As most NASCAR enthusiasts would agree, the 2011 Sprint Chase for the Cup was one of the most exciting Chases we’ve had in years. Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards battled it out point-by-point to the very last lap at Homestead-Miami in November, with Stewart slipping the win away from Edwards by a single point. Stewart’s win ended Jimmie Johnson’s five-consecutive-year reign as Sprint Cup champion. The 2012 season promises even more excitement for the series and the three month hiatus has been filled with changes that mean big things for the sport.
Sponsorships have been up in the air, leaving fans to wonder if their drivers will be coming back on the same teams. A slew of crew and driver changes were reported in the last few weeks of the season, and even more have been confirmed since the hiatus began. Major shifts to note include: AJ Allmendinger leaving Richard Petty Motors for Penske Racing, after Best Buy moved their sponsorship to Roush Fenway Racing. Clint Bowyer has moved to Michael Waltrip Racing after five years with Richard Childress Racing. Red Bull announced an end to their involvement in NASCAR, with Kasey Kahne making the move to Hendrick Racing and Brian Vickers without a ride as Red Bull Racing looks for new investors. David Ragan also lost his sponsor at Roush Fenway Racing. Danica Patrick gets a full-time Sprint Cup ride at Stewart-Haas Racing. Kurt Busch finalized a one-year deal with Phoenix Racing, having parted ways with Penske Racing after five years. NASCAR’s favorite bad boy had a tumultuous 2011 season, off-track antics and on-track behavior both landing him in the headlines.
These changes alone would be enough for an interesting 2012 season, but NASCAR wasn’t quite done yet. In 2011, they introduced the two-car tandem draft to the restrictor plate tracks and the experiments were met with mixed reactions from fans and surprising results on the track. Critics of tandem drafting claim that it reeks of orchestrated races, leaving the fans to wonder how much of the race was true competition and how much was the result of team politics. Supports of the draft style cite the dramatic increase in speed and increased potential for position changes as bringing new excitement to the restrictor plate races at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR officials are trying to remove tandem drafting from the 2012 season, however, so it’ll be interesting to see which teams try to get around the new rules preventing tandem drafts and how they manage it. (Darrell Waltrip provides a driver’s view on tandem draft.)
Changes to the cars are also underway: a reduced opening in the cooling system and a smaller radiator, softened rear springs, and the spoiler will be shortened. The big change announced for 2012 is the transition from the Holley 4-barrel carburetor that NASCAR has been running since the mid-1960’s to the modern electronic fuel injection system.
Although teams have worked to improve carburetor performance over the 40 years of its use, it is ancient technology nonetheless. Perfected by Gottlieb Daimler in 1885, the carburetor was used until the late 1950s, when EFI gained momentum in commercially manufactured cars. A selection of 11 drivers, including Trevor Bayne, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson, started testing the EFI system at Charlotte in October, and most agree that once the set ups are perfected, there won’t be a noticeable difference with how the EFI drives in comparison to a carburetor. The switch has manufacturers excited to get more involved with what they view as a return to true stock car racing. (More on EFI testing and lap times.)
According to Roush Yates Engines CEO Doug Yates, the transition will mean a stiff learning curve in how/where teams get their engine set-up data from. Making the transition to an electronics-based data system will make it seem like the winning team will be the one with the most spreadsheets, but data interpretation plays the largest role. For team owners, the ability to attract young, new engineers is a huge selling point. NASCAR engines have been called archaic compared to the advanced engines of the Formula 1 or Indy circuits. Several noteworthy engineers have already been hired on by big teams and the number of engineers per team is only expected to rise. (CEO Doug Yates gives the full run down on EFI.)
What does all of this mean for NASCAR? Enthusiasts are advised to keep their eyes peeled and on the look out for faster cars, better handling, and extended fuel mileage. The first few races might be a bit rocky as drivers and crew alike adjust to the new engines, but I doubt this will be the case for the season as a whole. February 26th can’t come soon enough!
Meg Gauthier is 22 years old and doesn’t have clue! Working every job that comes her way, Meg currently fills the roles of head hostess, ghost writer, copy editor, student, and occasional chandler. She drinks more coffee than any one girl should have and is constantly searching for new places to tuck books into her flat. She lives in St Augustine with a grumpy Siamese named Giles and wants to write for television someday. You can find her ramblings on Twitter andGoogle Plus.