NASCAR revs up for fifth season on E15 at Daytona

When the green flag drops in the 57th Daytona 500 on Sunday, it will mark the beginning of the fifth season NASCAR has run its cars on E15 ethanol blend.

No matter what you’ve heard about E15, don’t expect to see any of the roaring Chevy SS cars to sputter, stall or blow a hose because of the fuel.

Not only do the cars achieve better performance on the 98-octane fuel, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing has praised E15 because it emits fewer toxins into the environment, and it’s made from domestically produced resources.

“NASCAR conducted an exhaustive analysis before making the seamless transition to Sunoco Green E15, a race fuel blended with 15 percent American Ethanol,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last July, when the circuit celebrated 6 million miles of racing run on the fuel. “As we eclipse 6 million tough competition miles across our three national series, we can definitively say this renewable fuel stands up to our rigorous racing conditions while significantly reducing our impact on the environment.”

Sunoco had been the official fuel supplier for NASCAR for years, but in 2010 the circuit announced it would ditch its previous 98-octane unleaded racing fuel and adopt Green 15, so named because of its green color. All cars and trucks across NASCAR’s three series — the Camping World Truck Series, the XFINITY Series and the big dog, the Sprint Cup Series — have run on the fuel since the 2011 season, with no problems.

“You can imagine the heat and the duress that these engines are under,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of development at Growth Energy, the Washington, D.C.-based trade association that represents ethanol producers and advocates. “The fuel burns at a little bit lower temperature, so the stress on the engine is less. And when they take those engines apart after the races, they find that the brittleness of the metal just isn’t there like it was before. And on top of that, keep in mind, people sometimes say, ‘Well, NASCAR’s not the same as street cars. There’s a lot of truth to that, but when it comes to the fueling system, the fueling system is exactly the same between the street cars and NASCAR. There’s no modification whatsoever on those fueling systems.”

Austin_Dillon2Growth Energy partnered with the National Corn Growers Association to create the American Ethanol Racing brand as a way to promote ethanol as a fuel for vehicles. American Ethanol sponsors Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon, who will be driving the No. 3 car (with the green logos) in Sunday’s Daytona 500. The green start flag even says “American Ethanol” on it. (See the rest of the starting lineup here.)

Ethanol supporters are hoping to get across the message that, yes, NASCAR’s race cars are different than the version ordinary people drive, but E15 is safe for most newer vehicles the general population drives. The EPA says E15 is approved for all cars and light-duty trucks from model year 2001 or newer.

There’s a movement around the country to allow gas stations to sell E15 at their pumps, joining the thousands of pumps that offer E10, a blend of up to 10 percent ethanol that is the “regular gas” the vast majority of America drives on. There are 113 locations in 16 states that sell E15. But there has been resistance among some quarters. Many cling to the “ethanol will damage my car” fear.

“The cost of E15 is generally a little less than the regular 87 [octane E10], and with E15 the octane’s a little better, so they get a little bit better performing product at a lower price. Now what consumer wouldn’t want that?

Sunoco says Green 15 ethanol is made from corn, and is blended at its facility in Marcus Hook, Pa. By the time NASCAR announced it was adopting Green 15 as its official fuel, it had undergone extensive testing to make sure it wouldn’t damage engine parts. “E15 is the most-tested fuel ever on the planet,” O’Brien said.

Thanks to that hard work, and NASCAR’s commitment, no matter who takes the checkered flag Sunday, America wins.

(Photos: Top, Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Childress Racing car. Credit: ZimmComm New Media, Inset, Dillon in 2012. Credit: American Ethanol, )