For the second consecutive week Kurt Busch will lead the Sprint Cup Series to the green flag to start the third race of the 2016 season. This is his 21st career pole and second at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track.
After setting a new track record in Round One of qualifying (196.378 mph) Busch needed to rebound after a slightly disappointing second where he was third quick. With just minutes remaining in the final round of qualifying he was able to barely edge Joey Logano by .067 seconds.
“It was insanely fast,” Busch said of his lap. “It’s amazing all the detail that goes into qualifying with finding that perfect lap three times out there. My second outing we were way tight and I didn’t know where it came from and (Tony) Gibson and crew went to town.”
The No. 41 Chevrolet was no lower than third on the leader board in the single practice session or any of the rounds of qualifying as he is looking for his first win in Sin City.
Logano will begin his third consecutive race in Las Vegas from the front row. After a disappointing qualifying session last week in Atlanta, the No. 22 team found what they were missing and are off to a good start this weekend.
Matt Kenseth made multiple adjustments throughout the day and when it counted he was third, the best he had been all day. The 2013 winner in Las Vegas is going into one of his best tracks with his best starting position the year.
Brad Keselowski will lineup fourth on Sunday in his Ford. The No. 2 car was quickest in the opening practice on Friday and he is looking for his second win on the 1.5-mile oval. In Round Two, he was fastest but fell to Busch, .093 seconds behind the pole winning speed.
Austin Dillon needed two attempts to make it out of the first round of qualifying. But in the final moments of the last round he slotted his car into the fifth position. On his first run he was complaining that his motor wasn’t running properly, but when he came in to cool his tires down the No. 3 team fixed the problem and he feels this is the start of good runs for his team this year.
One of the biggest stories in Round One was Kevin Harvick needing three attempts to improve his car, narrowly making it into Round Two. After making it through that round his car continued to pick up speed, resulting in a sixth-place effort.
After crashing in the test session on Thursday, Denny Hamlin will start Sunday’s race ninth. The Daytona 500 winner struggled in practice, but the Joe Gibbs Racing organization looks to have made major adjustments with two of its cars starting in the top 10.
Chase Elliott is the highest starting rookie in 13th. His closest competitor for Rookie of the Year Ryan Blaney will start alongside him in 14th.
Some notable drivers that struggled in qualifying were Brian Vickers who will begin the race from 19th, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 20th, Ryan Newman 21st and Kyle Busch 23rd. The No. 18 team struggled all day on Friday and was mired back in the mid 20s.
Just over three minutes into the second round of qualifying Carl Edwards No. 19 Toyota shot up the racetrack when something appeared to broke in the rear end of the car. After running the fourth quickest speed in Round One of qualifying, he will go to a backup car and start from the 24th position.
“I think the right rear was going down,” Edwards said. “It felt good going into the corner and there was a big bang and I think that was just the frame heights being low, hitting the ground. I thought it was the left rear, but it hit hard. I’m still not convinced that something didn’t break in the left rear.”
Other notable drivers that will start toward the rear are Greg Biffle in 26th, Jamie McMurray in 29th and Clint Bowyer in 35th.
McMurray will go to a backup car after slapping the wall in his qualifying attempt. He stated that his primary car has been a 30th-place car all weekend long.
The Cup teams will have two practice sessions on Saturday to tune their car up for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400.
2015 was the year that Roush Fenway Racing hit rock bottom. For the first time in team history, none of the organizations cars made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in its 13-year existence. For the first time in team history, they had no shot at the championship.
Team owner Jack Roush is an equivalent to a racing God. He has placed cars on the track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time for the last 28 years. In its tenure in the Cup Series, RFR has been with one manufacture, Ford. The two sides have stuck with each other through thick and thin, last year being the absolute thinnest.
It is possible that any other team may have folded, but Roush is a racer. It’s what he has done for the majority of his lifetime. The Concord, N.C.-based team has had to overcome tough seasons in the past, but it needs speed to be competitive in 2016.
RFR finished 2015 as a team with an average finish of 23.3, the worst in team history. The worst season for the team prior to 2015 was in 2001 when the team’s average finish was 19.2, though posting two victories. Over the span of the 36-race schedule, the organization led a team-low 43 laps, and went winless for the first time since the 1996 season.
As the team progresses into the new year, it has mixed up its interior design.
Trevor Bayne is entering his second full season as the driver of the No. 6 AdvoCare Ford. It seems like a distant memory, but the five-year anniversary of his first career win is approaching this February when he took the Wood Brothers to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500.
The team has paired Bayne with veteran crew chief Matt Puccia. For the last four and a half seasons, Puccia worked with former XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series champion Greg Biffle. In the 162 races that the duo worked together they picked up three victories, 24 top fives and 54 top-10 finishes, including 21 in 2012.
