Can motor oil be the difference between winning and losing a NASCAR championship?
If your name is Tony Stewart and your sponsor makes the oil in your car, then yes.
"Being 100 percent honest, I believe we have an advantage in that area," Stewart said Thursday at Dover International Speedway. "Technology has gotten so good now, and with that comes efficiency. That's free speed."
Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing team benefit through its partnership with Exxon Mobil, which has its Mobil 1 synthetic motor oil brand featured on Stewart's No. 14 car.
Because Mobil is eager to try its newest mixtures in a high-performance environment, the SHR cars get the latest in oil technology.
"We have a sponsor on the car that literally every week helps us make our race car go faster with its product," Stewart said. "If you had Baskin-Robbins on the car, it wouldn't do anything to make the car go faster."
In that respect, it's not a huge stretch to think Stewart's sponsor may have helped him win last year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. After all, the Chase came down to a tiebreaker where one position either way over the course of 10 races could have made the difference between winning and losing.
But certainly every top team in NASCAR uses a high-quality oil. So why would Stewart's team somehow benefit more than the others?
One reason could be Mobil has its products on Stewart's car in five different areas – not just the engine. Lubricants on the axle, gears and transmission also play a part in performance.
In NASCAR, teams primarily rely on oil to protect a car's parts from breaking down. But a secondary factor is efficiency; the less friction created by the oil, the more horsepower an engine can generate.
For example: If you've ever watched NASCAR qualifying, you'll see generators attached to the cars lined up on pit road. Why the generators? Because teams are trying to get the oil as hot as possible so it will flow more efficiently during the two qualifying laps.
Naturally, oil technology makes it so parts won't wear as quickly, either. But for the most part, race teams aren't typically concerned about wear because the races are so short compared to the life of a street engine.
Today's motor oil is not only more efficient than ever, but it weighs less than ever, too. During a tour of Mobil's Paulsboro, N.J., technical center on Thursday morning, reporters were shown labs where new mixtures are still being developed with various goals in mind, from fuel economy to performance.
The change has happened in a relatively short amount of time.
"If you ever get a chance to watch the teams change oil, it looks like water pouring out," Stewart said. "When you looked at it before, it was so thick it looked like you were pouring Aunt Jemima's syrup out of the bottle."
Stewart claimed his biggest advantage comes at Daytona and Talladega, the two restrictor-plate tracks. While other drivers have to watch three gauges – water temperature, water pressure and oil temperature – to make sure their cars don't overheat, Stewart said he only has to watch two.
"All we really worry about is the water temp and water pressure," he said. "The oil temp is something I have the luxury of not having to worry about."
Whoever is sponsored by Baskin-Robbins wouldn't be able to say that.