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CATEGORIES (articles) > American Motorsport > Motorsport Events For Petrolheads > Overview of the NASCAR organisation

Overview of the NASCAR organisation


The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the largest sanctioning body of motorsports in the United States. The three largest racing series sanctioned by NASCAR are the NEXTEL Cup, the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. It also oversees NASCAR Regional Racing and the Dodge Weekly Series. NASCAR sanctions over 1,500 races at over 100 tracks in 38 states, Canada, and Mexico. In 1996, 1997 and 1998 NASCAR also held exhibition races in Japan. Australia held one race in 1988 and Neil Bonnett won.

Beginning as regional entertainment in the Southeastern U.S., NASCAR has grown to become the second most popular professional sport in terms of television ratings inside the U.S., ranking behind only the National Football League. Internationally, NASCAR races are broadcast in over 150 countries. It holds 17 of the top 20 attended sporting events in the U.S.1, and has 75 million fans who purchase over $2 billion in annual licensed product sales. These fans are considered the most brand-loyal in all of sports, and as a result, Fortune 500 companies sponsor NASCAR more than any other sport.

NASCAR's headquarters are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, although it also maintains offices in four North Carolina cities: Charlotte, Mooresville, Concord and Conover as well as New York City, Los Angeles, Arkansas, and international offices in Mexico City, Mexico, and Toronto, Canada. NASCAR and UTI cooperated and opened a technical school in North Carolina called NASCAR Technical Institute, where aspiring students train to be NASCAR mechanics.

NEXTEL Cup drivers practice for the 2004 Daytona 500


NASCAR Sanctioned Series

  • Nextel Cup Series
  • Busch Series
  • Craftsman Truck Series
  • NASCAR Regional Racing
  • Dodge Weekly Series

History


Early history

In the first decade of the 1900s, Daytona Beach became known as the place to set world land speed records. The beach became a mecca for racing enthusiasts. Fifteen records were set at the beach between 1905 and 1935, when the Bonneville Salt Flats became the premiere place to host land speed record attempts. In 1936 the course began hosting car racing events. Drivers raced a 1.5 to 2 mile stretch of beach as one straightaway, and beachfront highway A1A as the other.

Early race drivers were often involved in bootlegging. The runners would modify their cars in order to create a faster, more maneuverable vehicle to evade the police. The next logical step for the owners of these cars was to race them. These races were popular entertainment in the rural Southern United States, and they are most closely associated with the Wilkes County region of North Carolina. Most races in those days were of modified cars, street vehicles which were lightened and reinforced.

Mechanic William France Sr. moved to Daytona Beach from Washington, D.C. in 1935 to escape the Great Depression. He was familiar with the history of the area from the land speed record attempts. France entered the 1936 Daytona event, finishing fifth. He took over running the course in 1938. He promoted a few races before World War II.

France had the notion that people would enjoy watching unmodified "stock" cars race. Drivers were frequently victimized by unscrupulous promoters who would leave events with all the money before drivers were paid. In 1947, he decided this racing would not grow without a formal sanctioning organization, standardized rules, regular schedule, and an organized championship. On December 14, 1947 France began talks with other influential racers and promoters at the Ebony Bar at the Streamline Hotel at Daytona Beach, Florida that ended with the formation of NASCAR on February 21, 1948.

The field races into the north turn at the Daytona Beach Road Course in 1952, Courtesy Florida Photographic Collection

NASCAR was founded by France on February 21, 1948 with the help of several other drivers at the time. The points system was written on a barroom napkin. The sanctioning body hosted their first event at the Daytona beach on February 15, 1948. Red Byron beat Marshall Teague in the Modified division race. NASCAR had several divisions in its early years.

Winner Marshall Teague beside his Fabulous Hudson Hornet racecar at the Daytona Beach Road Course in 1952, courtesy Florida Photographic Collection

The first NASCAR "Strictly Stock" race ever was held at Charlotte Speedway (not the Charlotte Motor Speedway) on June 19, 1949 (a race won by Jim Roper after Glenn Dunnaway was disqualified after the discovery of his altered rear springs). Initially the cars were known as the "Strictly Stock Division" and raced with virtually no modifications on the factory models. This division was renamed "Grand National" beginning in the 1950 season. However, over a period of about a dozen years, modifications for both safety and performance were allowed, and by the mid-1960s the vehicles were purpose-built race cars with a stock-appearing body.