2012 was arguably one of Biffle’s best seasons in terms of consistency as he posted a career-best 10.2 average finish. Since that season, he’s cooled down only picking up one win at Michigan in 2013.
For Bayne, he needs leadership. It seems like he’s been around longer than he really has, but 2016 will be only his second full-time season in NASCAR’s premier series. He finished 29th in the championship standings, and didn’t lead a single lap all season long, not even on the restrictor plate tracks, which he normally runs near the front.
“I think last season we were kind of shoved into the dark a little bit, we didn’t know what we were going into,” Bayne told Speedway Digest. “We were optimistic, but we didn’t know. This season we have a lot more notes. We’ve had people in places for longer. I know my crew chief Matt Puccia. I’ve done this for a season so I know what that grind is like. I feel like I can be more optimistic.”
Bayne has had to overcome remarkable odds to ever step foot back into a competitive car due to having Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease that affects the central nervous system.
After taking some time off, Bayne has trained extremely hard to make sure he can make it through a full event. He went to Victory Lane in the XFINITY Series at Iowa in 2013, the only time he has been victorious since the diagnosis in NASCAR, he does have one victory in the ARCA Racing Series at Pocono in 2015.
Since that time, the 24-year-old has grown up. Bayne got married to his longtime girlfriend, had a child and is now competing full-time in the Cup Series.
“This season versus last season, our team the way that its working together is a lot different,” Bayne said. “It’s not just saying ‘hey we’re working together’ it’s actually making physical changes in the race shop. It’s putting all of the cars together.
“It’s moving all of the crew chiefs to one office. It’s the drivers coming in and being a part of the meetings. That leads to change and that leads to forward progress in our organization.”
The organization as a whole is destined to do better this season.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is entering his fourth full-time season in the No. 17 car. The two-time XFINITY Series champion has underperformed in his first three seasons, but his relationship with Bayne could be crucial going forward.
The two younger drivers are potentially the future of RFR. Stenhouse is in a contract season and knows that he needs to up the ante in 2016 coming off a season in which he only produced three top 10s.
Biffle is entering the twilight of his career as he is the oldest full-time driver in the Cup Series. He is signed through the 2017 season, and this will more than likely that will be his last stint in the No. 16 car. With drivers such as Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Chris Buescher, who is laying in the weeds over at Front Row Motorsports, the pressure is on the younger drivers. The 45-year-old has established himself with RFR and is the leader on that team.
The key to the movement could be the Bayne, Puccia relationship. The driver is known for getting everything out of the racecar and sometimes pushing the envelope just a little too much. With a new crew chief coming in, it could be the perfect match for the kid. Cool, calm and collective will be their focus.
“I think that as I was talking about communication, he and I have that,” Bayne said. “Our personalities are a lot alike in racing. We’re racers, that’s what we are. That’s what we have in common. We talk about it and work on our cars. I’ve known him for a long time. I believe in him.”
The pressure to perform is at an all-time high for Bayne. His start in the No. 6 car is similar to David Ragan’s back in 2007. He picked up his first career top-five finish in the Daytona 500 and then fell of the face of the Earth. He picked up another top-five and tallied a total of three top 10s in his rookie campaign. At the time, Ragan posted four DNF’s compared to Bayne’s three, but finished on the lead lap more times than the 2015 season.
Those numbers are very similar to the current driver of the legendary No. 6 team.
Competing for a championship isn’t a realistic expectation this season for Bayne and the rest of Roush Fenway Racing, but making the Chase is. Once a team is in the Chase, anything can happen.
On Sunday morning, just hours before the Brickyard 400, Roush Fenway Racing officially announced Carl Edwards’ departure from the organization. Edwards’ story is well known. He snuck into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series garage area to hand out business cards, and after racing for the Mittler Brothers, Cousin Carl caught the eyes of Jack Roush.
Over the past several seasons, the team’s performance has depreciated, and it has shown since Edwards finished second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings in 2011. With Edwards departing the only team he has known in NASCAR’s top-tier division, Roush has to move on – whether they want to or not.
“We made him an offer, but I believe his decision was not based on – NASCAR racing, Cup racing is a big-time sports entertainment thing today. Like football and baseball and basketball, athletes move around. We wish it wouldn’t happen, but there’s curiosity about what another team’s situation would look like and I think that although I shouldn’t speculate, I think Carl wanted to try something different before he saw his career get in its middle term and its final years,” Roush said on Sunday morning.
Replacing Edwards will be Trevor Bayne – the 2011 Daytona 500 winner. Bayne has struggled with his health over the past several years, and announced late last season that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – a disease that disrupts the nervous system. Fortunately, the 23-year-old doesn’t have any serious symptoms of the disease, and it will not have an effect on his career. He’s been racing on a part-time schedule for the Wood Brothers – a Roush satellite team, but with Advocare moving up the ranks with him, Bayne will be able to race full-time at NASCAR’s top division.
