AVONDALE, Ariz. -- As a teammate at Penske South, Rusty Wal lace can rummage through the classified setup notes for Ryan Newman's car.
He can ask about shocks, springs and other suspension parts that have help ed Newman, a rookie, surge to fourth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points standings.
There are no secrets between the two, but that doesn't mean there's an easy flow of information. Wallace is street smart when it comes to racing; Newman is book smart. The difference is becoming more prominent in a sport that's reluctantly moving deeper into the modern dot-com era.
Educated guesses have been the way of stock-car racing for Wallace's generation. Education has become the way of Newman's generation and the future of the sport.
Nearly every team in the garage area for Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Race way has an engineer on the crew. Some have several.
Newman earned his degree in vehicle structural engineering at Purdue University. His crew chief, Matt Bor land, has an engineering degree from Kettering University in Michigan. There are three other engineers who travel with the team and a group of engineers at the shop in Mooresville, N.C.
Their educations allow them to venture into new areas. Their ideas in the construction and setup of the team's Ford Taurus are based on science. They aren't bound by old and tired operating procedures. They can take chances with a degree of certainty; they can rely on their knowledge of geometry and physics to take significant short cuts in the race for speed.
Newman said his team's more modern, more efficient way of doing business soon might be the standard on the stock car circuit.
''Yes, we use our engineering background, and, yes, we do talk about en gineering stuff,'' Newman said. ''I've learned that this is a sport racing in general as well as NASCAR is very much follow-the-leader. What one person does, the other person tries to adapt and make better.''
Alan Kulwicki brought an engineering degree to the Winston Cup Series, and he parlayed that into a championship in 1992. He said his education allowed him to make big shortcuts. He operated with one-third of the money and one-third of the manpower of the teams he beat.
Since Kulwicki's death in 1993, teams have slowly added engineers to their payrolls. Engineers use computers during test sessions, and they're responsible for the construction of shock absorbers and other key suspension components.
Borland playfully calls his team ''a bunch of geeks.''
That might be true, but the fact they've found a fresh approach to an old game can't be ignored. Newman has a series-best five pole positions. He also has one victory and a series-best 21 top-10 finishes.
''This is a good example where a certain setup has worked for the last eight or 10 years, but things change,'' Newman said. ''Tires change, drivers change and, therefore, the setup changes. I guess how we adapt to the newer principles is what might make us, from the rookie standpoint, more of a challenge.''
And a challenge to a veteran such as Wallace to make sense of it all.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.