Friday, October 5, 2007

Rules? What Rules?

Note: This was originally posted on July 7, 2007.

The driver pictured above is not Kyle Petty, but he works for Kyle, and seems to think like Kyle. The driver pictured above is Bobby Labonte, and he drives the 43 Dodge.

Bobby Labonte, as is Kyle Petty, is a professional. Both drivers have been around the sport for a long time, both have wins, and both have seen bad, worse, and worst.

The situation in Nascar today is in some ways unique, but not completely new. Nascar has always been about keeping the racing exciting and close. The racing today is closer than ever. When is the last time you saw a driver win by a lap or more? That used to be common as late as the 1980's. In this way, Nascar has succeeded.

With the new Car Of Tomorrow, or COT, as it is known, Nascar has been handing down some pretty stiff penalties for changing anything on the body of the car. So far, 3 crew chiefs have been sent home for 6 races, and teams have each been penalized 100 owners and drivers points. The $100,000 penalties are nothing, really though.

$100,000 is like pocket change to these guys. 100 points is not.

Drivers simply cannot afford the penalties in points. They work hard for every single point, and when they get penalized 100 points, it's hard to come back from that. The three drivers in question seem to be recovering well, but the fact remains that every point is hard to earn in this sport.

Crew chiefs are not quite as famous in this sport as the drivers are. Perhaps they ought to be. Crew chiefs ultimately have all rule over the finished car that goes onto the track. The crew chief is given the job of making sure that the car is as fast as possible.

The crew chief has many options available. He can tweak the engine or the chassis. Nascar has hard and fast rules concerning the engine. The engine must be exactly 358 cubic inches in displacement. The crew chief can only use certain sized carbs and intakes on their engines. The exhausts are measured for size. The tweaks that the crew chief can use are the internal engine parts, such as pistons, valves, lifters, springs, crankshaft's, camshafts, etc.

On the chassis, crew chiefs can change, somewhat, the geometry of the suspension and the components used. Springs, shocks, etc. can be experimented with. The amount of spring force and angle can be changed. Spring rubbers can be applied. A veritable playground of chassis options exist crew chiefs.

Back in day, there was a crew chief named Smokey Yunick. Smokey had a lot of ways to beat Nascar, back in the day. I'll give you one example of that.

Back in the day, as we say, Smokey was given a certain fuel tank size as a rule of law by Nascar. To give his driver a bit more of an advantage, Smokey made a fuel line from the gas tank to the carb that circled around several times, and was several times longer than it needed to be. The result? That driver had almost a gallon of gas more than his peers on the track.

It's this kind of innovation that has separated Nascar from the other racing series. Nascar crew chiefs are responsible for giving their drivers that extra 1/10 of a second advantage around the track. Crew chiefs in Nascar have always looked for that extra edge to give their driver an advantage. It's just part of Nascar. Did Smokey cheat? Yeah, probably, but Nascar had never made any determination about the length of fuel lines. Up to that point. That's what crew chiefs do: Try to find a little extra advantage.

Now Nascar is trying to take that ability away. To me, I think Nascar should keep the traditions that helped grow the sport from a South Eastern US favorite to the national and even worldwide sport it has become.

Message to Nascar: Don't mess with success.

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