This will leave Greg Biffle as the team’s lead driver. Biffle has struggled on a higher level compared to Edwards this year. He has just five top-10s along with a pair of top-fives. With 3M likely resigning as Biffle’s primary sponsor, Roush does have some long-term security. However, as a 44-year-old, he might be nearing the end of his prime.
“It doesn’t look different than when Mark Martin stepped away and we were left with Greg and Carl to go forward. We’ve been in this business, as I said, for 27 years counting and we have made it our habit, our practice, our preference to bring drivers in,” Roush said. “We’ve brought in 23 drivers that had never been part of NASCAR before and 19 of them are still in this sport and 17 of them have won races, so we’re pretty much on time. We may have more rookies, but Ricky and Trevor and Greg are gonna be great. I’m real excited about that for next year and not less excited than I’ve been at any time in the past.”
“Certainly the focus of our leadership is gonna be with Greg Biffle and the things that he does with the race car and the leadership he provides for the engineering initiatives we take. We had that split with Carl and Greg together this year, so that will be a little different next year, but Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) is ready to step up.”
Now, Stenhouse will be the team’s No. 2 driver. Like Biffle, he has struggled this year as well. In a season in which he has been reunited with Mike Kelley – the same crew chief that led him to two Nationwide Series titles, the sophomore driver has four top-10s, but sits 27th in points. However, the team has faith in him – just like they did with Edwards and Biffle over a decade ago.
Roush has certainly struggled with consistency this season. Their strength has moved away from the intermediate tracks, and is slowly reeling towards the short tracks – the minority of the schedule. Edwards has been the team’s lead driver since Matt Kenseth made the move to join Joe Gibbs Racing after the completion of the 2012 season. However, neither Edwards nor Biffle have been able to step up to the plate. Although he has to wins this year, the 34-year-old has struggled, and he understands that.
"Right now, the mission is to win this championship, this race. This is my decision. It's a decision I made, and I didn't take it lightly,” Edwards said. “Sometimes you just want to make a change, and opportunities present themselves and you say, 'Hey, what was that like to not take that opportunity?'"
It is likely that Edwards will be joining Joe Gibbs Racing – a Toyota organization – in a fourth vehicle. The team has run a fourth car in the past with David Gilliland and Joey Logano in 2008, as well as Elliott Sadler in select races last season. However, they have never run a fourth car on a full-time basis after starting the No. 11 team with Jason Leffler in 2005 before Denny Hamlin took the reins of that car.
As he stated, Edwards’ deal has been completed with another organization. Although he did not admit to signing the Missouri-native, team owner Joe Gibbs, admitted to having discussions to start a fourth team. If this were to happen, Edwards would be driving a non-Ford owned car for only the second time in his career. The lone occasion which he didn’t race a car with the blue oval on the nose was in 2002 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Gateway with Fred Bickford where he raced a Chevrolet.
“Carl Edwards has been a part of the Ford family for a decade, and it will certainly be tough to see him leave Ford and Roush Fenway Racing. During Carl’s time with Roush, he has represented Ford Motor Company with the utmost class, both on and off the track. We at Ford Racing did everything to facilitate keeping Carl a part of the Ford Racing & Roush Fenway family, but in the end that option did not come to fruition,” said Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing.
For the future, Roush does have some promising drivers moving up the ranks. Chris Buescher, winner of the 2012 ARCA Series title, is racing the team’s No. 60 car in the Nationwide Series, and sits seventh in points. Buescher is a candidate for Bayne’s part-time ride at the Wood Brothers and would be the ideal scenario for both sides. However, Ryan Reed is also in the Nationwide Series. Reed has struggled slightly more than Buescher, but is starting to gain momentum after being labeled one of the series’ most frequent crashers earlier in the year.
The Roulo Brothers team in the ARCA Series – Roush’s satellite team in that division, has Kyle Benjamin and Kyle Weatherman in their stable as well. They are expected to move up the ranks like Buescher and Reed over the next few years – giving Roush some stability for the future.
“Our goal when we bring drivers up through the system is to retain them – to have them start with us, to win championships and then to retire with us, so this is all part of the process. I think if you talk to Greg and Jack they would tell you that they have some unfinished business. They set out a while ago to be the first tandem to win the Truck, the Nationwide and the Cup championship,” said Steve Newmark, President of Roush Fenway Racing. “It’s always disappointing when you lose a driver that you bring up through the organization. I think everyone is aware that we pride ourselves on being a driver development program. It’s in our DNA and our heritage.”
After a wild finish at the Pocono Raceway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has arrived to another high speed track – the Michigan International Speedway. But these two tracks don’t have many similar characteristics other than the fact that they have been known to be extremely fast.
