Glossary: NASCAR has a language all its own

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule

So you're a NASCAR newbie and get confounded by the terms motorsports analysts throw out like so many "marbles."

To help you get in good with the racing gurus you are now hanging with in front of the small screen on weekends, here are our 10 favorite terms:

Back marker: Racers certainly don't want to be a back marker, which as implied means they have fallen completely off the pace and are at or near the back of the pack.

Dirty air: Any disturbance of the air around a car that impacts its aerodynamic performance. Dirty air can come from other cars or by running too close to the wall, for example, and can cause a particular rig to lose control.

Donuts: One of the better slang terms on the circuit, donuts are dark, circular, indentation markings on the side panels of stock cars, frequently caused when one vehicle rubs up against another at high speed.

Downforce: The amount of weight or pressure pushing down on each individual tire. Downforce can be moved around by jacking weight into or out of each corner of the car. It's a delicate balance, however, because while greater downforce improves grip it also can create friction that will slow the car down.

Loose: When the front of the car has more grip than the rear. Loose race cars are thought to be generally faster than tight race cars, but watch out: A car that is too loose may have its rear end flair out toward the wall in turns. Sometimes referred to as "free" or "oversteer."

Marbles: Debris blown to the upper corners of a track that consists of smatterings of rubber peeled from tires, dirt and gravel. Some drivers blame marbles for a loss of control, though centrifugal forces might have a little something to do with it. Graphic artists went to great lengths to replicate marbles for an air of authenticity in the animated flick "Cars." Also unaffectionately referred to as "loose stuff."

Push: Also called "tight" or "understeer," push is when the rear of the car has more grip than the front, which can cause the front end to slide or "push" toward the wall in the corners. While it is true that the driver must get out of the throttle until the car catches so he can turn it to avoid hitting the wall, he also must get out of the throttle in a loose car to avoid the same fate.

Stagger: The difference in tire circumference from one side to the other. Placing larger circumference tires on the right side of a race car, for instance, helps it turn better through the corner on an oval track. Roll a Styrofoam coffee cup on a table and you will see stagger as the bigger top end travels further than the smaller bottom.

Stop and Go: A penalty imposed in which the driver must stop on pit road (where pit crews tend to rigs) and can go only when the official says so. It usually is assessed for speeding on pit road or for unsafe driving.

Wedge: Wedge is the amount of downforce that is applied diagonally from the left rear to the right front to help either tighten or loosen the car. Changing the wedge in one corner impacts the other three corners proportionally.

P.S.: NASCAR is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, in case anyone asks.

Sources: Bill Borden, a motorsports junkie from South Daytona, Fla., who used to operate his own racing school; and NASCAR.

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