In the spirit of the soon-to-roar-to-life 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, we realize there are still some of you unwashed out there who want to be fans, but who might be intimidated by the lingo, logos or logic of the sport. So, welcome to Dean McNulty's Sprint Cup 101, or what we like to call NASCAR For Dummies.
First off, NASCAR stands for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
It was founded back in 1948 by a group of mostly former moonshiners who loved to race their hot rods -- when they weren't being chased by U.S. revenue agents -- up and down the hard sand shores of the Atlantic Ocean along Daytona Beach in Florida.
Big Bill France was the brains behind the deal and everyone at the time agreed he should run the thing.
Thus started more than half-a-century of ownership by the France family -- Bill Jr. after Big Bill and now Brian France, his sister Lisa France-Kennedy and uncle Jim France.
And they operate it with an iron fist.
NASCAR sets the rules, negotiates the TV contracts, dictates the schedule and just about everything else, including the selling of merchandise and hot dogs on race day.
There may be 43 cars and drivers starting the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14, but there is only one boss.
There is an adage in NASCAR that says it best about the control the France family has on the series: The France family doesn't write cheques, it only cashes them.
Unlike the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA, there are no franchises in NASCAR.
Each team is supposedly an independent entry in the series, and, much like the golfers on the PGA Tour, where they finish in the race determines the prize money they take home every week.
But fact is the most successful teams figured out long ago that there is strength in numbers.
Thus, today, outfits such as Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing all have multiple teams under one garage roof who help each other both on and off the track.
While there are four different manufacturers who are represented in NASCAR -- Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge and Toyota -- all of the cars are identical in appearance. Only the decals with the car-makers' logos differentiate the No. 24 Chevrolet of four-time champion Jeff Gordon from the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Bush.
NASCAR keeps it this way, it says, to provide a level playing field.
Officials measure every car down to the 100ths of an inch of tolerance before every race and after every race.
The lone area where teams differ is under the hood.
Each manufacturer supplies its own engines -- that must be pre-approved by NASCAR -- to its various teams.
There is one proviso, however: All engines must be push-rod, carburetted V8s.
This is strange only in that none of the four manufacturers have powered their vehicles with this kind of engine since the mid-1970s.
While there has been pressure to change to fuel-injected engines, NASCAR so far has resisted, saying it would increase cheating -- the way it did in Formula 1 when that series switched decades ago.
All but two of the race tracks on the NASCAR calendar -- the road courses at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. -- are ovals.
There are two big ovals -- the 2.5-mile high-banked Daytona International Speedway and the 2.66-mile equally high-banked Talladega Superspeedway -- and three short ovals -- the half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and the three-quarter-mile Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
The remaining tracks are so-called medium ovals, mostly 1.5 miles in length like the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The exceptions are the one-mile tracks at Dover. Del., New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, as well as the two-mile ovals at Michigan and California.
Car Versus Driver
The age-old debate over who is the athlete in car racing -- the driver or the car -- may never be totally settled, but it is really a combination of the two.
However, a bad driver will not win regularly even with the best equipment -- just check out the stats of a Michael Waltrip.
And even the best driver won't win regularly in a bad