One of the tracks used in the inaugural season is still on today's Cup circuit: Martinsville Speedway. Another old track which is still in use is Darlington Raceway, which opened in 1950. (The oldest track on today's NEXTEL Cup circuit is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which dates back to 1909; however, the first Brickyard 400 did not take place until 1994.)

Most races were on half-mile to 1-mile (800 to 1600 m) oval tracks. However, the first "superspeedway" was built in Darlington, South Carolina, in 1950. This track, at 1.38 miles (2.22 km), was wider, faster and higher-banked than the racers had seen. Darlington was the premiere event of the series until 1959. Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile (4 km) high-banked track, opened in 1959, and became the icon of the sport. The track was built on a swamp, so France took a huge risk in building the track.


Beginning of the modern era

NASCAR made major changes in its structure in the early 1970s. The top series found sponsorship from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) (tobacco companies had been banned from television advertising and were looking for a promotional outlet). The "Winston Cup" (began in 1971) became the top competitive series, with a new points system and some significant cash benefits to compete for championship points. The next division down, called Late Model Sportsman, gained the "Grand National" title passed down from the top division and soon found a sponsor in Busch Beer. In the mid-1970s some races began to get partial television coverage, frequently on the ABC sports variety show, Wide World of Sports.

Finally, in 1979, the Daytona 500 became the first stock car race that was nationally televised from flag to flag on CBS. The leaders going into the last lap, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, wrecked on the backstretch while dicing for the lead, allowing Richard Petty to pass them both and win the race. Immediately, Yarborough, Allison, and Allison's brother Bobby were engaged in a fistfight on national television. This underlined the drama and emotion of the sport and increased its broadcast marketability. Luckily for NASCAR, the race coincided with a major snowstorm along the United States' eastern seaboard, successfully introducing much of the captive audience to the sport.

The beginning of the modern era, which NASCAR defines as 1972, also brought a change in the competitive structure. The purse awarded for championship points accumulated over the course of the season began to be significant. Previously, drivers were mostly concerned about winning individual races. Now, their standing in championship points became an important factor.

The first NASCAR competition held outside of the U.S. was in Canada, where on July 1, 1952, Buddy Shuman won a 200-lap race on a half-mile (800 m) dirt track in Stamford Park, Ontario, near Niagara Falls. On July 18, 1958, Richard Petty made his Canadian debut in a race at Toronto at the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds. He completed 55 laps before crashing, while father Lee won the 100-lap feature.

An exhibition race was held in 1988 in Australia, with Neil Bonnett winning. NASCAR went to Japan for the Suzuka NASCAR Thunder 100 at Suzuka Circuitland in Suzuka City on November 24, 1996. This exhibition (non-points) race was won by Rusty Wallace. Two more exhibition races were held in Japan in 1997 and 1998, both races being won by Mike Skinner. On March 6, 2005 the first NASCAR points-paying race outside of the United States since 1958 was held for the NASCAR Busch Series at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack in Mexico City. The winner of this twisty road course event was defending series champion Martin Truex, Jr.


NEXTEL Cup

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup logo

Main Article: NEXTEL Cup

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series is the sport's highest level of professional competition, and consequently it is the most popular and most profitable NASCAR series. The 2006 NEXTEL Cup season consists of 36 races over 10 months, with well over $4 million in total prize money at stake at each race. Writers and fans often use "Cup" to refer to the NEXTEL Cup series, and although ambiguous, the use of "NASCAR" as a synonym for the NEXTEL Cup series is common.

In 2004, NEXTEL took over sponsorship of the premier series from Winston, formally renaming it from the Winston Cup to the NEXTEL Cup Series. In 2004 Kurt Busch became the first driver to win the NEXTEL Cup. In 2005, Tony Stewart became the first driver to win both the Winston Cup and the NEXTEL Cup, although they are the same championship.


