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NASCAR Rule Changes: How Has the Sprint Cup Title Chase Been Affected So Far?

Russell SchmidtContributor IMarch 21, 2011

Pit crews such as Jimmie Johnsons have had to change some of their pit stop procedures with the latest 2011 ruls packages.
Pit crews such as Jimmie Johnsons have had to change some of their pit stop procedures with the latest 2011 ruls packages.Jason Smith/Getty Images

Racin’ with Russ: With so many NASCAR rules changes in place for 2011, have things changed in just the first four races? Yes, they have, and here are some examples of the current and future ramifications.

Step A: With the Sprint Cup Chase rules changing the limit from 12 drivers to 10, there is a growing mindset to win races. Those drivers without enough points may be eligible to get into the Chase with more wins than the next guy, providing they are among the top 20.

Drivers such as Jamie McMurray with three wins, should have been among those in the Chase last year, but the rules were not in place until now. NASCAR is trying to turn that around and we won’t know how well that idea will work until much later in the season.

Drivers having to choose which series they are competing in for points has certainly changed the outlook of the current standings. A full-time regular will stand tall by the end of the year.

One definite change this year is that the next Nationwide champion will not be a full-time Cupster for the first time since Martin Truex Jr. won the title way back in 2005.

Another change is the driver and sponsor commitment to a series they can never win. A few months ago, Carl Edwards insisted they would compete for the entire season regardless of changes to how points would be treated. We now understand that he and several others may not go down that road, as only monetary rewards and on-track experience can be fruitful.

The new rules in qualifying, with the slowest-timed drivers to qualify first, are a little more entertaining for the fans, yet that puts more pressure on those fast drivers having to lay it on the line and wait for their chance late in the process. No big change here in results…so far.

The new re-fueling rigs, with the 15-percent ethanol fuel, has created some problems on pit lane while refueling. Gone is the catch-can man to help out with set-up adjustments and re-fueling. The new fueling connector has been problematic, with handlers having issues with how the connection is lined up for smooth operation. One team with these issues is Greg Biffle's crew as their experience in Phoenix of not getting a full tank among other things cost Biffle any kind of decent finish despite having a fast ride. Solution? They replaced the re-fueler. Results so far? An eighth place in Sunday’s round from Bristol.

The rear-tire changer has had to pick up the ball in adjusting the car as far as rounds of wedge, etc. So far, no reported problems.

The pit crew coaches are coming up with several different game plans. With the slower fueling process (some two seconds slower), the pit stops are running well into the 16-second bracket, a far cry from 13-second stops. This could have implications down the road with decisions, as far as how much gas or how many tires.

There are new front-end designs on Sprint Cup cars this year and the results are positive. Gone are the metal braces that were a problem. While the splitter is still in place, the body work around it has proven to be tough through adversity (read: running off the racetrack). The low front ends tend to scoop up grass and such, but they are not breaking off as easily as the past few years.

For the first time since 1975, there is a change in the overall points system with 43 for winning and one point less for each subsequent spot. Pretty simple to understand, right?

Then there is also one point for leading a lap, one point for leading the most laps and three bonus points for a win. So far, there are no big problems here, but we are only in the fourth week of the season. We may reflect back on this deeper in the season and see if these changes are making significant changes in strategy.

Questions? Comments? Drop me a line.

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