Brian France: NASCAR Green (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
E15 fuel is 85 percent regular gasoline mixed with 15 percent ethanol, typically corn-based ethanol.
France pointed to the sport's E15 project, which is to kick off at Daytona in February, as part of NASCAR's 'Green Initiatives.'
However the rival Indy-car series has been using 100 percent ethanol as its fuel since 2007.
France took an indirect jab at that, by pointing to NASCAR's Sunoco-E15 as blended with American corn, while the IRL has been using Brazilian-made ethanol fuel. In fact France's presentation was heavily filled the American-based angles.
NASCAR's announcement here, not unexpected, since the sport's engine men have been testing E15 racing fuel for several years now, comes as the EPA is setting up a rollout of E15 at your corner gas station.
However there are two significant issues to be addressed with E15: one, its propensity to absorb moisture; two, its corrosiveness, particularly on fuel lines and parts.
So Sunoco will be hauling the new fuel to each track in special fuelers, and not relying on in-ground tanks. And teams will have to adjust their own fuel systems a bit.
The precise environmental impact of the NASCAR E15 project is unclear; France declined to put any numbers of that, just pointing that 'it's a step in the right direction.'
France insisted on keeping the press conference focused on fuel, and he declined to take any questions on the Sprint Cup championship chase playoffs -- one of the top issues in the sport today, with TV ratings for the first four chase races down dramatically, as much as 30 percent off.
France said the new fuel would have "a little more power." Some drivers, apparently Jeff Gordon at Watkins Glen for one, have used the new fuel during tire testing.
NASCAR, France said, is currently the top 'recycler' in American sports, in part because of its long-running Safety-Kleen programs at each track ( http://bit.ly/bJPSST ).
The next 'green' step for NASCAR might logically be to drop engine carburetors and switch to electronic fuel injection (EFI), though France did not address that issue Saturday. NASCAR teams have been using EFI systems for their in-house engine dyno operations for some time now, because of its precision. McLaren's Ron Dennis has been talking with NASCAR about a McLaren-designed EFI system for NASCAR stockers, and so have Bosch officials, and the only hold-up to implementation would appear to be with NASCAR still debating what EFI system to implement and how to handle inspections.
Another 'green' step for NASCAR would be to have its teams switch to biodiesel fuels in hauling race cars from track to track. However it's unclear if that is even on the table.
The new NASCAR E15 project seems fairly straightforward; after all U.S. cars have been using E10 gas for years. And France said team owners said they expected the transition to be 'seamless."
The more ambitious step would be for NASCAR to go to E85 fuel, with 85 percent ethanol.
General Motors' Brent Dewar three years ago was pushing NASCAR to jump to E85 racing fuel (perhaps for its Truck series), to help promote Detroit's move toward such alternative fuels (which GM markets under the logo 'Flex Fuel' vehicles). However NASCAR has been reluctant to make that large a leap.
There are some 2,000 service stations carrying E85, mostly in the Midwest. The top publicly traded company producing ethanol is Archer Daniels Midland ( http://bit.ly/5Pq8ym ).
However ethanol itself contains considerably less 'energy' than an equivalent amount of gasoline, so it takes more ethanol to do the job.
Still Brazil, for example, has more than 10 million vehicles using E85, some even E100. Much of the Brazilian ethanol is produced through sugarcane, rather than corn.
And one political issue in the U.S. ethanol fuel debate has been the effects of using corn in such projects, when corn is also a food product.
THE NASCAR NOTEBOOK
TV times are tough all over:
NASCAR isn't alone.
In fact, the National Football League's blackout rule is becoming big news.
If an NFL game isn't sold out a couple days in advance, it can't be shown on local TV.
Such a TV blackout rule has been suggested by promoter Bruton Smith for NASCAR, partly in order to pressure TV networks and area government officials to fill up the stands to avoid a blackout.
Last year the NFL's Jacksonville franchise had seven of it's eight home games blacked out; so this season the team has worked extra hard to avoid that.
But the cross-state Tampa Bay franchise just announced it will have to blackout home games the rest of the season, because of weak ticket sales.
And out in California, the NFL Oakland franchise has had most of its home games blacked out the past two years, because of weak crowds.
Over in the baseball world, meanwhile, Fox is playing hardball with cable systems over the playoffs, and many of the country's biggest markets could be effectively blacked out.
On the lighter side of sport:
Remembering those secret $50,000 fines levied by NASCAR on drivers Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin for making comments the sanctioning body didn't care to hear?
Well, the NFL has a rule barring players from 'Tweeting' or 'Facebooking' on most of game day – from two hours before the game, through the game, through two hours after the game.
And Terrell Owens was just sacked with a $5,000 fine for 'Tweeting' in violation of that rule.
Danica Patrick, fresh off a career-best 21st in Friday night's Nationwide 300, says her 2011 NASCAR Nationwide schedule will include the year's first four races, at Daytona, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Bristol.
The 2011 Indy-car season is to open March 27, precluding her from running at California's Auto Club Speedway.
Patrick's next NASCAR race will be next weekend at St. Louis' Gateway track.
More on NASCAR's new Hall of Fame...
Just to clear up the process – a nominating committee puts up 25 names, and then that committee and another bunch of voters vote on five of those 25.
The nominating committee: Hall director Winston Kelley; NASCAR 'historian' Buz McKim; NASCAR officials Brian France, Jim France, Paul Brooks, Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton, Jim Hunter, Jerry Cook, and Ken Clapp; track owner/operators Lesa France Kennedy, Clay Campbell, Bruton Smith, Ed Clark, Tony George, Denis McGlynn, Doc Mattioli, Dale Pinilis, Tom Blackwell, Jim and Barbara Cromarty, and Jim Williams.
The 25 they nominated: Tim Flock, Richie Evans, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Rick Hendrick, Ned Jarrett, Buck Baker, Richard Childress, Bud Moore, Raymond Parks, Red Byron, Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Lee Petty, Curtis Turner, Herb Thomas, Joe Weatherly, Glen Wood, Jerry Cook, Fred Lorenzen, Jack Ingram, Dale Inman, and T. Wayne Robertson.
And the addition voters: writers Kenny Bruce, Dustin Long, Mike Harris, Nate Ryan, Jim Pedley, Duane Cross, Ernie Saxton, and Dusty Brandel; broadcasters Mike Joy, Jerry Punch, Barney Hall, Doug Rice, Rick Allen, and Ken Squier; manufacturer reps Ed Peper (GM), Edsel Ford II, Mike Accavitti, and Lee White; retired drivers Ricky Rudd, Harry Gant, and Ned Jarrett; former car owners Bud Moore, Cotton Owens, and Junior Johnson; retired crew chiefs Barry Dodson, Waddell Wilson, and Buddy Parrott; promoter Humpy Wheeler; and retired writer Tom Higgins. Plus, fans can vote, but all their 'votes' count as only one of the 52 total.