The Frontstretch: Fuel For Thought - Making The Case For Fuel Injection In NASCAR by Vito Pugliese -- Friday August 28, 2009

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Fuel For Thought - Making The Case For Fuel Injection In NASCAR

Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Friday August 28, 2009

 

Progress and change. Both are touchy subjects, and, more often than not, have no bearing or influence on the other. One can fly in the face of tradition while the other may support and reinforce it. I’ll spare you the political diatribe (for now) however, and cut to the chase where in NASCAR, the opportunity to make some gains may be on the horizon.

On Thursday, our own Jeff Meyer in his Voices From The Heartland column, wrote a piece detailing the recent rumor that fuel injection may replace the tried and true carburetor in NASCAR competition. Jeff’s opinion was it was an answer in search of a legitimate question, and that it was yet another example of a tradition in NASCAR being cast aside in the name of, “improving” the sport. On Wednesday in our Mirror Driving segment, a few of us also debated the pros and cons of such a drastic change to the induction system that has seemingly worked so well for over 50 years.

While many oppose the thought of abandoning the iconic Holley four-barrel carburetor for computer controlled fuel injection, I think it is a change worth exploring for a number of reasons.

First of all, outside of the trucks on Monster Jam as seen just about every day on SPEED TV, NASCAR is just about the only major racing series left that runs carburetors. Even NHRA Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars that still utilize the basic Chrysler 426 Hemi architecture have a fuel injection set up. Does that mean carburetors have no place in racing? No, not at all – the Pro Stock division still uses them.

Vito counters Frontstetch’s own Jeff Meyer, making a case for fuel injection in NASCAR.

However, when the argument against using fuel injection comes around to it being far too costly and complex, it doesn’t hold water. Formula One, IndyCar, Grand Am, and the American LeMans Series just to name a few have been using fuel injection for decades without incident. The reliance on 50-year old technology (albeit proven and sound technology) has been one of the knocks against NASCAR. To be at the forefront of motorsports in North America, it may serve well that the vehicles used in competition share something a bit more than just headlight and tail light decals with those in our garages.

Which brings me to my next point, and the reason why motorsports existed in the first place; developing useful parts and pieces that can be implemented into production.

I remember back in the early 1990s, Ford had an ad touting that the Thunderbird achieved its impressive low-drag coefficient and, “cross-wind stability”, through the development of its namesake in NASCAR competition. When was the last time something from NASCAR worked its way onto the street? About the last thing I can remember were the handful of Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Aero Coupes and Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2s of the late 1980’s that made their way onto the streets. Dale Earnhardt’s Lumina that he won championships six and seven with bore very little resemblance whatsoever to the one my mom had – and that I unceremoniously plowed head-on into a guardrail with.

It’s time for auto racing and NASCAR in particular to start implementing the sorts of things that will pay dividends to the public, as they once did in the past. Disc brakes, rear view mirrors, three-point harnesses, independent suspensions – all basic things we take for granted today, were birthed from auto racing and motorsports competition. By bringing fuel injection into the mix, the manufacturers would have more of a vested interest in producing power plants that would bear some kind of fruit that may be derived someday for the showroom.

Manufacturers have had little motivation to develop new engines over the last 40 years to compete against each other. During the late 1960s when the horsepower wars had reached a crescendo, there were cars and engines being developed on a yearly basis – car and engines that reached the street and today are some of the most valuable and memorable machines of their kind.

While we likely will never be privy to a time like that again, there is no reason that motorsports can’t serve as a test bed once again for cars you and I will purchase in the future.

There is another issue that is becoming readily apparent these days in NASCAR as well: these cars are going ridiculously fast. Engines today are now nudging north of 900 horsepower, using just 358 cubic inches to get there. Dodge has recently unveiled their new engine this year, and Ford is preparing to start competing with their new FR9 design. Couple this with a new top-heavy car that doesn’t like to turn, has little downforce, and a tire that was designed originally for cars making nearly 1/3 less power, and the equation looks a bit sloppy to say the least. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the competition lately at the 1.5-2.0 mile tracks; less than compelling.

When I sat with Mark Martin for an interview back in June at Michigan International Speedway, I asked him if racing would ever be like it was during what we both considered, ”the good old days” of the modern era – the early to mid 1990s. He sounded less than optimistic – even by his standards – for a return to that quality of racing. Part of that was attributed to how fast the cars are going these days, and the aerodynamic issues that have arisen from that.

Might it be time to downsize these engines and cut some power?In the past, that has always been done through the use of a tapered spacer or the dreaded carburetor restrictor plate.

