A Noob's Guide to NASCAR
It's that time when NASCAR kicks off in full force, with teams taking to Daytona this Sunday. If you're reading this site, you're probably into Formula 1, WRC and endurance racing, which is all cool, but you really should give NASCAR a shot. When it gets right down to it, it's just a bunch of cars hauling ass, so how bad can it be? So with that in mind, take a gander at a BoldRide Noob's Guide to NASCAR: The Cars
All NASCAR competitors battling it out for the Sprint Cup are driving what NASCAR refers to as the Generation 6 car. They come in three flavors: Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry, but the only thing that separates them -- and the only thing they have in common with production vehicles -- is the decals on the fenders. Everything about these cars is identical.
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They're all prepared a little differently, mind you, but they all have to fall into the same template. When it was introduced in 2007, it was known as The Car of Tomorrow, which is kind of ironic, because these 3450 pound cars run small-block 358-cubic inch pushrod V-8s just the way they did 50 years ago. Nevertheless, these old-school mills churn out 850hp, all designed to run wide open for 500 miles at a stretch.
The front suspension is a double wishbone with a power recirculating ball steering system, and the rear suspension is a two-link live axle design utilizing trailing arms. Tires are slicks, all provided by Goodyear.
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Gen 6 cars were the result of seven year of research following Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s death at the 2001 Daytona 500. The driver's seat moved four inches toward the center of the car, the roll cage moved three inches back, the car's height is two inches taller, and it's four inches wider, too. Crumple zones have been built into both sides. Prior cars had a front valence, but there's now a splitter to produce downforce. The exhaust exits at the right to reduce heat on the driver, and the fuel cell is stronger and smaller, down to 17.75 gallons from 22 gallons.
There was a time in NASCAR when a Pontiac was a Pontiac and a Ford was a Ford. These days, regardless of whose brand name is on the fender, every car has to fit into the same profile, and upon initial inspection, NASCAR officials ensure that by measuring each and every car with a device called "The Claw."
The Claw is actually 19 individual templates welded into a single device that lowers over the entire car, making sure that each car is within extremely specific tolerances.
Officials are looking for areas where the sheetmetal has been altered to effect some kind of aerodynamic or weight-saving advantage over the other teams.
For about 30 years, from NASCAR's inception up until the late 1980s, you were probably right to joke that there were about two dozen drivers that all came out of the illegal liquor business, straight into competitive racing. That short-changes a lot of incredible drivers, but it's not too far from the truth.
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That all started changing once real money started being applied to this racing series.
Jeff Gordon is the prototype for the modern NASCAR driver: Born in 1971, Gordon was racing quarter midgets at the tender age of five. By the age of six, he had won 35 main events and set six track records. He started racing sprint cars at the age of 16, and his entire family packed up and moved from California to Pittsboro, Indiana to allow him to pursue his career.
Today, drivers are launching racing careers at pre-school age in karts, and training the way elite athletes train for any other major league sport. They undergo an intense fitness regimen. Drivers focus hard on cardio to keep up their stamina on in the waning laps of a 500 mile superspeedway race at 180 miles per hour plus.
If you think NASCAR is just roundy-round racing in an oval, you're missing out on the variety of tracks Sprint Cup competitors battle over.
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These are designated as tracks that are greater than two miles in length. There are seven superspeedways in the United States: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Daytona International Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, Texas World Speedway and Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
Superspeedways can be high banked ovals like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or they may be massive 2.66-mile "tri-ovals" like Daytona and Talladega. Tri-ovals came into popularity because they offer superior sightlines.
These are your basic one to two -- though generally 1.5-mile -- speedways around the country. They were derided for a long time as "cookie cutter" tracks that offered no discernible differences from each other, but when Charlotte installed lights in 1992, suddenly night racing was on, and with it came a whole new level of excitement. If you see a night racing event, it's generally at one of these intermediate tracks.
As the name implies, these tracks are a mile long and look like a paper clip from the air. Tracks like New Hampshire Motor Speedway have not much in the way of banks, adding to the challenge. Dover is a notable exception, with high banked turns.
All the flash and speed is at the superspeedways, but short tracks are the bare-knuckled brawls of the racing world. Held in bullrings of up to a mile, and as little as a half-mile, short track racing is all corners, and hardly a car makes it out with a straight panel. Races like the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville indicate the number of laps rather than the total miles in the race.
And how is the "Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500" not the coolest sounding race in all of motorsport.
Making liars out of everyone who suggests that NASCAR drivers can't turn left, two races a year are held at Watkins Glen at the historic raceway in upstate New York, and at Sonoma Raceway -- formerly known as Sears Point.
In 2003, driver Matt Kenseth won 19 races, and won the championship by 264 points. Good for Matt Kenseth, bad for everyone else who watched that season. Since 2004, the NASCAR championship has been determined by a kind of a playoff system known as The Chase for the Cup.
After the 26th race of the season, the top 12 drivers in points have their points manually set to 5,000, plus ten points for every race they won during the season. It essentially guarantees that the championship will be decided in the last race, rather than some time in July.
In order to keep the other 25 schmucks from lollygagging around the racetrack the last 10 races, NASCAR also awards a million dollar prize for the driver who finishes the season 13th. The whole process ensures that more races throughout the NASCAR season mean more– and it all starts this weekend in Daytona.