NASCAR today


Races and racetracks

NASCAR races are not conducted on identical tracks. Oval tracks vary in length from 0.526 miles (847 m) (Martinsville Speedway) to 2.66 miles (4.28 km) (Talladega Superspeedway). While some tracks are ovals (Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway), many are tri-ovals (Kansas Speedway, Daytona International Speedway). Other configurations are quad-oval (Lowe's Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway), D-oval(California Speedway, Michigan Speedway, Richmond International Raceway), oval with unequal ends (Darlington Raceway), triangular (Pocono Raceway), and almost-rectangular (Indianapolis Motor Speedway). Courses also differ in degree of banking on the curves, with differences in degree of banking and course length contributing to different top speeds on various courses. New Hampshire International Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway are considered "flat" tracks as they have only 7 and 11 (respectively) degrees of banking in the turns. Two courses (Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International) are complex shaped road courses.

Race speeds vary widely based on the track. The fastest track is Talladega Superspeedway where the record race average speed is 188 mph (303 km/h) with the record qualifying lap of 212.809 mph (342.483 km/h) set by Bill Elliott in 1988. The slowest tracks are Infineon Raceway, a road course, with a record race average speed of only 81 mph (130 km/h) and qualifying lap of 99 mph (159 km/h); and Martinsville Speedway, a very short, nearly flat "paper clip" shaped oval, with a record race average speed of 82 mph (132 km/h) and a qualifying lap of only 98 mph (156 km/h). The average speed is figured out based upon the winner's lap speeds throughout the entire races including laps spent under caution.

Generally, tracks with a length of less than one mile (1.6 km) are referred to as "short tracks". Initially tracks of over one mile were referred to as "superspeedways", but many NASCAR venues now are 1.5 miles or 2 miles (2.4 or 3 km) in length. Tracks on today's standards are now considered superspeedways if they are over 2 miles (3 km) in length. Tracks between 1 and 2 miles in length are called "intermediate" tracks.

As a safety measure to reduce speeds at the two high-banked superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega), a restrictor plate must be placed between the carburetor and intake manifold to restrict air and fuel flow and, therefore, power. This has reduced speeds at these tracks to the point that higher speeds are now seen at some tracks where restrictor plates are not mandated, specifically Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. While Atlanta is generally considered the fastest track, restrictor plates are not mandated there, in 2004 and 2005 higher qualifying speeds were posted at Texas, earning it the title of the circuit's fastest track. Unrestricted, NASCAR cars produce over 750 horsepower (600 kW) and can run at speeds in excess of 200 mph (miles per hour). Rusty Wallace completed a 2004 test for NASCAR at Talladega in which he used an unrestricted motor to complete average lap speeds of 221 mph and top speeds near 230 mph (Source: ([1] index.html) NASCAR.com).


Race cars

Before the early 1960s, cars were based on full sized cars such as the Impala or Ford Galaxie. As intermediate cars were introduced such as the Fairlane, they were adopted after the mid 1960s.

200 px|thumb Richard Petty's Superbird

Stock cars were once nearly that, modified versions of the same cars you could walk into a dealership and buy. Sometimes cars were made expressly for NASCAR, such as the Ford Torino Talledega, which had a rounded nose. The most famous aero-warrior was the Dodge Daytona and later Plymouth Superbird (Richard Pettys's car and voice are on the movie Cars),which had goalpost style rear spoilers and a shark shaped nose-cap which enabled speeds of over 220 mph, quickly outpacing most other cars. NASCAR soon rewrote the rules to effectively outlaw such outlandish aerodynamic trickery. Perhaps the least aerodynamic was the Penske-prepared factory backed 1972 AMC Matador piloted by Mark Donahue, dubbed the "flying brick".

200 px|left|thumb| 1972 HO Scale "flying brick" Penske/Donahue Matador

In the 1980s, cars downsized into Fairmonts and Thunderbirds along with the now smaller Monte Carlos. The Monte Carlo adopted bubble back windows, while the Buick Regal would do well both on the track and as a street muscle car. The aero-thunderbirds, driven by drivers like Mark Martin, did well.

