There'll be no cracks in the surface this time as a new NASCAR season begins. (LAT photo)
How will race weekends change?
There are many little tweaks. Qualifying order will be based on practice speeds: Slowest car in final practice goes out first, fastest goes out last. If qualifying is rained out, the field is set by practice speeds. If rain cancels practice and qualifying, the field is set by points. It's a fairer way to do things for the race teams.
Sprint Cup teams get five sets of tires for practice and qualifying instead of six. They must return four of those sets to Goodyear in order to receive their race allotment, and may keep one set of practice/qualifying tires. Tire allotments for race weekends will vary according to historical performance data.
Any technical changes?
Just a few – but they're huge. NASCAR adopts E15 ethanol fuel this year, which produces slightly more horsepower, but at a penalty of fuel mileage that's reduced 15-25 percent. In other words, throw out all the old fuel calculations at places like Kansas, New Hampshire and Michigan. There will be races won and lost this year because of how good or bad a crew chief calculates the mileage.
Along with that, NASCAR has eliminated the catch-can man, which will result in slower pit stops and a slightly different rhythm on pit road. The self-venting fuel cans that NASCAR is adopting for this year take about one second longer to fill the fuel cells, so expect to see some changes in pit strategy.
Also gone from the Cup cars is the dog-ass ugly front splitter with its ungainly vertical braces. The new design is much more aesthetically pleasing and cleaner. Dodge and Ford teams also get new upper noses as well. This is all a prelude to 2013, when the new-generation Sprint Cup car debuts. Auto execs already are licking their chops at the prospect of racing cars that look a whole lot more like stock cars than those being raced today.