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Old 05-17-2020, 05:51 PM
Sir T-Cups is offline
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Some Quick Questions about NASCAR


Like most of America, I'm pretty desperate for live sports so I'm watching NASCAR, which I never do. I've never been against it, or been one to make fun of it or its fans (I like wrestling for God's sake who am I to talk?) but it's never been my thing.

Whenever Fox shows the current race standings I see that there are some racers who are literally 3 or 4 laps behind the leader.

How can they be SO far behind? Are they just driving SUPER slowly? Isn't that dangerous for the leaders? I know that if I was leading the race and I wrecked because of some yay-hoo who was super far behind...I'd be pretty pissed. At the same time, what's the point of continuing to race when you're so far behind you have no chance of winning? Is it for the love of the sport? Do you get money even for coming in last? Practice for new racers?
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Old 05-17-2020, 06:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Sir T-Cups View Post
Like most of America, I'm pretty desperate for live sports so I'm watching NASCAR, which I never do. I've never been against it, or been one to make fun of it or its fans (I like wrestling for God's sake who am I to talk?) but it's never been my thing.

Whenever Fox shows the current race standings I see that there are some racers who are literally 3 or 4 laps behind the leader.

How can they be SO far behind? Are they just driving SUPER slowly? Isn't that dangerous for the leaders? I know that if I was leading the race and I wrecked because of some yay-hoo who was super far behind...I'd be pretty pissed. At the same time, what's the point of continuing to race when you're so far behind you have no chance of winning? Is it for the love of the sport? Do you get money even for coming in last? Practice for new racers?
I'm not a huge NASCAR fan, but I'll try to answer.

If a car sustains some damage, but is still drivable, it can be worth the effort to make repairs and rejoin the race. Sometimes that means bending the bodywork so it doesn't rub against a tire, or applying large sheets of tape to hold damaged sections together. The time to make those repairs and make the car safe enough to drive could easily lose 3 or 4 laps. A team may also get a penalty for some reason, like going too fast in pit lane; in which case they have to make another trip to the pits to serve the penalty. Depending on the track, it doesn't take much to fall behind by a few laps.

As to why they bother to keep going, it's for the points that go toward the season-long championship. If I understand NASCAR's scoring system, points are awarded to every car, based on its finishing position. 39th place earns more points than 40th, etc. If you can just stay in the race, and other cars break or have worse accidents than yours, you get points for every one of them you pass before the end.

That said, I believe that the officials can order a car off the track if it's going so slow as to really be a hazard.
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Old 05-17-2020, 06:49 PM
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You do get money just for racing - in fact, back when there were 43 cars in each race, each race usually had one or more drivers who would race for a few laps and then pull off rather than waste money they didn't really have on tires and fuel; they were referred to as "start-and-parkers." You don't see many of these any more now that there are only four spots in each race open to them.

As for why cars will be a few laps behind, Robot Arm pretty much covered it; some cars will lose a few laps getting a mechanical problem fixed while the green flag is still out. They can't waste the time getting farther and farther behind waiting for the next yellow flag. Every point matters if you have a chance to make the postseason "playoffs." However, under the new scoring system, 36th through 40th all score one point now.

Last edited by That Don Guy; 05-17-2020 at 06:49 PM.
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Old 05-17-2020, 07:16 PM
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However, under the new scoring system, 36th through 40th all score one point now.
I didn't know that. Even a car in 40th will want to keep going; it's not uncommon for an accident to take out five cars and raise you to 35th place.
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Old 05-18-2020, 05:02 AM
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I'm not a NASCAR fan per se, but as a follower of motor racing in general, I agree with everything posted so far - it pretty much applies to all forms of racing. Even in Formula 1, back when you only scored championship points for places 1-6, it was possible for drivers usually at the back of the field to pick up points several laps down if there were a lot of retirements. I remember watching the 1996 Monaco grand prix which ended up with only 3 cars crossing the line (still the record for the lowest ever), giving Olivier Panis his only race win, ever (out of 157 starts. I also learned, while looking this up, that at the time of writing this was the last win in F1 by a French driver, which I find mildly astonishing for a nation with such a rich motorsport culture and history. I guess all their best drivers recently have taken up rallying instead).

As the OP mentioned, another reason to continue racing could be for the team and driver to learn the track and gather performance data that could be useful later in the season or even after. In F1 it's not uncommon for the slowest teams to regularly finish races 3-4 laps behind the winner, just due to the natural pace differential. But at that speed they aren't going dangerously slowly, and most drivers are good at getting out of the way each time they are lapped by the leaders (the marshals will show them blue flags and lights to indicate when they should check their mirrors and move off the racing line to let the leaders go by).
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Old 05-18-2020, 06:29 AM
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One last thing to consider is the venue itself. Some of the races are held at short tracks. The top level of NASCAR, with cars producing over 750 horsepower, might race at Bristol Motor Speedway and average sub-15 second laps. Note that this is the most extreme example in the series, but other shorter tracks can produce similar results to what I'm describing.

