Nascar's Winning Edge

By Doug Bartholomew  |  Posted 12-06-2006

If you thought NASCAR was a low-tech sport with a bunch of good ol' boys racing hopped-up stock cars around a track every weekend, you had better think again. Today, the use of product lifecycle management (PLM) software to monitor and improve engine performance is every bit as important to winning as a fast car and a driver with skill and stamina to burn.

Nowhere is that more true than at Hendrick Motorsports. Two weeks ago, Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson—aided by some high-tech supercharging in the form of UGS Corp.'s Teamcenter PLM—won NASCAR's highest honor, the coveted Nextel Cup. Driving car #48, whose engine was maintained and overhauled each week by the Hendrick engine team, Johnson was the most reliable and dependable competitor throughout the season, with 24 top-ten finishes—the best of any Championship Cup competitor.

PLM played a key role, enabling Hendrick, which overhauls 700 engines each year, to standardize the weekly rebuilding of engines for all its half-dozen NASCAR racing teams, making engine performance more dependable for team drivers. That's critical, because in pre-PLM days, the variance of performance among the Hendrick firm's engines was so great that drivers argued among themselves over who would get the fastest car. Drivers routinely had to accept differences in horsepower of up to 20 percent among cars on the same team, which could mean a variation of up to 80 or even 160 horsepower, depending on type of engine. "The teams were not happy," says Hendrick chief engineer Jim Wall. "They wanted more uniform performance." PLM enabled the engine overhaul team to ensure that each engine was rebuilt identically and tuned for almost exactly the same output, cutting the variation down to just 0.5 percent—a 40-fold increase in predictability.

As a result, Johnson knew exactly how much power he could depend on from his car when heading into a turn or closing on a competitor on a straightaway.