NASCAR 08 smokes its tires

Under the hood, there are all manner of driver assists, from steering to braking, to help out those arcade-style racers who don't speak NASCAR as a first language. You'll also enjoy the benefit of some impressive visual aids, courtesy of your VTV, or vehicle telemetry visor. A trail of hovering triangles will show you the ideal line around the track, even changing color to tell you if you're going the wrong speed. A green cone comet-tailing off the back end of the car ahead of you indicates where you should drive when drafting, and a fighter jet-style on-screen display has an artificial horizon showing how banked the turns are, a slider that moves as you turn the wheel (so you don't oversteer) and indicators that clue you in to the temperature of each tire and how much life it has left.

"Now wait a minute," you say, "I love NASCAR and I don't want any of that kiddie crap." Fine. Turn it all off. All the driver assistance stuff, all of the onscreen indicators, even the fancy camera trick that senses when your car is totally out of control and pulls back so you can at least watch the resulting pile-up of shorn metal and melted rubber. Hardcore guys don't have to use any of those features. It's all optional.

Not only that, but you're going to flip out over the amount of customization you have this year. There are close to 100 variables (or around 40, depending upon which PR person we spoke to) you can adjust on your sled, but they're layered, like a beautiful, high-octane onion, so you can get exactly as deep as you can handle before bursting into tears.

Arcade-style guys will want to stick to the top level, which simply offers four adjustments: Gear Ratios, Handling, Suspension, and Downforce. However, if you're the type who computes that stuff in your sleep, dig down deeper and you can tweak variables like your shock absorbers' firmness and the camber and the tire pressure in each individual tire.

The PS3 version will support Sixaxis steering as well as the upcoming Logitech wheel, and the 360 NASCAR is set to use Microsoft's fancy wireless wheel. The only area in which we felt a slight sense of dread was the PS2 version - it wasn't mentioned at all during our demo and the only evidence of its existence thus far is the box art in the press kit. We're thinking that's an ominous sign that it'll have a totally different set of features. But we'll worry about that later this summer. For now, we're off to look up "camber" and figure out how tweaking it can get us a few more tenths of a second per lap at Talladega.