By the 1990s, GM had switched to front wheel drive Luminas and Grand Prix, but the NASCAR racers only kept the body shape, with V8 rear wheel drive running gear. When the Ford Thunderbird was retired, with no 2-door intermediate bodies, the Ford Taurus was used for a body even though NASCAR racers actually have no opening doors.


Modern NASCAR race cars

While the manufacturers and models of automobiles for Nextel Cup and Busch Series racing are named for production cars (Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, and the Ford Fusion), the similarities between Nextel Cup cars and actual production cars are limited to a small amount of shaping and painting of the nose, painted "headlight" and grille areas.

On January 23, 2006, it was announced that Toyota will enter the Cup and Busch Series in 2007, fielding the Camry. In the Craftsman Truck Series, the Chevrolet Silverado, the Dodge Ram and the Ford F150, as well as the only non-American brand in NASCAR, the Toyota Tundra, are used. NASCAR rules state the cars or trucks must be manufactured in the US if they are to be used in races. The Tundra and Camry qualify since both are manufactured in the US.

The cars are rear-wheel-drive, high-powered, hot rods with a roll cage chassis and thin sheet metal covering, and are powered by carbureted engines with 4 speed manual transmissions. The engines are limited to 358 in³ (5.8 L), with cast iron blocks, one camshaft and a pushrod valvetrain. However, significant engine development has allowed these engines to reach exceedingly high levels of power with essentially 1950s technology.

The automobiles' suspension, brakes, and aerodynamic components are also selected to tailor the cars to different racetracks. The adjustment of front and rear aerodynamic downforce, spring rates, rear track bar geometry, and brake proportioning are critical to the cornering characteristics of the cars. A car that understeers is said to be "tight," causing the car to keep going up the track with the wheel turned all the way left, while one that oversteers is said to be "loose," causing the back end of the car to slide around which can result in the car spinning out if the driver is not careful. Loose and tight can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the wedge and adding or removing camber, the "footprint" of the tires during cornering. These characteristics are also affected by tire stagger (tires of different circumference at different positions on the car, the right rear being largest to help effect left turns) and tire pressure (softer being "grippier").

NASCAR will mandate changes during the season if one particular car model becomes overly dominant. In fact almost all advantages of using one car over another have been nullified. NASCAR used to mandate stock or stock replacement hoods and decklids. However, in recent years, NASCAR has begun to require cars to conform to common body templates, regardless of make/model. This is more in-line with recent NASCAR tradition, because none of these stock cars have anything mechanically "stock" about them.


The Car of Tomorrow

Main article: Car of Tomorrow
The "Car of Tomorrow" is now in the final stages of development. This car has focused mainly on safety, with the driver's seat being moved closer to the center of the car. The car's width has been increased by 4 inches, the front bumper has been re-designed to virtually eliminate bump-drafting, and the height of the car has increased to accommodate taller drivers. The most noticeable change to fans will be the addition of a rear wing. The spoiler currently used will be removed. This has generated some controversy, as teams that run cars in open wheel series (where cars have had wings on them for decades) will have a huge advantage. NASCAR is responding by closely regulating the wing, although some teams have requested that NASCAR issue the wing all together, like they issue restrictor plates. This car's first scheduled race is the 2007 Bristol NEXTEL Cup series race, aside from Bristol events, drivers will use the Car of Tomorrow in 2007 events at Phoenix International Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, Dover International Speedway and New Hampshire International Speedway. It also will see action at Darlington Raceway, the fall event at Talladega Superspeedway and road-course events at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

The Car of Tomorrow will be used at all races by 2009.


Safety

Safety in racing has come a long way since the first green flag dropped. Up until the last few years, NASCAR was heavily criticized for its lack of focus on safety. Many safety precautions were not mandatory, as they are in other racing series, but only optional or recommended. NASCAR changed its stance on this after one of the sport's most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt, was killed in a racing accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

The seats that the drivers sit in have evolved over the past few years. Most of the seats found in the race cars wrap around the driver's rib cage which provides some support during a crash, spreading the load out over the entire rib cage instead of letting it concentrate in a smaller area. Some of the newer seats wrap around the driver's shoulders as well, which provides better support because the shoulders are more durable than the rib cage.

