Victory! How Nascar gets faster (and safer) than ever (pictures)
Nascar recently launched a new generation of its flagship car. But is it enough to keep fans (and drivers) happy as the cars top 175 miles an hour? CNET's Daniel Terdiman took Road Trip 2013 to the Brickyard 400 to find out.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The trick was to make the fans happy, keep the drivers safe, level the playing field, and implement state-of-the-art technology. Did Nascar do it? Only time will tell.
This year, Nascar, a sport that surpasses every sport but the NFL in popularity among Americans, went for the gold, rolling out an all-new generation of its race cars that ditched the common look among manufacturers that fans hated in the previous generation and cut weight. The result? Faster speeds and track records falling by the wayside week after week.
Looking to understand how technology comes into play in a Nascar race, CNET's Daniel Terdiman traveled to the most hallowed track of all -- the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- to take in the Brickyard 400 and see just how the sport's latest innovations impact a race where the fastest drivers can top out their speed at more than 187.5 miles an hour.
One recent innovation is this laser scanning system that is used to take precise measurements of each car that will compete in a Nascar event in order to ensure that race teams are adhering to strict regulations about how the vehicles are engineered for a race.
Hours before the Brickyard 400, one of Nascar's biggest races, each of the 43 cars that were taking part in the competition lined up to be scanned. Once a car passes the examination, it has a sticker placed on it, and a Nascar official stays with the vehicle until the race begins to ensure that no one tries to modify the car in any disallowed way.
When a car is on the scanner, it has plates like this one placed on each of its wheels. These are used in conjunction with lasers in order to ensure that the measurements that are made are highly accurate. Because Nascar aims for a level playing field, it wants each car to hit the race track with specifications that meet the sport's standards. Essentially, it wants the drivers to be the difference in who wins or loses, not the cars.
In 2013, Nascar rolled out its so-called "Gen 6" car, an all-new vehicle that aims to be lighter and safer than the previous version, which was used from 2007 to 2012, while also doing away with the uniform look of all manufacturers' cars that fans didn't like.
The new design has 17 main elements, not all new, as demonstrated by this Nascar chart: A radiation air intake; brake air intakes; hood pins; cowl induction; body panels; a roll cage; a jack post; double frame rail and energy absorbing material; a window net; roof strips; a TV camera; roof flaps; jacking bolts; cooling vents; Goodyear Eagle racing tires; rear deck fins; and a rear spoiler.
Rather than having teams spend precious racing time cleaning off windshields that have gotten messy between pit stops, they can simply tear off a layer and expose a fresh windshield. The cars are fitted with seven layers of tear-off windshield before the race.
This roof flap is a design meant to help cars remain stable even in a spin-out. Previously, Nascar vehicles risked taking air if they spun out at full-speed, and while that's still a danger, the roof flaps are meant to help reduce that risk.
Ryan Newman (No. 39) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48) at the front of the Brickyard 400 field at the beginning of the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, July 28, 2013. Newman won the race's pole position with a track record speed of 187.531 miles an hour, not even a tenth of a mile per hour better than second-position starter Johnson, who had earlier set a track record of his own with a qualifying speed of 187.438 miles an hour.
Jimmie Johnson, who was considered the favorite at this year's Brickyard 400 after having won four previous races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, tears around the track during his qualifying run on Saturday, July 27, 2013. His speed of 187.438 miles an hour set a track record, breaking one that had lasted since 2004. But Ryan Newman broke Johnson's record less than an hour later, besting his speed with a 187.531 mile an hour performance.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who races car No. 88, comes in for a pit stop early in the Brickyard 400. Earnhardt finished sixth but would have finished higher had he not had to come in for an early pit due to a loose wheel.