The camp, for terminally ill children, is dedicated to the memory of Adam Petty, Kyle Petty's son. Adam, a promising racer, was killed in a crash 7 years ago while practicing at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Today is the grand opening of the Jimmie Johnson Victory Lanes at the camp. The Pettys told Johnson and his wife, Chandra, that what the camp needed most was a bowling alley.

"I grew up racing against Adam Petty," Johnson said, "and I think what the Petty family has done with the camp is an amazing thing." *

Send e-mail to fleiscb@phillynews.com.