The last three Michigan races have been won by Ford drivers, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano. However, from 2009 until Biffle’s win in 2012, Toyota drivers dominated at Michigan with four wins over the course of seven races. During the first practice session of the weekend, the top-21 drivers ran speeds over 200 mph. Now, let’s take a look at who has the advantage going into Michigan.
-Jamie McMurray: McMurray has struggled at Michigan in the past with just four top-10s in 22 starts at the track with his last coming in 2008. He had a strong car in this race last year, but ended up finishing four laps down after leading 21 laps. After finishing 10th at Pocono, McMurray enters Michigan 21st in the standings.
-Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is coming off of a disappointing day at Pocono. He dominated the race, but with less than five laps to go, gave up the lead due to having debris on his grille and he could never get back around Dale Earnhardt Jr. Michigan is his home track, and he is determined to get a victory there. In nine Michigan starts, Keselowski has led 37 laps with two top-fives, including a runner-up in 2012.
-Austin Dillon: Dillon ran his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan back in 2012, and managed to run inside the top-25 for the majority of the race. In three Nationwide Series starts at the track, Dillon has a pair of pole awards, along with a top-five finish. But he also ran both Michigan races in 2013, and he finished inside the top-15 during both of them. He enters Michigan 15th in points and is looking for his second top-10 of the year.
-Kevin Harvick: Harvick was extremely fast at Pocono, but once again – he had something go wrong that was out of his control. Even with bad luck, Harvick is 12th in points with two wins. In 26 Michigan starts, Harvick has a win (2010) and three runner-up finishes, including both races in 2013.
-Kasey Kahne: Kahne’s sponsor, Farmer’s Insurance, just signed a contract extension through 2017. He was quickest in first practice, and is looking to gain some momentum after being the worst of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars all year. In 20 Michigan starts, Kahne has nine top-10s along with a win back in 2006.
-Michael Annett: Annett is coming off of a 20th-place finish at Pocono. He has been strong at the larger tracks this year, and he might be able to come away with a solid run.
-Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose has struggled this year. He has only recorded top-10s at short tracks, but he has not run well at the larger speedways. Since the repave at Michigan, Ambrose has run very well at the track – earning three top-10s over the last four races.
-Danica Patrick: Patrick has started to turn the corner on her NASCAR career. Instead of struggling to run inside the top-25 weekly, she has started to run no worse than the top-25, especially at the sport’s larger tracks. Patrick is coming off of three rough weeks, but she recorded a 13th-place finish at Michigan last year, and is looking for some momentum.
-Denny Hamlin: As mentioned earlier, Toyota dominated Michigan for a few years, and Hamlin won two of those races. Since the repave, Hamlin has struggled at the track as he finished inside of the top-15 just once over the past four races at Michigan. He has momentum on his side, however, as he has run inside of the top-five for back-to-back weeks.
-Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya is making his return to NASCAR competition for the first time since Homestead last year. He just earned his first IndyCar Series podium finish of the season with a third-place finish at Texas. Montoya has never been outstanding at Michigan in NASCAR with three top-10s in 14 starts at the track, but this is more of a preview for what is to come at Indianapolis later this year.
-Casey Mears: Has three top-10s at Michigan, but his best finish at Michigan was 20th since he joined Germain Racing. Mears is solidly 25th in points as that is about where he has been running week-in and week-out.
-Tony Stewart: Stewart gave up a victory at Pocono last weekend with a speeding penalty. He is coming off of three straight solid runs, but this might be the weekend where he gets back to victory lane. Stewart has 20 top-10s in 29 Michigan starts with an average finish of 11.7.
-Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has not been incredibly strong this season as his average finish is worse than 17th, but he is starting to turn the corner. Over the past eight Michigan races, Bowyer hasn’t finished worse than eighth with a career-best finish of fifth last season. He is coming off of two straight top-11 runs, and is currently 16th in points.
-Greg Biffle: The entire Roush-Fenway Racing team has struggled mightily this year at the intermediate tracks – which has historically been their strong suit. However, Biffle’s best track is Michigan as he has won four times in 22 starts at the track. Biffle has 14 top-10s at Michigan, and has won two of the last three races at the track. He has just two top-10s at non-restrictor plate tracks this year, but Michigan is the right place to turn things around.
-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Like Biffle, Stenhouse Jr. is just searching for consistency. He has three top-10s this year, but he has multiple finishes of 25th or worse. He finished inside of the top-20 for both Michigan races last year, and this could be a vital time in the No. 17 team’s season.
-Kyle Busch: Busch has sparked some controversy over the past two weeks with incidents that involved Bowyer and Kahne, respectively. Busch has been strong at the larger tracks this year, and he has an average finish of 13.2 this year. He won at Michigan in 2011, but he has just six top-10s in 18 starts at the track.
-Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is still searching for his first victory of the season after scoring seven wins in 2013. He has 10 top-10s this year, but he is going back to his old form where he struggles to start races but then gets stronger late in the event. At Michigan, Kenseth has a victory (2006) with 18 top-10s in 29 starts. He has an average finish of 9.6 at Michigan as he looks to capture that elusive victory.
-Trevor Bayne: Bayne will race in NASCAR’s highest level on a full-time basis next year. As of now, he is still racing for the Wood Brothers as he attempts to earn his first finish that is better than 19th this year. He has an average finish of 23.8 at Michigan, but he has two top-20 finishes at the track.
-Joey Logano: Logano won his first race for Team Penske at Michigan last year, and since then – he has been incredibly strong at the tracks 1.5-miles long or larger. Entering Michigan, Logano has seven top-10s this year and has already surpassed the most laps he has led in a single season with 447. At Michigan, he has five top-10s in 10 starts, but he did struggle at the track with Joe Gibbs Racing in the past.
-Jeff Gordon: Gordon has two wins at Michigan along with 25 top-10s in 42 starts. Entering Michigan, Gordon holds the points lead as he also has a win this year. He has been strong just about everywhere this year. The last three Michigan races have been not too well for Gordon with his best finish being 17th.
-Paul Menard: Menard has been carrying the torch at Richard Childress Racing this year. With seven top-10s this year, he is bound to have a good run at Michigan as he has been running strong at the larger speedways. In 15 starts at Michigan, he has three top-10s, but each of those has been recorded since 2011.
-Ryan Newman: Newman is coming off of his first top-10 since Richmond over a month ago. He has consistently run inside of the top-15 on a weekly basis, but he has not been contending for wins. In 25 Michigan starts, Newman has a pair of wins (2003 & 2004) along with seven top-10s. Since 2011, he has been up and down at Michigan, but RCR has been strong there in the past which might benefit him on Sunday.
-Kurt Busch: Coming off of one of his best races this year, Busch has plenty of confidence in his No. 41 team. He led a good chunk of both Michigan events in 2013 while driving for Furniture Row Racing. In 26 races at Michigan, he has two wins with nine top-10s, but he has an average finish of 21.2.
-Kyle Larson: Larson has made just one prior start at Michigan in the Nationwide Series, and he finished second in that race. He enters Michigan inside of the top-10 in points, and he is 10th in points with six top-10s. He also announced on Friday morning that his girlfriend and he are expecting a child during the final week in December.
-Aric Almirola: Almirola has had a solid start to the 2014 season. A 43rd-place finish at Fontana dropped him to 26th in points, but he is steadily working his way back up with top-15 runs on a weekly basis. In four starts at Michigan, he has never finished worse than 20th, but he has maxed out at 17th.
-A.J. Allmendinger: Considering it is his first full-time season with this team, Allmendinger has been running rather well with three top-10s. He has struggled over the past month as he hasn’t cracked the top-20, but Michigan has been a decent track for him. Though he has never cracked the top-10 in 11 Michigan starts, Allmendinger has seven top-20 finishes at the track.
-Jimmie Johnson: Michigan is one of the few tracks Johnson has never won at in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. He’s been in position to win at the speedway multiple times, but something always goes wrong – especially when it comes down to fuel strategy. During the last three Michigan races, Johnson has finished 27th or worse with two engine failures. His average finish at Michigan is 16.8, but he is on a hot streak with four straight top-10s, including back-to-back wins.
-Justin Allgaier: Allgaier has struggled in his rookie year with HScott Motorsports. The No. 51 team is running better at the shorter tracks, but Michigan has been a good track for Allgaier in the past. In five Nationwide Series starts at Michigan, he earned two top-10 finishes with none being worse than 14th.
-Brian Vickers: Vickers won a fuel mileage race at Michigan in 2009 for Red Bull Racing, but he hasn’t run at the track since the repave just like Pocono. He enters Michigan 13th in points with an average finish slightly below 16th this year. In 14 races at Michigan, Vickers has eight top-10s along with a pair of top-fives.
-Brett Moffitt: Moffitt is running in place of Jeff Burton this weekend. In a joint effort between Identity Ventures Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, Moffitt is running his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
-Martin Truex Jr.: This team is starting to get on a hot streak with back-to-back top-10 finishes. Busch contended for the win at both Michigan races last year, and Truex finished third in this race. In 16 prior starts at Michigan, he has three top-fives along with five top-10s as his average finish is 15.7.
-Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Coming off of his win at Pocono, Earnhardt Jr. returns to one of his best tracks. He has two wins and 10 top-10s at Michigan in 29 starts, but it has been hit or miss for him. Entering Michigan, he is third in points with nine top-10s and seven top-fives.