If a driver should get his car spun out, he'll easily go down a lap before recovering. An unscheduled pitstop can mean two or more laps down. There's also a lot of cautions, which means it's possible to get unlapped too.

Regardless of the cause, all the drivers have spotters who are constant communication with their drivers, warning them of rivals nearby, and slow cars or other conditions ahead.

Finally, cars have sponsorship, and the sponsors are only getting advertising value if the car they've advertised on can be seen. If the car's not on the track, it's not getting seen and the sponsor may not feel they're getting their money's worth. Very few racing teams can survive without advertising revenue, unfortunately.
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Old 05-18-2020, 08:28 AM
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In fact in the past cars would show up without a pit crew so there was no way they would finish the race but they got money just for starting. As mentioned above that is much harder now.
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Old 05-18-2020, 10:23 AM
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Originally Posted by Sir T-Cups View Post
Whenever Fox shows the current race standings I see that there are some racers who are literally 3 or 4 laps behind the leader.

How can they be SO far behind? Are they just driving SUPER slowly? Isn't that dangerous for the leaders? I know that if I was leading the race and I wrecked because of some yay-hoo who was super far behind...I'd be pretty pissed. At the same time, what's the point of continuing to race when you're so far behind you have no chance of winning? Is it for the love of the sport? Do you get money even for coming in last? Practice for new racers?
Sometimes it just the level of tech in the cars. The top teams - Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendricks, Penske, etc. have a LOT more money than the smaller teams. Sometimes it's just bad luck. If you've had damage you can drop a lap or two somewhat easily (though the ones consistently 2-3 laps behind are smaller teams with less money).

And yes, it can be dangerous for the leaders. Having to weave through traffic can mess up a lead quite significantly. And those teams are making money - you'll note every car is sponsored. They may not be making a ton of money, but enough to compete. Some is likely love for the sport, of course.

Last edited by ISiddiqui; 05-18-2020 at 10:25 AM.
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Old 05-18-2020, 05:44 PM
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Thanks for the info so far. This is interesting to learn more about a sport I don't really know.

How does having more money translate to doing better? It's a dumb question I know because more money always equals better, but isn't a car part a car part? Like, if there's a really good exhaust system out there that everyone knows is the best, wouldn't all the cars have them since it's the best? It's not like you can game the system. Or can you?
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  #10  
Old 05-18-2020, 09:25 PM
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I don't know the exact level of engineering permitted in the various levels of NASCAR (World Rallycross is kind of my favourite racing series to watch), but in any motorsport, there are guidelines that lay out the exact specifications permitted (this much mass, that much engine displacement, etc. but naturally more complicated than this and likely half-couched in legalistic jargon) and the engineers in a racing team will try to make the most effective setup within the guidelines given.

Some motorsports try to restrict the amount spent to keep this reasonable (Spec Miata), others provide the car outright (the Nissan Micra Cup in Quebec, Super Stadium Trucks in the US) and keep a tight rein on the costs that way.

Otherwise, with no spending limits, you generally find a 1:1 ratio (within statistical noise) that the teams that spend the most win the most. This is most obvious in Formula One, where the cars are loosely fettered to guidelines, but still evident in top-tier NASCAR. With the skill level of the drivers on offer, two-tenths of a second per lap can be the difference between first place and tenth.

The most vivid demonstration of how unhinged spending can be was the old Can Am series of racing, held on tracks in the US and Canada. It was near-as-matters completely unregulated, and a few manufacturers spent unhinged amounts of cash producing racing cars that were fit only for lunatics to drive (supposedly over 1500 horsepower in 1972, yikes). In the end, nobody else could keep up with the amount of R&D Porsche threw into the series, and the league withered and died as it was endless Porsche wins without variation.

"It's not like you can game the system," you say, and in fact, that's basically the MO of the engineering side of racing. It can be finding a successful interpretation of the rules, or just disguising a cheat really well. Supposedly Darrell Waltrip said, "If you don't cheat, you look like an idiot; if you cheat and don't get caught, you look like a hero; if you cheat and get caught, you look like a dope. Put me where I belong."
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Old 05-18-2020, 09:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Sir T-Cups View Post
How does having more money translate to doing better? It's a dumb question I know because more money always equals better, but isn't a car part a car part? Like, if there's a really good exhaust system out there that everyone knows is the best, wouldn't all the cars have them since it's the best? It's not like you can game the system. Or can you?
At the extremes, everything is custom built. Everyone isn't buying the same parts, they're designing and building them. Then spending huge amounts of time tuning them to get the maximum out of the car in all conditions. Aerodynamic testing is expensive as well.
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Old 05-19-2020, 12:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Sir T-Cups View Post
How does having more money translate to doing better? It's a dumb question I know because more money always equals better, but isn't a car part a car part? Like, if there's a really good exhaust system out there that everyone knows is the best, wouldn't all the cars have them since it's the best? It's not like you can game the system. Or can you?
My understanding is that the big/wealthy teams have multiple cars/chassis for each driver, and are able to invest in buying and/or building new engines and new parts on a regular basis. This is hugely important, because engines blow, parts fail, and cars crash. A wealthy team has backups ready to go for the next race, while they rebuild (or replace) the damaged car.