The seat belts in stock cars are very important. They are built to be stronger than a normal seat belt. The seat belts used are the five- or six-point harness, which is two straps coming down over the driver's shoulders, two straps wrap around the waist, and one or two come up between the legs. Since a string of accidents in 2000 and 2001 that killed Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt (plus several other drivers in minor circuits) under similar circumstances, NASCAR has made it mandatory for the drivers to wear the HANS Device (Head And Neck Support) to restrict head movement and subsequent neck injury during a crash. Though NASCAR allowed another system (Hutchens) in the past, since 2005 HANS is the only head and neck restraint device allowed for use. It is a semi-hard collar made of carbon fiber and Kevlar, and it is held onto the upper body by a harness worn by the driver. Two flexible tethers on the collar are attached to the helmet to reduce the head's tendency to snap forward or to the side during a wreck.

In 1994, NASCAR introduced roof flaps to the car, which are designed to keep cars from getting airborne and possibly flipping down the track. If the speed of the car is high enough, it will generate enough lift to pick up the car if it spins backwards. To prevent this, NASCAR officials developed a set of flaps that are recessed into pockets on the roof of the car. When a car is turned around, and is going fast enough, the flaps come up and disrupt the airflow over the roof, eliminating most of the lift. The roof flaps generally keep the cars on the ground as they spin, although it is not guaranteed.

Beginning in the early 2000s, most tracks have installed softer walls and barriers along the track, called SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barriers. Soft walls are typically built of aluminum and styrofoam; materials that can absorb the impact of a car at high speeds, as opposed to a concrete wall which absorbs little-to-none of the impact. There are four types of softer walls and barriers:

  • Cellofoam — This is an encapsulated polystyrene barrier — a block of plastic foam encased in polyethylene.
  • Polyethylene Energy Dissipation System (PEDS) — This system uses small polyethylene cylinders inserted inside larger ones. Designers of PEDS believe the system increases the wall's ability to withstand crashes of heavy race cars.
  • Impact Protection System (IPS) — This inner piece of the wall is then wrapped in a rubber casing. Holes are drilled in the concrete wall and cables are used to tie the segments to it.
  • Compression barriers — This idea is to place cushioning materials, such as tires, against the concrete wall, and then cover those cushions with a smooth surface that would give when impacted, and then pop back out to its previous shape once the impact is over.
Pit road safety has become the latest focus of NASCAR officials in recent years. At each track there are different speeds the cars are required to travel at (the speed depends on the size of the track and the size of pit road, generally 35 mph (60 km/h) on short tracks and road courses, 45 mph (70 km/h) on intermediate tracks and 55 mph (90 km/h) on superspeedways). NASCAR has placed a new electronic scoring system in use as of 2005 to monitor the speeds of cars on pit road by measuring the time it takes to get from checkpoint to checkpoint. As none of the cars are equipped with speedometers, the cars in prerace warm up laps are driven around the track at the pit road speed following the pace car so the drivers can mark on the tachometer the telemetry (term referring to the revolutions per minute it takes to travel at the "speed limit") for the day. The tachometer then "guides" the speed of the car down pit road.

Over the wall pit members are now required to wear helmets after a string of members were injured and some open wheel series many members were run over. In addition to the helmets, all members are required to wear full fire suits and gloves while the refueller must wear a fire apron as well as the suit. Tire changers must also wear safety glasses to prevent eye injuries from lug nuts thrown off the car.

As with changes to car models, NASCAR will institute new rules during a season if it deems it necessary to enhance safety.