One look at the Nationwide Series shows why that is not an option – the racing there has suffered immensely, in a car that has plenty of downforce, but has poor throttle response and precious little power to get off the corners. Fuel injection and a smaller engine may be the way to curb those ills, yet maintain a reasonable level of power and responsiveness. If there is one thing the IROC series showed us at places like Michigan and Atlanta, you need not have 900 horsepower to make for an exciting race.

So after touching on the pieces that affect manufacturer and consumer interests, as well as the competition side of things, there is one more piece to this puzzle that I think makes a strong argument for making the move to fuel injection from carburetion – the environmental impact.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not some Ed Begley, Jr. eco-nut job pedaling my trike car to work, erecting a wind farm in my backyard, or recycling my used toilet paper. My last five cars have been three musclecars and a pair of SUVs, one of which right now would have qualified for the CARS (i.e., Cash for Clunkers – a term I resent. There is nothing clunky about a small-block Mopar, so shut up.) program.

Unfortunately, the prospected of increased scrutiny is a legitimate concern, from many of our elected officials and those who carry influence in these circles regarding the consumption of fossil fuels and the manner in which they are used. Let us also not forget that those same officials now have a vested interest in two of the Big Three automakers who compete in NASCAR. It would not hurt to at least offer the perception that a conscious effort is being made to join the 21st century. Like any business that has investors, a case needs to be made for viability, sustainability, and return on investment.

Having seen motorsports budgets neutered and advertising budgets slashed to the point of virtual elimination in recent months, it would be a wise move to anticipate and overcome the objections that may be soon forthcoming.

For as old-school cool and dependable as carburetors have proven, it is not as efficient or clean as computer controlled fuel injection would be. A collection of springs, screws, and floats can only achieve so much. Fuel sloshes around in carburetors in the corner and that is fuel wasted. Improved fuel economy and reduced emissions are just a side benefit of the reduced risk to the drivers from breathing in carbon monoxide fumes of unburned hydrocarbons.

I’m not saying you have to throw a catalytic converter on these things, but it serves to show one more benefit from using technology that is readily available and relatively inexpensive.

Back during the mid 1980s when I was becoming car conscious, it was during the second coming of the musclecar era. Buick Grand Nationals, IROC-Z Camaros, and Mustang GT’s were all the rage. Many however decried these new cars because they utilized electronics and computer controlled fuel injection, claiming you, “couldn’t work on ‘em.” 25 years later, that all sounds so very naive and silly; a multi-billion dollar industry and two magazines were devoted to tweaking the 5.0L Mustang alone.

I think the same parallels can be drawn regarding the argument against a similar switch in NASCAR. I understand the concerns over costs and the fear of making it easier to police cheating, or having the ugly specter of traction control rear its ugly head again, as it did seven or eight years ago. There might be an added cost, but nowhere near as great as switching over to an entirely new car, or adding more dates to the schedule.

The benefits far outweigh the costs in this application, and these are just a few I have room here to list in detail. The big thing for me is, these are still called stockcars – and for the last ten years or so, the only thing stock about them has been the vain attempt at maintaining brand identity through window shapes and appliqués of head lamps and tail lights. With the advent of the CoT, even that has been lost in the last couple of years. By reintroducing some semblance of street sourced significance or assembly line destined improvement brought about by racing, we can just maybe put the, “stock” back in stockcar, preserving and promoting the sport and its benefits beyond marketing, advertising, and self promotion.

Hey, at least we would finally get rid of those restrictor plates for Daytona and Talladega.

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Kevin in SoCal
08/28/2009 12:11 AM
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Yes! Thank you Vito, I completely agree!

Fred
08/28/2009 02:33 AM
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The only reason fuel injected street cars are more emissions friendly (just talking fuel injection here, not EGR and catalytic converters, etc.) is that they are set up to run a 14.7 Air/Fuel Ratio. O2 sensors are put in place down the exhaust pipes on both sides of the cat to make sure the engine is running as close to a 14.7 AFR as possible. A true burn at 14.7 emits zero CO (carbon monoxide). But an AFR of 14.7 is by no means the correct ratio for making the most power. For my ’94 Trans Am, the best ratio is much richer at 12.2.

So I have to reprogram my computer,as well as change to a hotter running thermostat (typical car engines run hotter than is optimal for power, but ideal for emissions) in order to pass California smog laws. So when it comes to a race car, as I have already done to a small degree in my street car, is change it all to gain max power. Yeah, the car does produce more emissions, but I also get better gas mileage… as long as I don’t take advantage of the added power. I average 30 MPG with an American muscle car that came stock with 270 HP and has been bumped up to 350 HP (through various mods). But I can easily drop that down to about 10 MPG if I spend the day racing it.

