Over the years, teams have invented varied ways to set up a stock car. The overall goals, we assumed, were two-fold. First, we all desired to put down the fastest lap among our group of competitors. We also wanted to create a "balanced" race car, meaning the car neither pushed nor was loose. Even if we were able to achieve both of these objectives through a process of trial and error, we still may not have found the ideal setup that would win races.

We have learned the fastest setup on a two- or three-lap run is not usually the fastest setup at the end of the race when running on worn and hot tires. The key to finding the best setup is understanding that our fast setup must remain fast over a long period of time-ideally until the checkered flag falls. The key to that end is to understand the true definition of "balance" so that we can have the desired consistency needed to be a winner.

If you have ever made changes to your setup for handling better, suspecting all along that the real problem was somewhere else, then you have "crutched" the car. This term means that what you are doing to help the car be neutral in handling is not likely the best fix for the problem.

For many years, and even still today, racers have developed some pretty ingenious ways to "crutch up" their race cars to make them handle better. Handling, in our most basic understanding of the word, can best be described as being able to drive through a turn without the car being either loose (driver looking at the infield) or tight (driver looking at the outside retaining wall). The three main segments or phases of the turn where we might experience handling problems are entry to the turn, through the middle, and upon exit off the turn.

A race car setup crutch could be defined as any change in the setup that is intended to solve a handling problem that, in reality, does not make the car faster and/or causes other problems to appear at other points on the racetrack. We will explain how some specific crutch methods work and why racers think they need these particular crutches. In future articles, we will expand on each topic to explain how to develop more efficient ways to accomplish the same goals.

Here are the top 10 setup crutches:

The way the driver is forced to drive the car can sometimes be a crutch. How many times have we heard a driver say that the car is loose when we can see it appears tight on entry and in the middle of the turns? The driver is most likely steering excessively, trying to overcome a tight condition, but unaware of his action. This excess steering definitely creates more traction in the front tires to help balance the car. Here is why.

The way the driver is forced to steer the car can be an indication of a problem with the setup. This is one of the top indicators that might lead to a crutched setup. A lot of research has been done on tire characteristics related to traction. Tire engineers learned that a tire will generate more traction at increased angles of attack in the direction the car is turning. This means that the front tires will actually gain more traction as the wheel is turned farther left, up to a point.

When the steering gets to an excessive angle of attack, the front tires will suddenly give up all of their traction, causing a severe push. Normally, as the steering wheel is turned a few degrees more than normal to force the front end around in a tight car, the handling balance begins to change.