Green NASCAR? Emissions down 20 percent on high-octane E15

Racin’ is a lot of things (maybe even rubbin’ … Robert Duvall and Tom Cruise didn’t exactly settle the matter in “Days of Thunder”). NASCAR fans usually don’t think “reducin’ emissions” as part of the equation of their favorite sport. But they should.

The circuit is now in its sixth season running on Sunoco Racing’s “Green E15” fuel (15 percent ethanol), logging about 8 million miles of mostly left-hand turns, without a hitch. Because NASCAR switched from racing fuel to a cleaner-burning blend higher in ethanol content, tailpipe emissions are down 20 percent during that time.

Now, NASCAR will never win a Nobel Prize for environmental activism, but it is thinking about these issues. If racing teams can achieve better performance, higher octane (the Sunoco blend has an octane rating of 98) and spew fewer emissions, it should be commended.

“Of course, we didn’t become successful by not paying attention to the performance details of our race cars,” Richard Childress, chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing, wrote for Ethanol Producer magazine earlier this month. “In 2011, NASCAR switched to a 15 percent ethanol fuel blend, Sunoco Green E15. After several tests done by our engineers at ECR Engines, we have seen increased horsepower from the higher-octane ethanol fuel blend, decreased emissions and an overall cooler running engine. RCR and ECR Engines have even tested ethanol blends up to E30, finding no issues. These are areas our team of talented engineers and mechanics are really excited about.”

This weekend NASCAR sets up shop in Atlanta Motor Speedway, where drivers in the Camping World Truck Series, XFINITY Series (Saturday) and Sprint Cup (Sunday) will try to top last Sunday’s riveting opening race — the Daytona 500. On the backstretch, Denny Hamlin squeezed past Matt Kenseth and nosed Martin Truex Jr. at the checkered flag by 0.010 seconds, the closest finish in the history of the race, which began in 1959. (Listen to the call in Spanish; it’s worth your time.)

Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, driving the No. 3 car, will try to build on his ninth-place finish in Daytona. One of Dillon’s main sponsors is American Ethanol, a brand created by Growth Energy and the National Corn Growers Association to promote U.S.-made ethanol. (Above, that’s baseball Hall-of-Famer-elect Ken Griffey Jr. waving the American Ethanol green flag to start the Daytona 500.)

Dillon’s first race with his all-green American Ethanol paint scheme will be March 20 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

By the time the Chase for the Sprint Cup ends in late November, NASCAR will have passed surpassed “10 million flawless miles this year on Sunoco Green e15, with American Ethanol,” Ryan Welsh, director of sales and marketing for American Ethanol Racing, said by e-mail. “These are miles under the most extreme conditions, and we have passed with flying colors.”