-Carl Edwards: Edwards enters Michigan seventh in points after dropping four spots due to a crash at Pocono. The entire RFR team has been inconsistent at the larger tracks, but this is one of his better speedways. In 19 starts at Michigan, Edwards has a pair of wins with 15 top-10 finishes.
NASCAR Green has been capturing the attention of race fans for the past five years in hopes of making one of the top spectator sports in the world more sustainable. Well, it has done just that. 75 percent of NASCAR fans are aware of NASCAR Green and its initiatives to make not only the sport, but the world a better place.
Most fans have noticed a different look on the racecars for the past several race weekends - bright green colors on every single one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series vehicles where the driver's names are located on the windshield. A rather different look, it provides fans a different perspective as to why NASCAR is attempting to truly get their fans involved more than any other sport.
"In addition to having the comprehensive set of initiatives that we have, the thing that really struck us in building this platform over the past five years is how incredible over fan impact numbers have been around the NASCAR Green platform,” NASCAR Green Vice President, Dr. Michael Lynch said in an exclusive interview with Speedway Digest on Friday afternoon. “We have numbers such as 75 percent of avid NASCAR fans are aware of NASCAR Green and know that the sport cares about the environment. That’s a very recent number for us. The fact that NASCAR fans are twice as likely as non-fans to keep their households ‘green,’ and we are always looking at ways to improve the environment whether that be from getting fans more active. That’s a 70 percent difference from four to four and a half years ago."
"It actually goes back to one of the hypotheses that we had at the beginning which is – a NASCAR Green platform across the entire stakeholdership of the league had the potential to have a unique impact because of the mental framework and mental model that fans bring to this sport that is actually different from fans of other major sports like Major League Baseball, or football, the NBA, hockey or Premier League Soccer or the World Cup. The thing is – a NASCAR fan is a fan of NASCAR. On average, fans have six favorite drivers that they follow. That being the case, tackling ‘green’ from an overall sport level and having an integrated level from all of our teams and venues and all of our partners as well from broadcasters to manufacturers, really gathers fans around ‘green’ in a way that no other sport has had the opportunity to do because we are different fans from baseball and basketball and hockey because the team has the passion and the focus. In our case, the league level platform has a unique opportunity literally because of the mental framework of fans in the first place."
What NASCAR has done is incredibly rare in the sports world. With such a large fan base, the sanctioning body has turned a sport that has the potential to harm the environment, and has now made it extremely 'green.' NASCAR launched the Race to Green program in 2013 with the hopes of growing their sustainability, and that they have done. Besides joining forces with race teams, NASCAR has encouraged their partners to participate in NASCAR's Green initiative. It is bringing Fortune 500 companies together more than any other sport, and are doing so for an outstanding cause.
Here are some examples of what NASCAR's partners are doing this month:
-Toyota will be pacing the Richmond Sprint Cup Race this month with a Camry Hybrid; Ford had a Ford Fusion Hybrid to pace the Sprint Cup race in Martinsville and a Fusion EcoBoost as backup pace car for the Martinsville race weekend.
-Coca-Cola Recycling will be activating recycling efforts in Texas, Darlington, and Richmond.
-Featherlite Trailers will plant 200 trees for every Featherlite Trailers NSCS driver win during the month of April
-Freightliner will plant 400 trees for every Freightliner NSCS driver win during the Race to Green platform
- 5.11 Tactical will be producing & providing 300 NASCAR Green patches for use on Officials Uniforms during the Green Platform window.
- 3M will be supporting the 2014 Tree Planting efforts.
There are endless amounts of projects going on thanks to NASCAR Green, but the impact is greater than one might believe.
"We categorized where our initiative would really make a difference,” said Lynch, who was previously a professor at Purdue University. “Then, we also realized where we could have the most impact is where we had the initiative to make a change of the environmental impact for the fans that can literally take these things home with them and get involved. We weighed in the initiatives of recycling at tracks, the camp grounds (which is very much like curb side recycling), our emissions reductions initiative, our bio-fuels in the racecars, the renewable energy across the sport and those were all a part of the initial phase. All of that sort of set a foundation to give us the opportunity to do some call-to-action work to have direct fan engagement and participate in the initiative with us by recycling at the track – putting the bottles and cans in the recycling bins. Last year was our first year of the Race to Green initiative where we started from Earth Hour in early March to Arbor Day at the end of April with Earth Day in there as well."
