The start of the 2008 Sprint Cup series saw the new "Car of Today" race in the Daytona 500 for the first time, the 24 hours of Fontana, and a 'Vegas track' which was significantly changed from winter testing. Roush-Fenway racing won back-to-back races at a 2-mile low-bank and a 1.5-mile high-bank track, and had the car to beat at Atlanta. Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) is no longer the dominate team with the COT. It took until the fifth race of the season at Bristol for a GM team to win a race. Toyota scored its first victory in Cup competition with a win at Atlanta. This is a season of change. While Cup racing may be the pinnacle of full-body, circle track racing, many lessons from the start of this season can be transferred directly to your Saturday night program.
The current Sprint Cup car has changed the face of Cup racing. It has eliminated much of the freedom that teams had in the past to alter the body shape for improved downforce. Overall, downforce has been reduced and mechanical grip (traction) has become much more important.
At the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega, where rear shocks and springs are supplied by NASCAR, much of a team's ability to control vehicle performance has been removed. Teams are looking for small things to differentiate performance. Mechanical grip and engine performance have become more important. Driver ability is paramount. Does this situation sound familiar? Many of these same challenges are also faced by Saturday night circle track racers.
If we take a closer look, the face of racing around the world is changing. The world economy is no longer in a growth cycle and most forms of motorsports are facing consolidation. From Daytona to your local dirt track, money is getting harder to come by. This is likely to continue for the next several years.
As the racing world changes, the five most important things for a successful circle track racing program remain the same. This is as true for Cup and your Saturday night program:
2. Resource Management (managing time and money)
3. Handling (aero and mechanical grip)
4. Race Strategy/Pit Performance
5. Engine (unless it breaks)
Today's Cup car has reinforced the relative importance of these items. And if you are facing financial pressure in your racing, concentrate on these basics first. A successful race program always pays attention to the details! Make sure that your car is 100 percent prepared before going to the track so that you don't beat yourself.
As teams worked to find the last horsepower for this year's Daytona 500, both power and reliability were big stories. Engine power was more important during qualifying, but cars which were down 4 percent on power were competitive due to superior chassis setup and driving during the twin 150 qualifying races.
NASCAR typically runs selected cars from each manufacturer on a chassis dynamometer after the twin 150 qualifying races. This allows NASCAR to see what the power difference is from one competitor to another. This year, Toyota topped the power charts. Two Toyotas, four Dodges, and four Chevrolets were successfully tested by NASCAR. During the Daytona 500 telecast, it was reported that the Toyotas had a 30hp advantage over the Chevrolets. This was not the case! A GM car was tested on the chassis dynamometer with a valvetrain problem which generated the low numbers reported on the television coverage. The best to the worst was approximately 4 percent, with the Toyotas at the top. The average car tested was less than 2 percent down from the best.
The bigger engine-related story during Speedweeks was that many teams were reporting tappet-related failures prior to the race. More than 10 engines were changed because of this problem. Failures occurred in some, but not all, of the Toyota and GM engines.
The surface stresses on a flat tappet in a Cup engine are among the highest in motorsports today. Cup teams use a Diamond Like Coating (DLC) applied to a super-finished steel tappet which, in most cases, runs against a super-finished, though hardened, tool-steel cam. This solution has been widely used for the last five seasons. It has virtually eliminated cam/tappet failures which were common during the days of the welded inlay cam and the chilled-iron tappet.