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Random Lugnuts: NASCAR's Embarrassments go Nationwide

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR, Nationwide Series, Toyota
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: NASCAR's Embarrassments go Nationwide

Bill Crittenden
July 23, 2008

NASCAR's new Nationwide Series rule change is as follows: "At all Events, unless otherwise specified, all engines with a cylinder bore spacing less than 4.470 inches must compete using a tapered spacer with four (4) 1.125-inch diameter holes. At all Events, unless otherwise specified, all engines with a cylinder bore spacing of 4.470 inches or more must compete using a tapered spacer with four (4) 1.100-inch diameter holes. Unless otherwise authorized, the carburetor restrictor will be issued by NASCAR."

It all sounds a bit like technical gobbledygook for engine geeks.  Basically, a "tapered spacer" is a different word for "restrictor plate."  These "tapered spacers" were installed to slow down the Nationwide cars so they wouldn't be faster than NASCAR's premier series, the Sprint Cup, when the latter started driving made the "Car of Tomorrow" the "Car of Today."  So engines with a cylinder bore spacing of more than 4.470" competes with a restrictor plate with holes smaller than the rest of the engines by .025", which restricts airflow into the engines.  What does cylinder bore spacing have to do with horsepower (such that a smaller bore spacing would require a more restrictive plate to equalize any advantage gained)?  Well, almost nothing.  So why regulate it?  Because NASCAR needed a way to single out Toyota for more restrictive restrictor plates to bring their horsepower down to where the other manufacturers are without saying the word "Toyota" in their rule.

What this means is, Toyota made a better engine and did it within the rules.  Finding no fault with Toyota's engine, NASCAR just made up new rules to placate the complainers.

But NASCAR's numbers are on shaky ground here.  Let's look at the numbers:

Of Toyota's 14 Nationwide Series wins this season, nine of them came in the number 20 car, with different drivers.  That engine came in FIFTH in the engine horsepower test behind two Fords and a Toyota that hasn't won anything this season.  If horsepower were the reason for the wins, wouldn't the #20 car have scored higher and the #99 car scored worse?  And why weren't the Fords included in the today's "change?"

Of the 14 Toyota wins in the Nationwide Series this year, 13 were in Joe Gibbs Racing cars and 1 was in a Braun Racing car driven by a Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Kyle Busch.  Kyle could probably win a short track race in my son's Cozy Coupe, so don't start thinking that Toyota's advantage helped little Braun Racing win in NASCAR's second-tier series.  Back to the numbers, particularly the number of wins for Michael Waltrip and Germain's Toyotas this year: 0  So why were ALL of the Toyota teams affected?

This year, with 2/3 of the races won by Toyotas, the Camry was on pace to win 24 races by the end of the season, should the pace of winning hold up (which it most likely will not now).  Last year Chevrolets won 22 races.  What was done to restrict Chevrolet engines after the 2007 season (that wasn't done to everyone's engines)?

Basically, I think this decision was less about an unfair advantage on Toyota's part but rather came about because of the constant whining and complaining this season from a certain group of NASCAR teams and fans.  The teams being those that decided that rather than work hard and win honestly within the rules that it was more expedient to get the rules changed in their favor and the fans being those simply beside themselves that a company that actually builds cars in the United States is winning a lot of NASCAR races while the good ol' American brands that build the street legal cars mimicked in NASCAR races would rather employ Canadians and Mexicans than their own countrymen.  Or maybe it's because the new company comes from Japan, I forget sometimes.  Somehow, one manufacturer winning 2/3 of the races is somehow "destroying" the sport.  Instead of sticking to the simple principle that the best team that plays within the rules wins, the teams from (and fans of) Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge instead figured out how to beat the Toyotas by getting NASCAR to change the rules, and NASCAR (unlike just about every other sport around, except professional wrestling) caved in to the bleatings of an ignorant group of people and decided it was best for the sport to beat Toyota in the rulebook.

I even spoke to one NASCAR fan this week who suggested that Toyota somehow be written out of the Nationwide Series altogether.  This person's suggestion was to use the Mustang, Camaro and Challengers as the basis for next year's Nationwide cars, and since Toyota doesn't build anything comparable they'd be out of luck - and out of the series.  I suggested the Solara, it's front drive on the street but that matters little with NASCAR's purpose-built race cars.  No, the wheelbase wasn't right.  How does a few inches of wheelbase matter when Ford gets to take Taurus and Fusion sedans and make them coupes?  Of course, what did this person have in mind for the limits on a wheelbase in this instance?  No numbers were tossed around, but I got the impression that it should be just enough that a Toyota doesn't make the race.  Sounds a lot like cylinder bore spacing to me.

Personally, I'm a bit disgusted by it.  This is why people say NASCAR isn't a sport, this is why folks like Tony Stewart (and myself) compare it to professional wrestling.  But I'm not going to stop watching.  I'll keep watching the Nationwide races, cheering on the now-underdog Toyotas.  Heck, I'll even cheer if Kyle Busch wins, because I know that will piss off a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

Besides, I'm curious to see what will happen next.  Should Kyle Busch win another few races, I'm sure the idiots who convinced NASCAR to create this new rule about and the idiots who implemented it will try something else to slow the Toyotas down some more.  I recall the guys in the booth commenting on how well Kyle Busch's car gets through the corners a few weeks ago, so maybe skinnier tires will be next?  "Any car whose manufacturer logo is oval but not dark blue shall have tires with a width of..."

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