Sports

What NASCAR fans can expect in 2012

With less than three weeks before the Daytona 500, NASCAR's Competition Department offered updates Monday for what can be expected for Speedweeks and beyond.

Progress has been made with the electronic fuel injection (EFI) that will officially be introduced on cars at Daytona. For production cars, EFI has been around for the last two decades -- however, NASCAR first allowed teams to test systems during the Sprint Cup series-wide test at Kentucky Speedway in July.

Since then, NASCAR has gone through seven or eight revisions of the EFI software through distributor Freescale to get the kinks out of the program. Cup Series director John Darby anticipates another update prior to cars taking the track at Daytona.

McLaren, which supplies the electronic control units (ECUs) has set up a portal as a chat room for competitors to voice their issues. Many of those problems have been addressed and are reflected in the changes to the software.

While Darby doesn't anticipate any chronic issues to arise with the ECUs, he acknowledged, "If it's going to fail, we're going to fail it."

And he added, "There are no warranties."

Darby said teams have worked through hot- and cold-start issues through tests at Daytona and Martinsville and while practicing pit stops to lessen the possibility of the cars stalling with EFI.

From the stands, fans will not be able to ascertain a difference in the competition. As far as fuel economy, NASCAR anticipates EFI will initially improve mileage by about 2 percent. However, as gains in horsepower are made, any fuel savings will be lost.

Teams will be able to reflect on EFI data after practice and qualifying, but they will not be available to incorporate live data acquisition during the race, as NASCAR insists on keeping the human element in the sport.

NASCAR also will release the data from the top five teams -- plus a handful of randoms -- to the rest of the garage in an attempt to maintain an even playing field. Certainly, the top organizations in the garage will be up to speed early, but the dissemination of data should help smaller teams catch up.

Darby believes it will take a "couple of races until everyone is comfortable downloading the information," but the ultimate goal is "to understand the basic parameters of the engines."

In basic terms, Darby said, "the engine is still the same. We're squirting it instead of sucking it."

NASCAR still places the onus of acquiring parts and pieces such as throttle bodies and harnesses for the EFI systems on the teams through "proper planning."

However, delays of six to eight weeks out appear to be the normal waiting period.

Perhaps the most cost-efficient news to come from NASCAR was that if EFI goes according to plan, Darby believes it could be "the bridge to multi-use engines" by 2014. NASCAR's Truck Series already repurposes engines, and for some teams in Cup the cost saving could be substantial.

OTHER NOTABLE TOPICS

* Breaking the tandem draft -- NASCAR research showed that more than 80 percent of fans "hated" drivers running bumper-to-bumper throughout entire races around Daytona and Talladega. The others "wanted a mixture of the two styles."

"Once the novelty of it wore off," Robin Pemberton, VP of competition, said of the tandem draft, "it didn't gain momentum at all."

NASCAR is close to perfecting the Daytona package. Changes since last month's test include moving the grille radiator opening higher on the front bumper and the rear bumper by two inches to block the air flow to the pushing car.

Darby said the pressure-relief valve also could change, depending on the ambient temperature.

NASCAR won't eliminate drivers from pushing, but the new package will promote "a more conventional style" of drafting.

Darby said he expects the Gatorade Duels to provide a good dress rehearsal, and should resemble "the last five laps of the Daytona 500."

He said he'd like to see qualifying speeds "up where they should be," and thinks, with research and improvements to decrease liftoff, that building to speeds below the 210 mph range are not out of the question.

* The 2013 Car -- Early reviews on the new car were "good," Darby said, joking, "nobody said it sucked yet."

Kasey Kahne, who tested the Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, said he couldn't tell a difference between the current car and the new model.

Considering the new car remains on the current chassis, that's understandable.

NASCAR made it clear the current "new" cars now being tested are not necessarily accurate representations of the final products. However, Darby said, the emphasis during development will be to incorporate as many of the showroom cars' characteristics as possible.

Ford debuted its new car last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Toyota is expected to unveil its version during Speedweeks. But considering that Chevrolet's 2013 model is likely patterned off its 2014 Impala, it's likely GM will want to keep the car under wraps for as long as possible.

As far as new manufacturers entering the sport, Pemberton said, NASCAR would welcome additional makes -- it's a matter of whether it makes sense to the individual factories.

* Track repaves & testing -- Michigan has been resurfaced and Pocono is an ongoing project with SAFER barriers being added on the inside walls, wider concrete pit stalls and asphalt to replace grass on the inside of the track.

Kansas Speedway will be repaved between races, and the variable banking will be added to graduate the lanes from 15 to 20 degrees. Changes also have been made at Watkins Glen in Turns 1 and 2, and runoff areas were extended.

Pemberton said testing is the policy that comes up for review more than any other. This season, NASCAR is allowing teams to test at tracks where their own series does not run.

It has not been decided whether teams will have individual tests at the three repaved tracks or if the series will come in a day early for additional practice. Regardless, Goodyear will test at these tracks in order to select a tire for the upcoming race. Generally, it takes Goodyear 45 days following a test to create and produce the new tires.

* Debris cautions -- Pemberton and Darby were adamant that the yellow flag doesn't fly unless debris is on the track.

"First off, if you're going to have a debris caution, there better be debris,'' Pemberton said.