North Carolina race shops

North Carolina has been deemed "NASCAR Valley" as 73% of all American motorsports employees work in North Carolina (this includes other motorsports series such as CART and ARCA). The majority of NASCAR teams are located in or near the Charlotte-metro area. Cities in North Carolina that are home to NASCAR teams include: Charlotte, Wilkesboro, Mooresville, Concord, Statesville, Huntersville, Welcome, Kernersville, Randleman, Greensboro, High Point, Harrisburg, and Kannapolis. Specifically, 82% of Nextel Cup teams, 72% of Busch Series teams, and 55% of Craftsman Truck Series teams are based in North Carolina. The majority of NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series drivers maintain their primary residences near Charlotte.


Other NASCAR racing series

In addition to the three main series, NASCAR operates several other racing circuits.

Many local racetracks across the United States and Canada run under the Dodge Weekly Series banner, where local drivers are compared against each other in a formula where the best local track champion of the nation, as based on a formula, wins the Dodge Weekly Series National Championship.

NASCAR also sanctions three regional racing divisions: The Whelen Modified Tour, which races open wheel "modified" cars in Northern and Southern divisions; the Grand National Division, which races in the Busch East (Formerly Busch North) and the AutoZone West Series. Grand National cars are similar to Busch Series cars, although they are less powerful, and the AutoZone Elite Division, which races late-model cars which are lighter and less powerful than Nextel Cup cars, split into four divisions, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest. At the end of 2005 NASCAR announced that the AutoZone Elite Division would be discontinued after the 2006 season due to having trouble getting NASCAR-sanctioned tracks to successfully host AutoZone Elite Division events, plus escalating costs of competing and downsizing of the Division in recent years.

In 2003, NASCAR standardized rules for its AutoZone Elite and Grand National divisions regional touring series as to permit cars in one series to race against cars in another series in the same division. The top 15 (Grand National) or 10 (AutoZone Elite) in each series will race in a one-race playoff, called the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, to determine the annual AutoZone Elite and Grand National champions. This event has been hosted at Irwindale Speedway in California since its inception.

Many drivers move up through the series before reaching the NEXTEL Cup series. In 2002, over 9,000 drivers had licenses from NASCAR to race at all levels.

The winners of the Dodge Weekly Series National Championship, the four AutoZone Elite Divisions, the two Whelen Modified and Grand National Divisions, and the three national series are invited to New York City in December to participate in Champions Week ceremonies which conclude with the annual awards banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.


TV/radio coverage

See: NASCAR on television and radio


Video games

See: NASCAR Video Games


Criticism


Difficulty as compared to other forms of motorsport

One of the most common criticisms of NASCAR is that almost all of the tracks are ovals (usually tri-ovals). This has led to a famous but unattributed quote that compared NASCAR racing to "taxis turning left for 500 miles". NASCAR is sometimes perceived as requiring less driving skill to race, compared with the complicated twists and turns seen in the typical Formula One course that put up to 5 or 6 G's of stress on the driver's body. NASCAR includes road course races in each of its top two series but this is usually a small percentage of the schedule, and although most regular drivers participate, a few teams bring in road racing specialists just for these races. NASCAR supporters counter that NASCAR is not the only racing league to run a large number of races on "simple" oval tracks; the Indy Racing League also runs many oval track races. These tracks may also contribute to close finishes in the races.

Supporters also note that NASCAR tends to have more cars in its races, and maintains a more extensive schedule than other leagues. NEXTEL Cup races have 43 cars in competition at the start of each race, compared to 22 for Formula One and 15-20 IndyCar, and the teams must endure a 36-race schedule over 41 weeks, at a wide variety of tracks, with different setups and strategies being required for each track. Teams usually only have about five days to prepare before arriving at any given track. The schedule is one of the most demanding in motorsports, and has caused some drivers, such as Rusty Wallace, to retire for reluctance to commit to such a grueling season.

It is also notable that some drivers that achieved relative success in road racing, such as Scott Pruett and Christian Fittipaldi, have failed to duplicate that success in NASCAR.

It is also notable that while attending the F1 2006 United States Grand Prix, Jeff Gordon said that when he drove Juan Pablo Montoya's F1 car in June 2003 he was shocked at the speed, braking, and handling of the vehicle and that driving one is on a whole different difficulty level.