A less wealthy team may have only a single car for its driver, and the car (and their engines) are more likely to have been bought second-hand from the bigger teams.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:13 AM
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It's not like you can game the system. Or can you?
As others have said, in most series, the most races are won by the team with the best designers, and sometimes, the best lawyers. I hope you don't consider it too much of a hijack to bring up F1 again, but to me the prime example is the F-duct. Basically, the rules stated that you couldn't have movable aerodynamic devices. But McLaren came up with a system whereby an air duct directed more airflow over the rear wing (reducing downforce but also drag) only when the driver's left leg moved over to close a small hole in the cockpit. This meant the driver could adjust their leg position so as to generate normal downforce in the corners but less on straights, increasing top speed. Since the only moving part was the driver, it was within the rules. More than you ever wanted to know about this here: http://www.formula1-dictionary.net/f_duct.html.
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Old 05-19-2020, 08:14 AM
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...More than you ever wanted to know about this here: http://www.formula1-dictionary.net/f_duct.html.
That was incredible. Thank you very much for that link, and the rest of your informative post. Posts like that are why I keep coming back here.

F1 is certainly one end of the technology innovation curve in motor sport. It may no longer be true, but the saying was that an F1 team will spend on one race, what an IndyCar (though probably it was CART) team would spend for an entire racing season. Just hideously expensive.
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Old 05-19-2020, 09:13 AM
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It's not like you can game the system. Or can you?
Hehehe, this has already been answered, but my favorite example is Smokey Yunick's 11 foot fuel line. NASCAR had regulated the size of the fuel tank, but didn't mention the fuel line. So Smokey installed one that was 11 feet long and two inches wide, enough to hold about five gallons. He supposedly drove his car back to his pit after the scrutineers had removed his fuel tank.

The more inexpensive series usually have a line in the rule book saying "If we don't say you can modify/adjust it, you can't modify/adjust it." Even then, you get people trying to wiggle as much as they can within the allowed modifications, eventually someone goes too far and gets an unfair advantage, and you get further clarification on what you can and can't do. That's just part of auto racing.
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:33 AM
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As stated teams build parts adhering(ish) to some guidelines. The car chassis are made by 3 manufacturers: Ford, Chevy, and Toyota, but everything else is made by the teams. And you will see that it tends to be the drivers from bigger teams that 'fail' pre-race inspection to make sure you are in guidelines - it's mostly because those teams are pushing the limits and that also requires some cash to find where you can push right up to the line... and if you get caught, how you can push it right back under the line in a jiffy.
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Old 05-19-2020, 11:13 AM
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That was incredible. Thank you very much for that link, and the rest of your informative post. Posts like that are why I keep coming back here.
Thanks, but you're too kind - in this case it was just I remembered enough about an event from a few years ago to Google it, and came across an amazingly detailed and well-written cite on the first hit. Glad you enjoyed it!
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Old 05-19-2020, 11:34 AM
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A concrete example of how money and engineering R&D can fashion a stupendous cheat:

https://jalopnik.com/how-the-best-ra...ked-1792828060

(Apologies about the Jalopnik link. Revenue capitalist buyouts have resulted in a site that's now riddled with autoplaying videos and advertising spam for miles.)
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Old 05-20-2020, 10:21 AM
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I had no idea just how much of the cars are custom built and how little oversight there is on how the cars are made.
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Old 05-20-2020, 07:56 PM
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I had no idea just how much of the cars are custom built and how little oversight there is on how the cars are made.
Well, the cars are checked out for safety at the beginning of the race, and even in my low-level amateur levels you can take someone to task for cheating with a protest. There's a process and a fee, and they'll tear down your engine or whichever part the protester specified in their complaint. If it's found to be legal, the fees cover putting it back together properly. If it's found to be illegal, they'll leave the engine or whatever part disassembled and hand the fees back to the person who filed the protest.

This is normally done after the race, while the cars are held in impound. That's why the results of the race are listed as unofficial results immediately after the race.

Last edited by scabpicker; 05-20-2020 at 07:56 PM.
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Old 05-21-2020, 11:36 AM
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When Danica Patrick was racing Indy Cars she had an advantage because she was small and did not weigh as much as the men. Cars had to have a minimum weight but that did not include the driver's weight. I don't think that was as big an issue when she joined NASCAR since the cars weigh more than Indy cars.
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