Been asleep all winter or ignored NASCAR until now? Well, a lot is different, and not just with drivers and crew chiefs. Below are the biggest rule changes for 2018, ranked by potential impact.
1. Five-member over-the-wall crews and team rosters
NASCAR has cut the number of over-the-wall crew members from six to five. On a pit stop that isn't for a damaged vehicle, only four crew members can jack the car, carry tires and change tires. The gas man can only fuel the car and can do nothing other than stop a rolling tire with his leg.
This will require crew members to potentially jack and change tires, carry two tires or carry a tire and a pit gun to change tires. Any crew member who is doing multiple tasks won't have to jump off the wall -- that crew member can stand in front of the wall as the car comes in the pits.
Teams have experimented with how to do this, but some of the old rules remain, including that they can use only one jack and two air guns.
The Cup team must provide NASCAR with a roster at the start of each weekend. The limits are five pit crew members and 12 road crew members (mechanics, engineers, spotter, etc.). Each organization can have three people (such as information technology) who can work on multiple cars, with any organization that has at least three cars getting a fourth organizational person. Teams can share personnel, but a person who is not designated as an "organization" person on the roster must be on both rosters to work on both cars during the weekend.
NASCAR will allow substitutions during the weekend at the discretion of the series director. In the case of injuries, NASCAR would allow big teams to use someone from a roster on a team it is affiliated with (and often provides a crew for a race). If a crew member is struggling, an organization could swap crew members during a race as long as they are on a roster (like the Hendrick teams did in 2010 at Texas).
The crew members will have patches, numbers and names to help identify them (and, NASCAR hopes, make fans recognize them better). Crew members will have their hard cards scanned so NASCAR knows who is in the garage. If a team uses someone who is not on the roster, that person will be ejected for the remainder of the event, as will another crew member at NASCAR's choosing. They cannot be replaced during the race weekend.
2. The 'Hawkeye'
NASCAR will use a new technical inspection system that replaces its "claw" and template stations. The system -- eight projectors and 17 cameras -- scans the body of the car.
NASCAR hopes this technology will keep teams from manipulating the rules regarding the body of the car. Previously, the inspection goal was to meet the dozens of touch points on the templates. Now it's as if the entire car is a touch point, with 150,000 to 200,000 projected dots as touch points representing the surface of the car during the scan.
The scan takes about 30 seconds and about another 30 seconds to determine whether it is legal. This should cut the amount of time in inspection by about five minutes.
3. More time for repairs
With only five crew members able to go over the wall, teams now will get six minutes instead of five minutes to work on cars after they have crashed. That still includes the time from entering pit road to the pit box and leaving the pit box to the end of pit road.
4. Penalty adjusted for too many crew members making repairs
If a team uses too many crew members when repairing the car, the driver will be held two laps instead of being sent to the garage (parked) for the rest of the day. The rule came into focus last fall at Kansas Speedway, where Matt Kenseth essentially saw his championship bid end because the No. 20 team had one extra person over the wall.
5. Common pit gun
All teams will be issued Paoli air guns to change tires. This eliminates teams developing pit guns -- some teams spent more than a million dollars on that technology -- and will force crew members to use a gun issued to them by NASCAR.
That likely will mean some crew members will use guns that weren't as fast as the ones they used previously. It also puts the onus on NASCAR and Paoli to provide guns that won't malfunction (much like the onus is on NASCAR and Goodyear to provide quality tires).
6. High-speed camera in cars
Starting in April, all cars will have a small (approximately 4 ounces in weight) high-speed camera focused on the driver. The camera will be triggered when the data incident recorder starts -- based on a G-force or acceleration change -- and will be used by NASCAR to analyze the cause of injuries after a crash.
The video will not be made publicly available and NASCAR doesn't expect to use it to help determine whether a driver could have suffered a concussion or other injuries. It will be more to help understand what caused injuries in order to make safety improvements rather than individual care, NASCAR senior VP of competition Scott Miller said.
7. No ride-height rules for restrictor-plate races
NASCAR opted to not have a ride-height rule (a minimum 4-inch clearance from the front splitter to the ground) for Daytona and Talladega. That will increase speeds, but NASCAR has added a half-inch of spoiler.
NASCAR believes that lift-off speed when the car is rotating (or spinning) will change from 201 mph in previous years to 233 mph. Jimmie Johnson predicted speeds under the new rules will be 20 mph faster -- meaning drivers could be doing laps of 215 mph to 220 mph. Obviously, NASCAR won't let them get that much faster (it would decrease the hole size in the restrictor plate issued to teams), but NASCAR thinks the cars will go only 2 mph to 3 mph faster based on a test last October. In the Xfinity Series, the front bumpers and rear bumpers won't align, so that should eliminate the ability to push-draft.
8. Sealed engine rule
This has gotten a lot of buzz on social media, but the best guess is that it won't be all that noticeable by fans during race weekends.
In an attempt to save engine builders money by lowering the cost of engine leases, NASCAR will require teams to use a sealed engine in 13 events. The short block engine assembly (engine block, crankshaft, camshaft, connecting rods, pistons and oil pan) cannot be altered. Teams will be allowed to change cylinder heads and valve springs.
A team doesn't have to use the same engine it used in an earlier race -- any sealed engine from any car will work. For instance, a Roush Yates engine could be used in a Stewart-Haas Racing car one race and a Team Penkse car for another. To get credit for using a sealed engine, the engine must last 25 percent of the second race in which it is used.
If a team wins a race with an engine being used in its first race, the team will get to count that race among the 13 sealed-engine races because that race-winning engine will be torn down to make sure it's legal.
If a team doesn't use its 13 sealed engines, its crew chief will be suspended for six weeks the following year, the team will get a fine of up to $200,000 and the team will lose 75 points. If it is a playoff team and it gets to Phoenix without having met the 13-race minimum, it would be automatically eliminated prior to Homestead.
If a sealed engine is found to be illegal, then the penalties would be issued for both events (and both teams, if two different teams used the engine in each race).
Part-time teams can't use a new motor in three consecutive events.
9. Backup car? Automatically to the rear
In past years, if a driver crashed in practice prior to qualifying and had to go to a backup car, the driver got to start the race based on qualifying position because the car qualified was the same car that raced.
But with confusion in the rules, NASCAR decided that anytime a driver goes to a backup car, the driver must start the race at the rear.
10. Side skirt rules
Side skirts on NASCAR Cup cars will be made of the composite material used in the new Xfinity bodies.
That should mean the side skirts can't be flared, as they often were when they were steel. If the side skirts drag the track when going from the apron to the racing surface, they should pop back into place instead of remaining flared.
11. Daytona 500 engine/impound rule prior to duels
The Daytona 500 will have a single-engine rule, meaning the days of teams changing engines between Thursday's qualifying races and Saturday's final practice are over.
If a team changes an engine in its primary car at Daytona, it not only starts at the rear for the qualifying race and the Daytona 500 but also for the next race (Atlanta), too. That only occurs if it is in the primary car; if a team crashes, it can put a backup engine in its backup car and just start at the rear at Daytona.
That might sound harsh, but NASCAR has cut down the practice time, including not having any practice between single-car qualifying Sunday and the qualifying races Thursday. Cars will be impounded after single-car qualifying Sunday and no adjustments will be allowed until the start of the qualifying race Thursday.
12. No exceptions to pitting outside the box
If the nose of a car crosses the line of the pit box exit, no work can be done, including fueling of the car. That ends the confusion of the exception implemented during the 2017 season, when a team could tighten lug nuts even when the car was partially outside the box. And it eliminates the ability of the fueler to keep fueling as the car is partially out of the box while leaving the pit.