"Last year was the first time we made a call-to-action. With the Arbor Day Foundation, and multiple of our corporate partners, last year it was 19 (partners) and this year it is about 30, you can donate a dollar to plant a tree in an area of natural disaster that caused devastation in the U.S. We forest that area and also, when you plant a tree that lives its full life, it stores about a metric ton of CO₂ which is the amount generated by one of our Sprint Cup cars driving a 500-mile race. We issued that call-to-action last year, and the total from the tree planting was about 189 thousand, and we are replicating that this year with the Virginia Department of Forestry to place a lot of trees each year as well. Now, in later years, for our call-to-action, we will be adding in a contribution to the renewable energy in the U.S. Bringing household products and energy products in the sport will bring energy proficiency management. We will take steps over the next few years to engage fans on what they can do to reduce the amount of environmental impact that they can do in addition to driving a more fuel efficient vehicle that our manufacturers are producing."
However, NASCAR's off the track initiative is not the only thing they are doing to make the sport sustainable. Since the launch of NASCAR Green in 2008, the importance of this campaign has grown to unbelievable levels. The most abundant gains, however, have been on the race track.
NASCAR's Sunoco E15 fuel blend has been a leader for innovation. It has brought cleaner gasoline to the sport, and has also brought more partners into NASCAR than imaginable. Over the past several seasons, Kenny Wallace, Mike Bliss, Tayler Malsam, Jeff Burton and Austin Dillon have each been sponsored by American Ethanol and other 'green' friendly companies such as G-Oil or Family Farmers. This initiative has brought great partners to the sport, and what goes into NASCAR's new fuel combination might surprise you if you do not already know.
"It is actually pretty simple,” explained Dr. Lynch, who has been a large part in launching this oil, which is the world's most visible biofuels program. “It is Sunoco Green E15. It is 85 percent high octane unleaded gasoline from Sunoco. Then, it is 15 percent of American grown, American made ethanol produced here in the U.S. from corn grown here in the U.S. Ethanol, being a high-octane bio-fuel, actually increases the octane even further because ethanol has an average octane level of over 105 to 113 which is why we end up with higher horsepower in the cars with this high performance bio-fuel. There is actually a very simple formula to it. It is high-octane, high performance racing gas that Sunoco is creating (and they are truly the world experts at race fuel production), combined with 15 percent of American grown and made ethanol that Sunoco actually produces in their plant in upstate New York.”
But why is this fuel better than using regular racing gasoline? It is actually quite compelling.
"There are a few reasons. One is that by using 15 percent renewable fuel, you end up with a life cycle green house gas reduction of about 20 percent because the ethanol is produced in a state-of-the-art process. It is ‘greener’ from a green-house initiatives standpoint. Then, the performance benefit of it is literally eight to 12 horsepower as a result of having it. The reason of that is, based on a physics and performance standpoint, is that because ethanol’s octane creates a smoother blend which makes a clean burn. There is a lesser chance of irregularity of the pistons. What you get is – a very elegant, powerful motion in addition to lesser greenhouse gas emissions. You get sort of a maximum combo of a greener fuel. It is renewable, so you can grow the 15 percent out of the ground again. And you get added horsepower which translates to the performance of the cars which is something drivers have commented on since the beginning."
With an increase in horsepower has also caused controversy. So much controversy that NASCAR is planning on taking out approximately 75-100 horsepower over the next year or two to reduce speeds. However, Lynch said that a change in horsepower has little to no effect on the environment because of what the cars are producing is still the same.
A reason that this has occurred is because of the addition of Electronic Fuel Injection, otherwise known as EFI. Introduced during the 2011 Daytona 500, EFI has had a giant impact on the sport. Not only has it modernized the Sprint Cup Series, but it has increased the sustainability of the sport. However, it is still not present in the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series or any of the developmental divisions. Instead, the lower tiers of NASCAR use carburetors. Part of the reason is because it will save the lower funded teams plenty of money, helping them survive in the sport.
"Fuel injection is one where, like a lot of new aspects of the racecars, because of the cost implications of launching something new and because of the consciousness that NASCAR has of the sport with, and on behalf of the teams in the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and the developmental series to cost effectively compete. We need to make sure these folks continue to make a profit in what they are doing. These are all family businesses and they are the life of the sport. When something new like Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) comes in that has a cost component that needs to be managed and worked through with the learning curve over time, it is something that takes a lot to get started in the Cup Series."
"Then, as the learning curve is worked through and the cost is worked through, then it can be implemented into the other series and divisions. In this particular case, there was a bit of a timing issue as well because you might recall that EFI came in not long after we launched Sunoco Green E15 in the 2011 Daytona 500. EFI, when we talk about integrating to new partners, the complexity was being best handled at the Cup Series level from the start. A lot of what EFI is about is it automatically, with fine-penciled precision, dials in an air to fuel mixture that maximizes the efficiency of the engine. That is particularly important when you are dealing with a bio-fuel blend. If you get that air to fuel mixture right, and you get it adjusted to keep it optimized, then that explains why you get more horsepower from the biofuel blend and no hiccups with excellent results. Do they get that program to where it can be implemented in the Nationwide and Truck Series teams without negatively impacting them to make a living? That was really the logic that was going on there because everyone knew it was going to be something that would have technical bumps to go through, so start with the Cup Series teams was the thinking."