So unless NASCAR were to mandate a 14.7 AFR, add catalytic converters, and the rest of the emissions equipment, don’t even bother to try to say the cars are going to produce less emissions. They’ll still want the same AFR they run now when at wide open throttle. So the same AFR via a carb or an injector still produces the same amount of emissions. The only thing injectors will do is save some fuel. But it will be such a small percent that it probably won’t even be noticeable. Not to mention that the massive injectors they would need run (most likely 2 per cylinder) don’t work that great at low RPMs… resulting in worse MPG, basically the fuel being sprayed is so much that the signal to open the injector to spray fuel is happening at almost the exact time the signal being sent to close it… thus the reason why 2 (or more) injectors would be needed per cylinder when at low RPMS, and then only 1 injector would be used per cylinder. BTW, the reverse of this is true too, very high RPMs result in the open/close signal being sent at almost the same time, thus the need for multiple large injectors. Granted, the racing world has already figured this out.

(BTW, anyone know the BSFC of a Cup car?)

So the whole notion that changing to fuel injection is better for the environment is ridiculous. Yeah, it may be a percent or two better, but not enough to warrant the change.

People really need to do their research when it comes to the “Going Green”. Most things, like almost all recycling, actually cause more pollution than it prevents. Corn grown ethanol produces a ton more harmful emissions from a vehicle than gasoline. 99% of paper that is made from trees is made from trees that were planted just for making paper from. So if you want more trees, use more paper and don’t recycle it. The list truly goes on and on about how all these supposedly environmental friendly things are actually worse for the environment. Hell, even organically grown fruits and vegetables are worse for the environment… and even have less nutritional value and since they can’t use synthetic pesticides, may actually use natural pesticides that are harmful to you. (DDT is a thing of the past.)

Do your research, I’m not making this up. “Green” is a new religion. Yeah, it sounds good, but most of it is actually worse than not going Green.

Anyways, back to NASCAR. Yeah, I think fuel injection could clear up the 20-30 car packs at ‘Dega and Daytona… but do you think NASCAR would ever want to change that? While I hate the 20 car wrecks that take out everyone I was cheering for, I think the 3 wide, nose to tail, racing is some of the most exciting auto racing in the world. So asking the impossible, if they could just get rid of the “Big One” and have the same racing at the plate tracks, that would be awesome.

As far as injection possibly producing new designs that would end up in the showroom, I really don’t see that happening. BMW, I’m not sure this was ever put in a production car though, actually built an engine that doesn’t need a starter. It looks to see which piston is ready to fire, sprays fuel in and sends power to the spark plug. Bam, gets the engine turning and then starts running normally. Pretty darn cool, and this was designed over 10 years ago.

The thing that drives me nuts about this whole fuel injection debate the most though is… FIX THE HANDLING OF THE COT FIRST! Then worrying about fuel injection might make a little more sense.

Vito, I think I might need my own column when it comes to this fuel injection debate. :)

Johnboy60
08/28/2009 08:19 AM
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Way to go Fred!! Finally someone speaks with knowledge instead of an agenda!! I will give Vito credit for creating controversy….I think that is his job!!…LOL

Douglas
08/28/2009 08:43 AM
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So many things, so little time,

Your “By bringing fuel injection into the mix, the manufacturers would have more of a vested interest in producing power plants that would bear some kind of fruit that may be derived someday for the showroom.”

C’mon now! You think that the NA$CRAP gang will “improve” on the current FI systems, over and abouve say, what the F-1 circuit is using? Using “product improvement” is lame, very lame!

If one looks at FI in it’s reality, it should be in NA$CRAP, it is long overdue in NA$CRAP,
and it should be relatively easy and simple to accomplish. BUT! In reality, it means SQUAT to the paying NA$CRAP customer!

It’s a technical detail!

(written by a guy that built all NA$CRAP carburetors for over ten (10) years)

But, as Fred mentions, FIX THE POS FIRST! Why put FI on a a slug? A certain Frontstretch writer here yesterday did everything but call the POS the greatest thing since canned beer.

Almost destroyed the credibility of all the frontstretch columns in one swoop! So be carefull what you say about the POS!

LOL!

And Fred,, your summation is really, really good on fuel and fuel handling with a carburetor, and such.

But I am disappointed you never mentioned:
“stoichiometric”!

That would have people running to their dictionaries, blowing the dust off, doing some research!

