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click image to zoomDETROIT – NASCAR, manufacturers and teams have collaborated to make a handful of changes to their cars for the coming season, and though many of the tweaks may be small – they could wind up paying big dividends.

Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR vice president of innovation and racing development, said cars will be closer to the ground at all but the fastest of tracks the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits. He was among the panelists for Wednesday's Tech Talk forum at Cobo Center, home of the 2014 North American International Auto Show.

"Probably the thing fans will notice most is the height of the cars when they're in the pits," he said. "It used to be 4 ½ inches but they'll be closer to the ground this year."

Other changes include a steeper rear spoiler, squaring of the front splitter and slightly higher trim of the rear fascia, but Stefanyshyn said those alterations probably will be harder to spot.

The lack of severe changes comes a year after the series began running the Gen-6 race car, the result of a collaboration between NASCAR and the three manufacturers that field NASCAR Sprint Cup cars.

Jamie Allison of Ford Racing, David Wilson of Toyota Racing Development and Jim Campbell of Chevy Performance Vehicles and Motorsport also were panelists, and all three said that sense of collaboration still exists -- even though all three nameplates want to be first to the checkered flag.

"We're all trying to beat each other's brains in," Wilson said, "but there still is that commitment to making the sport even better for our fans."

Stefanyshyn said the level of cooperation between NASCAR, its manufacturers and teams makes it seem like the sport has an army of engineers.

"We don't have 1,000 engineers [at NASCAR] but we do have 1,000 engineers [throughout the industry]," he said. "This is an area where we work together to make the sport better."

Two of the most enlightening tidbits from the discussion included Allison noting that a lack of testing time means simulators are used more and more to prepare cars for different tracks. In many cases, he said, the driver's first time in the car on a new track is with a setup prepared with extensive computer help.

A variety of metrics, Stefanyshyn added, also are used to measure the flow and general competitiveness of a race. A variety of factors, including the number of passes for the lead and the distance between the first and fifth, 10th or 15th cars in the running order, are among the factors NASCAR uses to grade the overall entertainment factor in a race.

The second panel focused on fan engagement and featured owner and former driver Michael Waltrip, NASCAR Vice President of Marketing Kim Brink, as well as current NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers David Ragan and Ryan Newman. All three drivers were quick to point out their use of technology hardly ends when they leave the race track.

"There are a lot of ways to know what's happening while we're at the race track," Ragan said, "but the fans that follow the drivers and teams want to know what happens Monday through Thursday."

The days of mail-in fan clubs, Newman said, are long gone.

"Michael used to have a fan club in 1992; now Twitter is the fan club.

"It's social, it's instant."

Michigan International Speedway hosts NASCAR Sprint Cup races twice each season and track president Roger Curtis said the search for ways to improve the fan experience on-site never ends. His was the first speedway to offer free WiFi to fans last year and he said it hopes the same will be available at all facilities that host NASCAR events by the 2015 season.

"It used to be customer service was a department with us," he said. "Now it's our job."

The NAIAS has a NASCAR flair of its own. Visitors to the show, which opens to the public Saturday and runs through Jan. 26, can get a look at the Harley J. Earl Trophy, presented to the Daytona 500 champion; the NASCAR Sprint Cup Trophy at Chevrolet’s exhibit; and Matt Kenseth's No. 20 Camry is on display at Toyota's show floor.

The Sprint Unlimited kicks off competitive racing at Daytona on Feb. 15 on FOX Sports 1. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits MIS on June 15 and Aug. 17.

Trevor Bayne expects to be a title contender in 2014

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In 2011, Trevor Bayne shocked the motorsports world by winning the Daytona 500.

Since then, career highlights for the 22-year-old driver have been few and far between. Yes, Bayne has been to Victory Lane twice in the NASCAR Nationwide Series since becoming the youngest winner of the "Great American Race," but circumstances have conspired to build roadblocks in the middle of his career path.

In April 2011, Bayne was sidelined with an illness presumed at the time to be the result of an insect bite. It wasn't until November 2013, after multiple trips to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, that Bayne revealed the diagnosis that had baffled doctors for two years: multiple sclerosis.

Absent symptoms that might prevent him from racing, Bayne has been cleared for competition in NASCAR's top two series, but the fact remains that the illness dealt his career a significant blow at an inopportune time, just as he was riding the wave of his Daytona 500 win.

Bayne, who will compete full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway Racing this year, has watched as younger drivers, notably 21-year-old Kyle Larson, have gotten full-time opportunities in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Bayne will compete in a limited NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule for the Wood Brothers, in the same car he drove to victory at Daytona.

With 118 NNS starts, he's starting to feel like a veteran in that series, and he's eager to advance to full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

"It's weird being almost the old guy in the series now," Bayne said during a break in Sunday NNS testing at Daytona International Speedway. "You see a lot of new faces coming through and a lot of guys getting opportunities in Cup, and it's exciting for them. We're definitely ready for that opportunity, but we're also going to make the most of the ones that we have now.

"To have (sponsor) AdvoCare on board full-time this year, I think that's probably the most special thing for me, to know that I have one sponsor all year that I can take care of and grow with. It's a great company that I've used their products for a long time, with the triathlon training and stuff like that, so it goes right over to my lifestyle."

With solid financial backing for his NASCAR Nationwide effort, Bayne expects to contend for the series title this season after a disappointing sixth-place result in the standings last year.

"For the race season, a successful year is obviously a championship contending season," Bayne said. "We wanted that last year, and a couple things took us out of it. A couple of them were parts failures, a couple of them were driver failures and making bad decisions on the race track, and those are things we have to eliminate…

"You can't dig a hole for yourself, and I think I learned a lot about that last season, and that's what's going to help us be a championship contender this year."


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