Gamers, get ready to start your engines.

EA Sports’ new studio in Morrisville is working away on the PlayStation 2 version of NASCAR 09, and other EA teams are nearing launch of the eagerly awaited title for Xbox 360 and PlayStation3.

Although NASCAR 09 won’t hit stores until June, EA provided a first look at it during NASCAR’s recent race in Las Vegas.

In addition to offering hands-on time with the Xbox 360 game, NASCAR 09 producer Scott Stutsman and NASCAR product manager Randy Chase talked about the new studio and its first game.

"The Morrisville Studio gives them proximity to NASCAR," explained Stutsman. "We’ve always had someone in Charlotte that has access to different things. We go up to Charlotte a lot from Orlando. We visited their R&D Center to get the Car of Tomorrow, which is now the Car of Today, in the game last year. We meet with drivers and get their input into the game."

Chase added that the key advantage of the Triangle studio is access to the engineering and talent that they can recruit to help make the games. "That’s the key piece to that studio," he said.

NASCAR 09 for PS2, which is the first title out of the studio, will be a completely different experience than the next-generation titles shown in Vegas. And with the majority of NASCAR fans still playing PS2, it’s also likely the game that will sell the most copies.

"One of the key features for the PS2 game is Family Play, which will make NASCAR 09 more accessible to larger groups," said Stutsman. "This mode of the game has much more forgiving handling and allows you to go through and experience the NASCAR experience in a more forgiving nature."

The PS2 game will also retain the team-based content from past NASCAR games, allowing communication and strategy between team drivers. That’s something that has not been updated for any of the next-gen NASCAR games last year or this year. Another thing the PS2 version will share with its next-gen counterparts is a full field of Sprint Cup drivers, as well as the ability to race through both the Craftsman Truck Series and Nationwide Series races.

While more details on the PS2 game will be revealed later, Vegas was all about the next-generation titles. And the keystone to the new game is the complete integration of NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon into NASCAR 09.

"Jeff Gordon is known by everyone," said Stutsman. "He took on the responsibilities of being the leader of the Sprint Cup after Dale Earnhardt passed. He’s won four championships. He’s a team owner and he discovered Jimmie Johnson, the two-time NASCAR champion."

Now Gordon will discover gamers in NASCAR 09. He’ll take the player under his wing and walk him through every aspect of the game. In fact, there won’t even be the need for a menu system because Gordon will take you directly to career mode, online racing, Driver Challenges (an in-depth racing tutorial) or any other area in the game.

"The whole Jeff Gordon integration helps those people who aren’t real good at figuring out where they are," said Stutsman. "The hardcore NASCAR fans and people who played last year’s game will be able to skip the Gordon videos and play with the simulation model of the game from last year."

There are two settings in the game and three difficulty levels within each there. Chase said that the game breaks everything down so that if you’re not interested in a sim experience, you never have to go there. If you only want a sim experience level, you can go there and still have three difficulty levels there. Or if you want to progress through the one to get to the other you can do that as well.

The team has opened up the next gen NASCAR game to a wider audience by offering a wide array of assists that aid with everything from car handling to steering.

"We made sure we had the right things in place that help the user have a fun experience with NASCAR," said Stustman. "Collisions were a problem last year for newcomers. Other cars would get alongside the player and the cars would stick together and get pulled to the wall or pulled to the grass. That’s frustrating,"

In addition to opening up the racing experience to more casual gamers, NASCAR 09 adds a new element of skill that should help everyone out, especially when playing online. Every gamer will receive a rep score – a constantly changing number that factors in every aspect of your training and driving. The higher the score, the better one is. When jumping into an online match, this should make it easy to find 11 racers at a similar skill level. And in the single-player experience, computer-controlled cars will react to a player based on his rep score, opening up a lane for higher rep scores and closing down passing options for lower ones.

The development team has been to every track for measurements and photo reference to ensure that every aspect of NASCAR is incorporated into this game.

"The unique thing about NASCAR compared [with] the NFL is that when you have that license, you get everything," said Chase, referring to EA Sports’ Madden franchise. "With NASCAR, you have individual tracks, drivers, teams and a lot more stuff to work out. We negotiate with Goodyear and Coke to make sure their markings are in the game. It’s a lot of work."

But at the end of the day, all of this realism, whether in the sim mode or the more open gameplay options, brings NASCAR home to the fans who live vicariously through their favorite drivers.