Friday, September 07, 2012

COMMENTARY: NASCAR's Box Gets A Little Smaller

NASCAR’s technical toolbox got a little smaller today, when the sanctioning body issued a technical memo effectively outlawing the innovative rear-end set-ups utilized recently by Hendrick Motorsports. 

The new guidelines will go into effect at next weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, and limit truck arm front mounting bushings to only ¼-inch of total movement in any one direction. In addition, bushings will now be required to move freely at all times, instead of locking into a specific position.  

In recent weeks, Hendrick Motorsports has utilized a creative new system that uses softer bushings to generate more “rear steer,” allowing the right-rear tire to lead slightly through the turns. The move improved handling and corner speed, and a number of drivers – most notably Brad Keselowski – have pointed to the change as a major factor in Hendrick’s recent competitive upswing. 

There was nothing illegal about Hendrick’s new rear-end assembly. It did not violate the letter of the law, nor the spirit. In fact, the latest HMS brainstorm serves as a textbook example of what NASCAR used to be about; finding and exploiting a competitive advantage without stepping outside the lines of legality. 

In the past, NASCAR made changes to its rulebook only during the offseason, and if a team found an advantage that was within the rules, it was allowed to enjoy that edge until season’s end, or the competition caught wind of the improvement and copied it for themselves. 

NASCAR is been criticized in recent seasons for stifling creativity in an attempt to create a de-facto “IROC Series,” where all cars are identical and everyone has an equal chance to win. That criticism has largely been misguided, since modern NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racers still include a near-infinite number of variations, adjustments and options that separate contenders from pretenders. 

Today’s technical bulletin, however, strikes an unnecessary blow for commonality and against the kind of creative, individualized thinking that made the sport greatr. It could easily have waited until the 2012 season is complete, allowing Hendrick Motorsports (and anyone else smart enough to figure out what they are doing) to enjoy the fruits of their legal labor.


  1. Chuck F12:37 PM

    Why isn't the "Hendrick Ammendment" in effect this week? Need to get them one more chance at cheating before the Chase?

    1. @Chuck, Hendrick Motorsports isn't cheating. Its NASCAR's job to set the rules and then its the teams job to find a legal competitive advantage within those rules period. Besides just because you don't like Hendrick Motorsports winning races and championships doesn't mean they are cheating.

    2. john9n759:29 PM

      Hey Chuck, You should be happy that nascar took away there advantage when they did,seems like they timed it up just right,took away whatever advantage they had going into the CHASE!!!!!! Seems like you and your teams cried enough that they couldn't beat Hendrick cars,so please help us Nascar...

  2. Hey Chuck if you read the article they were not cheating they were completly within the rules, they just out smarted the competition thats all.

  3. Dave - great article and fully agree with your view on this topic. I would also like to add that I see NASCAR as being somewhat hypocritical in their efforts to control cost. In this case, the Hendrick "advantage" came to light in early summer at KY. NASCAR declared the advantage was legal prompting the majority of the gargage to spend money going into hyper-R&D to catch up. And now that it appears that all the top teams have developed their own version of the mod, it's now restricted. Seems to me NASCAR could have responded on this sooner and it would have caused a lot less controversy and a lot less cost for the teams.

  4. Anonymous1:20 PM

    Well Dave.....

    I think this had the potential of getting way out of hand. People would be playing catchup with Hendrick and then teams would be coming to the track with some radical "rear steer" setups because NASCAR opened the box and said it was legal a couple weeks ago.

    Remember 2008 when you could read the numbers on the side of a car by standing smack dab in front of it? NASCAR limited their ability to yaw the rearends midseason with a technical bulletin.

    So my opinion is they nipped it in the bud before 43 cars showed up on a race weekend with "rear steer"

  5. Given how much passing has been stifled by the sport's technology arms race, NASCAR should be criticized for leaving the technical box as open as it still is. Yes, the sport benefitted when teams like Petty, the Woods, Junior, Harry Hyde, the DiGard bunch, etc. could hand-built their machinery, but "Creative individualized thinking" is not what made the sport great - passing and repassing, side by side combat up front, is what made the sport great.

  6. Anonymous1:54 PM

    Nasca had to wait till Gordon got a win.

  7. Anonymous8:11 PM

    And when JGR built oil pans to the 'spirit' of the rules, they got yanked for not being 'submitted'.

    Who is NASCAR kidding here. Are they allowing everyone else to use this 'trick'?

    We know the direction NASCAR is headed. And if they think giving Hendrick the advantage for one race to get Gordon in is worth the bad publicity, well, maybe next year I need to go back to watching drag racing. At least they allow innovation. For all.

    Doug from disgruntled NJ

  8. Hendrick has some of the smartest people in the sport, that's why they are one of the top teams in the sport. They have crossed the line on some of the rules, but then again RCR has done their share of cheating this year. I give Hendrick a thumbs up for trying something new[and it was not illegal at the time, BRAD].Many people complain about boring racing and part of that is because the cars are so equal. Come on NASCAR, let these guys experiment with some new Ideas!

  9. Anonymous11:59 AM

    This is nothing new, I guess everyone has forgot how NASCAR made
    Toyota put on tapered spacers on they're(Toyota) Nationwide engines. Within the limits of the rules, Toyota had found a big advantage, but was brought back in. It was JGR's engine shop and the engines passed inspection but according to NASCAR, it wasn't right. And yes, I remember the "magnents", which didn't help. I'm a Chevy guy, but if you find something to your advantage and it's legal, good for you. The rest, you need to get to work.

    Dennis from Missouri

  10. Anonymous4:18 PM

    Boy - Moody- you sure changed your toon on NASCAR changing the rules in the middle of the year. When Toyota developed engines for the nationwide and truck series, completely legal and by the rules, they ended up winning a lot of nationwide and truck races with Kyle Busch and Joey Logano (to some extent. NASCAR, in the middle of July, ruled they had too much horsepower and said they had to run a smaller restrictor plate than Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge. You deemed this ok back then - I think you said the sanctioning body needs to do whatever they have to, to make the competition even.