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.