Technology

Critics also note that the 1950s-era technologies used in the 'stock cars', such as carburetors, cast-iron pushrod engine blocks, and leaded racing fuel (NASCAR is scheduled to switch to unleaded in 2008) bear little resemblance to modern day street vehicles. Modern NASCAR vehicles share very few attributes of the commercial models they are associated with; for example, the production Chevrolet Monte Carlo weighs nearly the same as the NASCAR Chevy Monte Carlo, but the NASCAR vehicle has an eight-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels, whereas the production car has a front-wheel-drive V6 (a V8 is optional). Supporters note that this is a modern condition: when NASCAR first started 50 years ago, the race cars were substantially similar to production vehicles, but the safety and performance needs of modern racing have required custom-built race cars. Supporters also note that the strict equipment rules place less emphasis on getting a technological advantage, and thus more emphasis on individual driver skill.All of NASCAR's series also run on spec tires made by certain tire manufacturers such as Goodyear and American Racer. Some note that this discourages tire competition and development, which leads to the absence of rain/wet condition tires, or to races (such as the 2005 Coca-Cola 600) where tires seem to self-destruct.


Business structure and decision making policies

NASCAR's business structure has also been criticized. Since its founding in 1947 by William France Sr., the overall NASCAR organization has been majority owned by the France family, ensuring that the family controls a majority of the overwhelming revenue that the sport generates (compared to other sports where the owners and players split revenue almost evenly). NASCAR is also criticized for its reluctance to promote some aspects of safety that it would have to pay for (e.g. traveling safety crew) ([2] 0,1328,3544996,00.html) ([13] 14558242.htm) , and other allegedly monopolistic aspects such as merchandising and race-track ownership. In addition, due to its overwhelming influence and lack of driver say, NASCAR has even been compared to a dictatorship by some motorsports, political, and economic analysts. ([3] index.htm) ([14] 2005-06-20-nascar-debacle_x.htm) Examples of such influence include the cancellation of the SPEED Channel television show Pit Bull (which frequently criticized many of NASCAR's decisions and policies and enjoyed modest ratings), frequent use of the vague "detrimental to NASCAR" rule, and the creation of rules on whim, especially during a race. NASCAR has taken to penalizing drivers in recent years, especially after the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show, with fines, point penalties, and lap penalties in races for drivers or mechanics who use obscene language in interviews to the media.

([4] 082704.html) ([15] 092305Poe.asp)


Driver competition in multiple series

NASCAR has long allowed drivers to compete in as many series and events as they like, with few restrictions. However, in recent years, top NEXTEL Cup drivers have competed in and dominated the lower tier Busch races on a regular basis, earning NEXTEL drivers the nickname "Buschwhackers". The situation is compounded by the close timing of the races in the 2 series: a typical NASCAR weekend has a Busch race on Saturday followed by a NEXTEL race on Sunday at the same track. Some have wondered why "major league" NEXTEL drivers are allowed to compete in the "minor league" Busch races with such frequency, and whether Busch is an adequate developmental series. Sportswriter Bob Margolis noted that much of this is due to the similarities between the cars used in the two series (they are mostly alike except for the engines), and the desire for NEXTEL drivers to get as much practice time as possible to learn about the track and car setup before the main race. ([5] news?slug=bm-buschpreview021706&prov ...)

An additional concern is the risk of injury to top drivers while competing in lower tier events. In 2006, two-time NEXTEL Cup champ Tony Stewart injured his shoulder while driving in a Busch series race. The immediate problem for Stewart was the potential loss of points for missing a NEXTEL Cup race, which would have badly hurt his championship chances. NASCAR rules state that a qualified driver can only earn points if he starts the race (although he may be replaced during the race without penalty), and Stewart was thus forced to start the race to be eligible for points, despite obvious pain. Ricky Rudd then took over at the first pit stop and would finish 25th. Stewart appeared to have recovered by the following week, finishing third, but critics took him to task, noting that Stewart was not merely putting himself in harm's way, but also risking the livelihood of his race team and the investment of his sponsors. ([6] news?slug=jb-stewartbusch060206&prov ...)

