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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.

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Daniel Terdiman

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1 of 23 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Scanning machine

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.

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Car on the scanner

Car No. 2, which is driven by Brad Keselowski, gets scanned on Nascar's laser scanner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to the Brickyard 400 on Sunday, July 28, 2013.

If Nascar officials determine that a car doesn't meet race standards, the offending team is given a short amount of time to make the required modifications.

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Official under car at scanner

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.

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Calibration plate

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.

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Laser

A look at one of the lasers that's part of Nascar's pre-race scanning system.

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Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s Number 88 comes off the track

After completing his qualifying run the day before the Brickyard 400, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 car is pushed off the track and taken back to his team's garage.

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Ryan Newman off on record-breaking qualifying run

Ryan Newman, who eventually won the 2013 Brickyard 400, takes off on his qualifying run, which set a new track record and earned him the pole position for the race.

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Features of the new Gen-6

This Nascar chart spells out the Gen-6 car's newest features.

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Anatomy of a Gen-6 car

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.

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6 generations poster

This poster demonstrates the look of Nascar's six generations of cars.

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Cockpit

Nascar drivers must endure several hours of driving at break-neck speeds crammed inside a narrow cockpit like this one.

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Tear-off windshields

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.

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Torn off

One of the tear-off windshield layers is seen crumpled up in pit row after being ripped off during a pit stop.

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Roof flap

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.

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Clear spoiler

Another aerodynamic feature of the cars is this clear spoiler on the side of the rear-hood.

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Tape for radiator air intake

If a car's engine is running too hot during a race, the team can rip these strips off the radiator air intake, letting in more air and cooling the engine down.

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Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson in front

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.

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Jimmie Johnson qualifying lap

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.

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Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pit stop

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.

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Pole

The pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which shows the leader board during the Brickyard 400.

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Mob scene

After Ryan Newman earned the Brickyard 400 pole position with a record-setting qualifying speed of 187.531 miles an hour, he was mobbed by the press.

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Official prowling the pit

A Nascar official prowls the pit during the race.

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FanVision chart

Nascar fans can keep up with the race action by renting or buying a FanVision, a device that gives real-time leaderboard statistics, as well as live video and audio from drivers' cars.

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