Rule Changes for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season

Russell SchmidtContributor IFebruary 6, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  A general view of the pre-race stage before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Racin’ with Russ. With this year’s Super Bowl in the record books, it’s only fitting to start talking about NASCAR’s upcoming Super Bowl of sorts—the Daytona 500.

This is the only sport I know of that has their biggest and certainly most grand show on the first day of the season.

This year’s big show has a number of new rule changes in place to create what is hopefully a better, more competitive, more entertaining event. I know, last year’s race saw four cars come to the line side by side, neck and neck—but much of the race was a snoozer.

Starting with the restrictor plate, it is now slightly smaller. The vertical blade on the car that runs down the roof and over the rear deck is taller for more vertical stabilization.

The rear spoiler is lower and has a slight curve to it, something I can never remember being in place since the start of NASCAR. I’ve seen wings and blades of all different sizes, but never one that is curved—all in the interest of better aerodynamics.

The radiator is now smaller by some three gallons and the catch tank is also smaller. Both of these changes are to try and reduce the time the drivers can stay behind each other while zipping around the 2.5 high-speed banked ovals without overheating.

In line with these changes is the opening for the radiator at the front of the car, very high in relationship to previous years, also in an effort to keep the cars from running nose-to-tail for very long.

In-car communications between drivers has also met the NASCAR chopping block, making it more difficult for fancy moves as the previous two car combos whipped through the field. This part I don’t necessarily agree with as the driver behind has little or no view of what’s in front of him. In this vein, I would favor a clear-lexan rear spoiler—something seen on the local-short tracks.

All of these rule changes have come from race fans complaining about the tandem drafting taking place at all of last year's plate races at Daytona and Talladega. NASCAR is trying to accommodate their wishes without giving up any safety issues.

I still see tandem drafting occurring, but more in a late-race dash to the finish with large packs being the general view of racing and yes—we’ll unfortunately still witness some form of the "big ones" in each event. The multi-car wrecks are just inevitable taking only the slightest of errors to take place to kick them off.

From Rumorville

It appears that David Ragan has finally landed a Sprint Cup ride—between two teams. He’ll start the season with Team Go Canada in the Daytona 500, then move on to Front Row Motorsports Fords for the remainder of the season. Strange arrangement, but this season is shaping up with unusual setups.

Speaking of unusual setups and creative finagling, Danica Patrick will start this year’s Daytona 500 via rules manipulation between Stewart-Haas Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. The diminutive racing princess has yet to start on Sprint Cup race, yet will be guaranteed a starting spot worth at least $200,000—according to the new record breaking purse.

SHR and TBR were able to combine forces by using (see if you can follow all of this) the points from the No. 35 TBR car from last year (top-35 car), but will use the No. 10 on the doors for the entire season.

Patrick is slated to drive only 10 races this year, so in order to keep her somewhat afloat of the top 35 (and not have to qualify for future races this season) as she flip-flops back and forth between Nationwide and Cup rides—David Reutimann will drive the No. 10 for the other 26 races.

Of all the NASCAR races on the schedule, the Daytona 500 is the most complex and lengthy process—not to mention the most nerve racking for those new to the sport.

Patrick will skirt (pun intended) all of these issues with this complex arrangement where everybody—meaning both teams and big buck-sponsor—wins. But the fans are cheated out of seeing how the 29-year-old rookie would fare on her own merits. More on this as it develops.

Racing legend A.J. Foyt has just been released from the hospital after a recent knee operation developed a rather serious infection, sidelining the tough 77-year-old Texan from being the Grand Marshall at the Rolex 24. A full recovery is expected and he will be back at the track with his Indy car team with driver Mike Conway.

That’s it for this week. Next week, RWR will take a look at this year’s opening rounds of competition for NASCAR, starting with the 2012 Budweiser Shootout along with more racing news from around the globe.