Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has long been a game of inches. Close finishes have been a part of the sport since the very beginning, including in the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. Initially, NASCAR declared Johnny Beauchamp the winner in what was a photo finish. But some three days later, with the help of photographs and newsreel footage, Lee Petty was deemed to have won the first race held at the 2.5-mile Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
The NASCAR rulebook has goals of enriched competition, improved safety, reduced cost, enhanced product relevance, environmental improvements and more. More importantly, the book contains the tolerances to which each part and piece on a racecar must conform, which come into play throughout the build, assembly and race processes. After 500 miles of racing the winning car and driver can be determined by a fraction of a second. Thus, attention to detail within the guidelines set in the rulebook can provide the slightest advantage that can be the deciding factor between who crosses the finish line first or second.
Teams of engineers are constantly redesigning parts and pieces on their racecars in an effort to gain a competitive advantage. With a goal of making parts stronger and more reliable, they also look to keep their tolerances as close to the limits set forth in the rulebook. As such, machinists working in the computer numerically controlled (CNC) room work seemingly around the clock, interrupting their normal production schedule for last-minute modification jobs that are given to them in a “needed-it-yesterday” timeframe.
It was that kind of attention to detail that drew Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) co-owner Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the Western World, into the NASCAR arena. His machines play an integral role in the successes of the title-winning Sprint Cup team. In the SHR shop alone, there are 15 Haas CNC machines making parts and pieces for the four-car team’s fleet of Chevrolets.
Haas CNC machines not only produce constantly evolving team-specked pieces, they also modify parts that the team receives via OEM manufacturers. Advantages can be gained in the process of milling parts and pieces to NASCAR’s strict tolerances thanks to the overall combined weight saved throughout the racecar assembly process. And it’s those kinds of advantages that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for SHR, will hope to take advantage of during Daytona Speedweeks.
As the season kicks off at Daytona, Busch hopes his collaborative effort with crew chief Tony Gibson can continue to improve upon their successes from last year. Coming off an eighth-place finish in the Sprint Cup championship standings, the duo has its sights set even higher – competing for the 2016 Sprint Cup championship.
With the 16-driver Sprint Cup championship format, all it takes is just one win to lock a driver and team into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Busch would like nothing more than to score that win in the 58th Daytona 500, marking his first victory in the prestigious event and placing him well on his way to reaching his season-long goal.