Drivers foresee downside to making inner workings public
By RICK MINTER / Universal Uclick
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says folks just can’t keep a secret in the NASCAR garage these days. It’s not his fellow drivers who are being the blabbermouths, so to speak, it’s NASCAR officials and their new policies – and proposed ones – for sharing information among race teams and fans, too.
Earnhardt, and a lot of his peers, say NASCAR’s proposal to share the data from the electronic fuel injection mechanisms of the top race finishers is putting the sport on a “slippery slope.” And he and others say the trend toward making the drivers meeting a public event takes away the opportunity for drivers and crew chiefs to have open and honest communication with each other, and with NASCAR officials, about how races are run.
Earnhardt said that if NASCAR shares one team’s EFI data with the entire garage, a team that had somehow managed to get an advantage over the competition won’t get to keep it for long.
“I’d rather not have that,” he said of the proposed sharing of information. “It would be a benefit to be able to see that. But, I think it is a slippery slope.
“With the fuel injection, it brings in the ability this year to be able to see data that we’ve never been able to see before. I think we should ease into how we use that data, and how NASCAR allows us to use that data, kind of slowly not to upset the culture of the sport, or how things have worked in the past.
“I think if we take this new door that has been opened to us and abuse it, it might not be good for the sport. I think it’s better for competition for everybody to have a few secrets.”
Already, teams are able to look at data from other cars in their multi-car organizations and at data from affiliated teams. Jimmie Johnson seemed pretty pleased to see Tony Stewart’s EFI data from Las Vegas, where Stewart motored away from Johnson on several late-race restarts.
“I did look at Tony’s data, and definitely have a direction and know what’s going on,” Johnson said. “It’s a complicated thing that I’m certainly not going to share for the world to see. But I’ve got a clear direction of where to work.”
Earnhardt and others also say that there are better ways for drivers to connect with fans than opening the drivers meeting to the public, as was the case at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two races back.
He and many of his peers would rather go back to the old-style drivers meetings, which usually were held in a hot, cramped room at each race track. