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2012 Sprint Cup Preview: Changes for the NASCAR Season

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Taylor covers NASCAR for RotoWire. He is a three-time winner of the FSWA's Racing Writer of the Year award. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

Before we make out our cheatsheets or prepare our draft strategies for the 2012 NASCAR season, we need to consider the many changes coming this season to prepare for any fantasy racing league. We'll take an in-depth look at some of these changes, including some that aren't so apparent, before the engines fire up at Daytona in February.

Driver Changes

Thanks to the usual silly season movement and an economically contracting sport, we have several team changes for the 2012 season. A handful of teams are shutting down due to lack of sponsorship. A few teams have merged and contracted to stay competitive. A good example of this would be Roush Fenway Racing scaling back from four teams to three and Richard Childress Racing going from four to three, as well. Also, a handful of driver/team swaps have taken place; among the most notable are the Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin moves.

DRIVERNEW TEAMOLD TEAM
Kasey KahneNo. 5 Rick Hendrick MotorsportsNo. 4 Red Bull Racing
Clint BowyerNo. 15 Michael Waltrip RacingNo. 33 Richard Childress Racing
Josh WiseNo. 37Gunselman MotorsportsNo. 40 Nationwide Series
Mark MartinNo. 55 Michael Waltrip RacingNo. 5 Rick Hendrick Motorsports
TBD No. 71 TRG MotorsportsTBD
Danica PatrickNo. 10 Stewart Haas RacingNo. 7 Nationwide Series
Kurt BuschNo. 51 Phoenix Racing No. 22 Penske Racing
Scott SpeedNo. 95 Leavine Family RacingNo. 46 Whitney Motorsports
A.J. AllmendingerNo. 22 Penske Racing No. 43 Petty Motorsports
TBD No. 46 Whitney MotorsportsTBD
Aric AlmirolaNo. 43 Petty Motorsports No. 88 Nationwide Series
TBD No. 32 FAS Lane RacingTBD


Qualifying Procedures

We witnessed NASCAR change and tweak these rules throughout the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season, and by mid-year it seemed to have settled on all the changes. The following outline applied to the later half of last season and should be the rules in 2012.

Qualifying order will be determined by the driver's fastest lap in first practice.

Lap times on the speed sheet will be inverted with the slowest cars attempting their qualifying runs first.

Go-or-go-home cars will now qualify among the 35 teams locked in on owner points and not be separated by the field.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup director does reserve the right to change a driver's qualifying order or allow "adjustments or repairs" to cars after the car has taken the green flag at the start/finish line.

All cars must qualify with a full fuel cell.

Qualifying consists of two consecutive timed laps.

The fastest lap determines qualifying position.

In case of a rain-out of practice, a random drawing will be held for cars set up in the garage area to determine qualifying order.

In the instance that qualifying is rained out, the order of the field will be set according to Section 9-5 of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup rule book.

Electronic Fuel Injection

NASCAR plans to implement electronic fuel injection in all Sprint Cup Series cars beginning at Daytona in the upcoming season. Extensive testing has been conducted on several different tracks with various drivers in the last year, and it appears that all the bugs have been worked out. So, say goodbye to the good old carburetor, and say hello to EFI. The Nationwide and Truck series will still use carburetors for the foreseeable future.

Driver-to-Driver Communications

NASCAR is expected to revise its policy on in-car radio communications, including a possible ban on drivers communicating with other drivers over their in-car radios for at least restrictor-plate events in 2012. This has been the center of controversy since the tandem draft became popular on the super speedways. Driver-to-driver communications cropped up out of the necessity of drivers strategizing and communicating with drafting partners. It looks as though NASCAR will move to ban this practice sometime early in 2012.

Superspeedway Aerodynamic & Cooling Changes Planned

To eliminate the two-car tandem draft that has become so dominant in recent seasons on superspeedways, NASCAR has made plans and conducted some testing for a new aerodynamic package on the Sprint Cup Series car at restrictor-plate race tracks. Several teams tested in November with various restrictor-plate sizes and varying spoiler heights, all shorter than the current. Also, the sanctioning body has reduced the size of the radiator from five to two gallons, reduced the overflow reservoir from one gallon to a half gallon and moved the air intake further up on the front bumper fascia. All these changes will make the cooling system less efficient and more dependent on "clean air." With all these changes the expectation is to make the cars more unsettled in a two-car draft with the car behind pushing. This would create more three-wide pack style racing that we've seen on the restrictor-plate tracks in years past. Like it or not, fans have spoken and they don't particularly care for the two-car tandem draft. The net affect of these various technical changes to the Sprint Cup car will be immediately apparent at Daytona Speedweeks in February.

Schedule Changes

NASCAR made quite a few changes to the 2012 Sprint Cup Series Schedule. We still maintain the basic 36-event schedule, but there have been several date shifts for various reasons. Most of the traditional race weekends have been maintained, but some have changed. Here are the changes made to this season's schedule:

The start of the 2012 NASCAR season was moved back. The season-opening Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway will start one week later than usual with the running of the preseason "non-points" Bud Shootout at Daytona on Feb. 18. The 54th annual Daytona 500 will run on Feb. 26. The race dates for Phoenix International Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway were likewise moved a week later, to March 4 and March 11, respectively.

Kansas Speedway's spring date was moved up in the schedule to accommodate repaving at the track this summer. Kansas now will be the eighth race of the season on April 22. Talladega Superspeedway's spring event moves to May 6, and Dover International Speedway's spring event returns to its traditional spot on June 3, to make the new Kansas date work.

Texas Motor Speedway's spring date moves to April 14, to accommodate the traditional open week for the Easter holiday.

Daytona International Speedway's summer event and Kentucky Speedway's race will swap weekends because the Fourth of July holiday falls mid-week. Kentucky's night race is June 30 and Daytona will run its night race on July 7.

Talladega Superspeedway's Chase event moves up two weeks to Oct. 7, becoming the fourth race in the Chase. Often labeled as the wild-card track in the Chase playoff, Talladega's "survival" race is now staged during the first half of the Chase for the Cup. Talladega swaps its date with Kansas Speedway, now Oct. 21 to make this happen.

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