Another amazing innovation which NASCAR has created is the Air Titan. Everyone knows how dreary it can be to wait in the rain at a race track. After all, we all want to see a race - that's the whole point of going to the track. After the long, drawn out process of using the jet dryers, NASCAR Green has helped create the most state-of-the-art track drying process there is.
NASCAR is different from most other forms of motorsports since the cars do not race in the rain. Well, they do every now and then, but that is extremely rare and must be at a road course. The Air Titan has shaved more than enough time to get races in on the same day, saving fans another night at a hotel, or missing a day of work and/or school. However, there is a lot more that goes into the Air Titan than one can imagine.
"Well, you can imagine that anything where precision applies, a sheet of heated air, there are a bunch of different things that you can do with that – whether it is on the racing surface or otherwise. The focus of the R&D team and the focus on the rollout of it are to get the tracks dried faster and get back to racing sooner and get races in on the same day or evening. The fans in particular make a huge investment to come out to the track to see a race. If they don’t get to see a race that same day, that is a huge impact, and NASCAR knows that. The Air Titan, the original and 2.0 versions were designed to deliver to the families and fans that come to the track to maximize the opportunity to know that they are going to go to the track and know they are going to see that race. As you may imagine, when you are leaning in with mother nature like that, that is a tough challenge. That is where our team really focuses to define how to get the tracks dry as fast as possible and refining the implementation of this system of exactly how it is used and whatever fine tuning is needed to be done to any part of it. Anything that can be done to shave five to 10 percent off of the margin of the time is a huge impact for everybody. It requires the full focus of the team. The complications of the Air Titan right now are just not as important as making sure that the actual track drying process is completely optimized with every opportunity we use it to put the cars back on the track."
Wait, but there is a lot more. There are plenty of physics and mathematical equations which the NASCAR Research and Development team must conduct in order to truly define what is needed to dry a track as quickly as possible.
"It was along the lines of practicing the best products along with a lot of R&D development. It went all the way back to the concept of this team, before the version one came along, there was an enormous amount of conceptual work done to figure it out like ‘what is a track surface?’ And it actually is a very complex surface area at a microscopic level. How does water behave on the surface? It is really hard to understand this in terms of a physics and math standpoint. How does water evaporate exactly? How do you maximize the speed of having water evaporate? Because in the end, that’s what we are trying to do. You have a complex surface area. There are millions and billions of little craters in there where water can go, or little channels that they can go down. How do you tackle all of that with a machine that can be built cost effectively, that can be used straight forwardly to be transported to 38 locations a year, will have a reasonable amount of maintenance throughout the year and that will be as ‘green’ as possible," Lynch said as he elaborated on what the Air Titan does better than the jet dryers.
"You can imagine the white board sketching that goes on. Dozens of experts were tabbed with the enormous amount of prototypes that we were testing. The versions of the development of the one we are using now made us have to go back to the beginning and ask – ‘what is the track surface? How does water behave on it? How can you tackle it?’ Then, in order to get to that point, we had to create a machine to spread water out as much as possible to let it evaporate as quickly as possible into the air. What are the ways that you can speed that up and have that optimized to run an entire solution package? It is the same kind of logic that goes into building any kind of system. 3M engineers will give you the same way that they develop products for 3M that are very much the same type of any complex equipment that any complex solution company makes something work. Getting from here to Mars creates some of the renewable energy that uses amazingly complex systems. A lot of those engineers would walk you through the same process that I just walked through here that our R&D team goes through in Concord, NC."
While NASCAR is seemingly happy with the development of the Air Titan 2.0, there is plenty more that they want to do in the future. Anything and everything that can make the Air Titan cleaner and faster is on the table. Obviously, it will not always work just like what happened at Texas, but it certainly increases the chance of getting a race in on the same day if there is inclement weather in the area.
The greatest part of this initiative is how hard everyone is working to get the job done. It does not matter if companies are competing against each other in the marketplace - they just want the world to be a better place.
“Sprint consistently is encouraging fans to recycle their used phones with recycling at the tracks. I know Mike touched on Coca-Cola recycling. Safety-Kleen recycles all of the race used oil. We have a lot of partners consistently working each race weekend with the sport," added Brad Klein, Manager of Business Communications for NASCAR.
So, how can fans help out? Well, it is quite simple. Participate at the track and at home. NASCAR Green has plenty to look forward to in the future, and you will certainly see that as time rolls on. For now, however, show support of NASCAR's partners such as Safety-Kleen with their at-the-track oil recycling, Sprint's used phone recycling, track initiatives of planting trees, the work of Toyota to help show why hybrid cars are supportive of sustainability efforts and dozens of other activities and projects which NASCAR has started.