NASCAR has made significant changes in its top series to better enhance the on-track action. Next on the horizon, officials are looking at the engine bay, as the Sprint Cup series has been running the same size of engine for 25 to 30 years.
According to Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development, "We are at the same tracks where we used to run 160 (miles per hour), and now we're qualifying at 190 and running 213 going into the corners."
So changes are needed to maintain a certain look and feel with today's technology.
The latest change was a switch from a four-barrel carburetor to the new electronic fuel-injection system. This package is up to date with the system found in everyday production models.
The next switch is regulation of overall horsepower. Sprint Cup series engines generate between 850 and 900 horsepower, and are built by five manufacturer-specific companies - TRD and Triad Racing Technologies (Toyota), Roush-Yates Engines (Ford), and Earnhardt Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet). Cup teams get 4.6 to 4.9 miles per gallon with the current engines. These engines run in cost from $45,000 to $90,000 each.
Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR vice president of innovation and racing development, has talked with teams and engine builders to find the best financial way to complete the goals set forth by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France.
Stefanyshyn said that "it's a balance between economics and horsepower, and we're considering six different alternatives to gain the necessary reduction. We need to make sure that the little guys, the smaller teams and engine builders are OK with whatever decision is made."
France would like a 100-horsepower reduction by 2015.
"But we're going to need a decision soon to give enough notice to all of the teams," said Stefanyshyn.
Some of the alternatives being discussed are engine displacement, throttle-body size and the use of tapered spacers. Toyota and Chevy engine-builders would prefer the use of a 5.0-liter engine, where Ford has experimented with spacers to control air flow.
The Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series have used spacers for many years to regulate horsepower with great success and minimal cost to teams.
Cost is the driving force behind the sport, but the level of innovation has been hindered by want of parity in the garage area.
Teams should be allowed to experiment during test sessions, practice runs and non-points races to better the product.
France, Pemberton and Stefanyshyn may control the means, but they are hurting the sport. The first six Cup races have seen a declining TV-ratings ratio and a record number of seats remaining empty at tracks.
Teams have been complaining about tire pressure and manufacturers have been pushing their setups to find ways to add grip. Goodyear, NASCAR's tire company, needs to find a neutral setup for teams. This parity is wanted and needed.
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