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Ken Howes discusses 2011 competition changes

Fans can expect to see several competition changes when the 2011 season opens at Daytona. Notably, there’s the new nose, the elimination of the catch-can man thanks to a new self-ventilating system and new rules on tire allotment. Most of the changes are geared toward saving teams money, but each will take some getting used to.

With the new nose, car manufacturers wanted to see more of their own identity in the car. They wanted it to look closer to what they are selling. If you look back, the first step in the evolution was when they started designing the (NASCAR) Nationwide Series car with more manufacturer identity. The next step was to carry some of that into the (NASCAR) Sprint Cup Series and change the look of the cars. I think they achieved what they wanted to, and it certainly looks better.

With the elimination of the catch-can man, a move NASCAR first made in the (NASCAR Camping World) Truck Series, fuelers will use cans with self-ventilating systems. The earlier system had a nozzle on the end of the can, and the system was pretty simple—just open and shut. The catch-can man vented the fuel cell and handled adjustments. Now with the new can, the fuel flow and air venting takes place in one coupling. What has been designed is a more complicated coupling where the fuel flows through the middle of the coupling and the air that is being displaced can flow up to the outside. The new system meets Mother Nature’s requirements that you have to allow the exchange of fuel and air. If you didn’t have that everything would lock up and there would be no flow.

Of course, having one less person will change the choreography of a pit stop. Typically a catch-can man would make adjustments while venting the fueling process, but he is no longer there so who’s going to do it? The fueler doesn’t have much time anymore because it’s all he can do to get fuel in the car, especially if the team is pitting after a long, green-flag run. A fueler won’t have time to do anything else so the tire carriers will have to pick up some adjustments; everybody will have to learn some new skills, and that should make the pit stops even more exciting for the fans. 

Finally, the tire allotment is being restricted this season, and that will have a big effect on strategy. Teams will have a set quantity at each race when the green flag falls, and they won’t be permitted to use their teammate’s tires. Goodyear is basing the amount of tires allowed on the race distance and previous tire usage. Those types of changes mean the crew chief is going to have to be selective about when he tells his driver to take four tires. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more fuel-only pit stops as a result.

As a previous crew chief myself, I think it certainly makes the job more difficult, but then again racing is difficult anyway. I don’t know if teams can plan ahead too much; they just have to be aware of the possibilities and hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Ken Howes

Vice President of Competition

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