The concern over lower tier events extends to non-NASCAR events as well. During an off week for the NEXTEL Cup in 2004, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. crashed while participating in a American Le Mans event; his Corvette caught fire and he suffered severe burns before he could escape the car. Like Stewart, Earnhardt started and was replaced in his next 2 races.


Environmental impact


Fuel consumption

According to NASCAR, about 6,000 US gallons of fuel is consumed during a typical NEXTEL Cup weekend. ([7] 0602nascargas-ON.html) For the 2006 season, which includes 36 points races, the total for the season would be 216,000 US gallons.One environmental critic recently estimated ([8] ?2947&printview) NASCAR's total fuel consumption across all series at 2 million US gallons (7.57 million liters) of gas for one season; however, the methodology used has been a point of dispute.

At race speeds, NEXTEL Cup cars get 2 to 5 miles per gallon. ([9] ?2947&printview) ([16] new_articles.cfm?articleID=981&journ ...) ([10] 0602nascargas-ON.html) Consumption under caution can be estimated at 14-18 mpg, based on comparable engines generally available to the public. Interestingly, the rate of fuel consumption tends to be the same regardless of the actual speeds of the cars, as teams change gear ratios for each race to ensure that the engine always operates in its optimum power band; however, the fuel mileage will vary for each race, depending on the maximum speeds attained.

As a brief digression, a highly simplified estimate could be made for annual fuel consumption for the NEXTEL Cup alone. The following assumptions will be used:

  • Each season is 36 races (in 2006, the season includes 36 points races)
  • Each race is 500 miles (in 2006, 18 of 36 races are 500 miles; races vary from 250-600 miles)
  • 43 cars start each race (in 2006, 43 is the normal starting field)
  • No part of any race is run under caution
  • Each car finishes the entire length of each race
Using the lowest mileage figure of 2 mpg, each car would consume 250 gallons per race; the field would consume 10,750 gallons per race. The total consumption for the season would be 387,000 gallons.

As stated, this is a highly simplified estimate. The calculations reflect only NEXTEL Cup fuel consumption under race conditions; practice and qualifying sessions are not included. Certain non-points race events are not included. The Busch and Craftsman series, as well as NASCAR's multitude of other events, are not included. Also, fuel consumption by team vehicles, such as buses or tractor-trailers used to transport race cars and teams, is not included. Finally, fuel consumed by spectators traveling to and from NASCAR events is not included.

The consumption estimates can be put into perspective by comparing consumption to passenger cars.Assuming the average car is driven 12,000 miles in 1 year, and gets 20 miles per gallon, Nextel Cup's annual fuel usage is the equivalent of 360 street cars.


Emissions & pollution

The consumption figures above provide no insight on environmental impact in terms of emissions. NASCAR vehicles are generally unregulated by the EPA, and in particular, they have no mufflers, catalytic converters or other emissions control devices. However, some local short tracks which run under NASCAR sanction require certain emissions control devices. Many short tracks run mufflers in compliance with noise ordinances at some tracks; in the early years of the Craftsman Truck Series, some races were held at venues which required mufflers, a requirement still used in some Busch East, AutoZone West, and Whelen Modified races.

NASCAR's use of lead based gasoline has led to concerns about the health of those exposed to the fumes of the cars (fans and residents living near the race tracks). ([11] ?2947&printview) NASCAR and Sunoco have recently announced that they are moving up their timeline and will be fully switching over to unleaded gasoline in 2007, with certain races in the latter half of the 2006 season being run with the unleaded fuel as well. ([12] index.html)

Previously, NASCAR and then-fuel supplier Tosco (76 Products) had an experiment in selected Busch Series races in 1998. That did not do as well as NASCAR thought.

The first NASCAR Busch Series race since 1998 to run unleaded gasoline was at the Gateway International Raceway in Madison, IL. Although high engine temperatures were reported, the first test has been deemed successful. NASCAR plans to run unleaded fuel in several more NASCAR Busch & Truck series races in 2006, and in the 2006 NEXTEL Cup series race at Talladega Superspeedway.




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