AND! I for one am not convinced FI would eliminate the “pack mentality” at restrictor plate races! How would it do that? NA$CRAP would find a way to circumvent the FI control systems and put all the cars on the same level! Once the hood is closed, FI or Carburetor is transparent, (as far as speed/horespower of the car), engine HP will always be controlled by NA$CRAP at the speed tracks! Thus, the very same pack mentality!

And, I think if the truth be known, NA$CRAP loves the multi car pile-ups, JUST LOVES THEM!

It’s called “good news reel stuff”, which means publicity!

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
08/28/2009 09:10 AM
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Fred –

Thanks for your reply, I too have some experience in tuning modern musclecars. I understand that challenges that are presented with open/closed loop operation and the minimal improvemetns that might be gained throug emissions – however it is the preceived effort that might be more valuable for the time being. You know…work hard, the boss is coming?

The fact remains, every other racing series has had this figured out for the last 25+ years, so it isn’t like it’s not possible or would be hard to figure out. The technology exists and is being used in Grand Am. Robert Yates has said as much, and he probably knows more about this than even I do. Let’s face it – when I rebuilt an engine in shop class in high school, I had a handful of parts left over. I just tossed them in the oil pan and buttoned it back up, and sprayed it down with some degreaser to make it look pretty.

Douglas
08/28/2009 10:34 AM
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Hey Fred, sorry, I forgot to answer your earlier question I was so busy thinking other things.

Typically, at least when I was involved the BSFC (Brake Specific Fuel Consumption)of a race engine was 1.0/1.2 range. But that is from memory long, long, ago.

And of course each CUP car engine builder would NEVER EVER let that secret out! And as well, it is a meaningless figure in the overall scheme of things! At least to the fan!

(I used to write, or help write the updates to the Holley manuals) as written by my boss Mike Urich.

Fred
08/28/2009 01:52 PM
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Vito, in trying to keep my lengthy post as short as possible, I only wrote one line about other racing series having already figured out fuel injection. So yeah, I don’t think it would take too much effort to put it in a Cup car… except for hiring the guys that know how to do it. But it also goes against your case that it might bring new designs to the consumer market. It’s already been heavily implemented across most of the racing world, I highly doubt NASCAR would bring a revolutionary design to the table.

The whole concept of FI pretty much goes against what NASCAR is all about… keeping it to the basics. Granted we all know the saying that there isn’t anything “stock” in a stock car, but they have kept most of the actual parts “simple”. Yes, they are highly technically designed, for instance, tuning the harmonics to increase VE (volumetric efficiency, aka, the volume of air that can flow through an engine per one cycle). For those that don’t know, 100% VE would be 358 ci of air, and Cup cars are achieving over 110%… basically more than a typical muscle car with a mild turbo. Typical really good VE on a beefed up muscle car is about 90%. So Cup cars basically have forced induction engines without the forced induction. Pretty cool stuff without throwing a turbo or supercharger on it.

But my point being is that while the cars use a lot of technology to design them, they aren’t using the technology in the cars. Simply put, they are still Analog cars in a Digital world. Why open up Pandora’s Box at this point in poor economic times? Sounds more like spin doctoring to give the media something to talk about… other than the poor racing.

LOL Douglas, :) I could have gone into details about quite a few things (like I just brought up VE), but I didn’t want to write a book. :) Thanks for giving me an estimate about the BSFC. I was curious to know what size injectors they would need. Add in a few more ponies gained in the past few years and they are probably looking at something like 150# injectors. Not nearly as large as I originally thought they would need. But factoring in their over 100% VE, they very well may need way larger injectors. I’m rather curious to know. I’m actually trying to pick out new ones for my car right now, because they are my current bottle neck and I haven’t even added headers yet. :)

As far as FI breaking up the packs at the plate tracks, my thought as to why it would work would be that they wouldn’t lose the throttle response like they do with the plates. But I easily could be wrong about that. But as I just mentioned, injectors that are too small are my current bottleneck, yet my throttle response is fine. Granted, I haven’t maxed my speed out while drafting and then checked it out. :) But while I do think they obviously will still have to draft in packs, I imagine throttle response would be better because nothing is actually getting “choked” and they would be able to pull out and pass by themselves again. Who knows for sure until they try it though?

Anyways, like I stated before, why even bother with FI until they fix the COT?

