Kurt Busch winning the NASCAR All-Star Race was impressive. Kurt Busch winning the NASCAR All-Star Race after slapping the wall with his car at full speed is even more impressive.
The current chassis used in the Cup Series has been well documented as a safer machine. The car is also gaining a strong reputation as a durable workhorse that can take some punishment and still offer a driver a fast ride.
Busch had shown he had a fast car all night. While running a high line in the corners he flattened the right side against the yellow SAFER barrier. With the car’s handling now compromised Busch dropped back in the pack keeping the car logging laps without causing any further damage.
The race procedure’s built in caution periods and a break allowed Busch’s Penske team to make repairs and return the blue machine to the strong form it enjoyed earlier in the event. But scraping a steel wall at over 175 miles per hour can cause a long list of problems.
The aerodynamic downforce of the car can be compromised. NASCAR’s COT template grid does not allow team body fabricators outside of a corner as far as creativity goes. That is all the more reason anyone can not give up any body advantage to another team through damage.
Tire problems can result from the wall contact or a body rub. A flat can cause a severe, sudden, heavy crash. A simple, slow leak will alter a car’s handling drastically. Radial tires have spring-like qualities that are sensitive to air pressure changes as little as a half a pound.
Both upper and lower control arms are slotted up, down, fore, aft, inward and outboard. Hours are spent by surface plate mechanics setting up a chassis for competition. Thirty-second of an inch measurements are regularly used to line up suspension components. Slamming them against the wall can eliminate that work in an instant.
The rear end is located left to right by a panhard bar and accompanying brackets. The housing rests on two truck arms that have three to four vertical holes each, in which to bolt the arms to the frame. Each hole is also slugged front and rear. Deciding where the rear is located for maximum speed while passing NASCAR inspection is part of the lengthy setup procedure.
Exhaust pipes run out the right side only at Charlotte. Engine builders put so much effort into every detail including header and tailpipe configuration. They are yet another component possibly damaged with a right side run in with the wall.
After all of this the Penske Racing crew did a job that qualifies as outstanding to take a racecar that was prepared down to the last detail, and then scraped down a retaining wall during a race, back to winning form in a very limited amount of time.
Lady luck likely played into their hands somewhat by not making the damage terminal. Race team crews do yeoman’s work every single day to make this competitive sport possible. And some days they dig even deeper and lead their driver to victory lane.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic)
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