Hell, it was supposed to eliminate the aero-loose racing killing condition. My theory on that is that they still have the cars yawed (crab crawling, as it was nicknamed) to the max that NASCAR allows them. Thus they rely heavily on the right rear side panel, and that little bit of wing. Put a yawed car on the inside of another one, and that takes that air away… thus you still have the aero-loose condition. I think they need to test out the racing with zero, or maybe even opposite yaw and see how it is. Just a theory, but it seems pretty sound to me.

Man, debating about what’s wrong with NASCAR is actually funner than watching the races these days. :)

Douglas
08/28/2009 03:35 PM
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Hey Fred, as regards “throttle response”!

“Throttle Response” is not an issue in NA$CRAP at the restrictor plate tracks!

THE FOOT IS TO THE FLOOR EACH AND EVERY LAP!

There is no using the throttle throughout any green flag run, as they throttles are held to the floor. Lap, after lap, after lap!

Actually, every once in a while, you will see on the TV a car suddenly getting freigh-trained by a pack of cars! Then the announcers will come on and state that the driver being passed had to “get out of the gas for an instant to avoid “something”, and that particular car will take a few laps to get the car back to max speed, all becuse he simply lifted for an instant, and lost momentum!

And momentum is what these cars run on, flat out! Pedal to the metal!

And yes, this is more fun than watching! But who does that anymore?

Fred
08/28/2009 04:23 PM
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I was under the impression that at the plate tracks, a car tucked in behind another car could actually lift his foot a tad, while the car in the lead needed to be floored.

Is this not the case with the COT? With added aero drag of the COT, it would seem that the tucked in cars would be able to lift the throttle even more than they used to be able to.

I’ve also wondered if they have even tested driving the COT without a plate at ‘Dega or Daytona. Those bulldozers may not need the plates to slow them down any more… or they’ll actually have enough speed to have some down force. I think it falls into the category of something else NASCAR needs to add to their list of things to at least try with the COT.

BTW, I actually think the best NASCAR on TV is the rain delay coverage. The non-scripted interviews make for way more entertainment than all but a “move” or two of the races. :)

Douglas
08/28/2009 05:03 PM
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No on the drafting thing, the way it works is if your “in the draft”, BOTH cars pick up speed, so neither has to lift! If the car behind does get a “forward tow”, he simply bumps the car ahead so both then can go the same speed. Thus the term, “bump-drafting”! “Bump-drafting accomplishes two things, 1) accelerates the car ahead, 2) brakes the car behind to the speed of the lead car.

RARELY! and it does happen, the car behind might lift a bit! But only if something downtrack is happening and he wants to “be safe”, but this happens rarely!

And as far as testing the POS w/ restrictor plate, I don’t think they have ever tested the POS at all! Sure performs on the track like they didn’t anyway!

(just kidding), but rememeber, during the POS testing stage, EVERYONE that drove it wanted changes!

But none were forthcoming!

don mei
08/28/2009 08:42 PM
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305 cubic inches; maybe we dump the plates too as a result.

Fred
08/29/2009 05:17 AM
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LOL, I agree… I don’t think that they have tested the COT for anything other than safety. Which I will give it credit for being a way safer car. But that’s about the only thing good I have to say about it.

Kevin in SoCal
08/29/2009 10:18 PM
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I remember Kurt Busch driving a COT during Daytona 500 practice in 2007. But I dont remember if he had a plate on it or not. I do remember NASCAR did test the COT at Daytona and Talledega and they were still too fast without plates. However, because the new car is wider and taller, NASCAR was able to increase the holes in the plate to give the cars more acceleration, while still limiting them to around 190-195 MPH.

Bad Wolf
08/29/2009 10:35 PM
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Put the stock back in Nascar. Make them run actual stock production V8’s with actual production fuel injection setups. The production blocks would bring down horsepower by not being able to handle the stresses of 900+ horsepower and the fan could go into the showroom on Monday and buy a vehicle with the same engine package that wins on Sunday.

Let them stuff whatever aftermarket or custom built parts into the stock block, but make them stick to the geometry that is in the stock production engine. No more race only engines based on a set of Nascar specs that have no resemblance to what is run on the street.

The dirty little secret in Nascar that most fans don’t know is that the engines in use since Toyota came in are race only and designed from a common set of specs that cover all manufacturers. There is no stock in Nascar these days and I can’t figure out why the Big Three still pony up the bucks.

Steve
08/30/2009 08:48 PM
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I think going to Fuel Injection is as much to give the public the view that this form of racing is moving along with technology, plus there can be better diagnosics (sensor, injector, ignition system, etc), so you should see more reliable and consistant cars (in the long term). There may be teething issues in the beginning, but altermately, the cars should run slightly lower fuel consumption and high reliability.

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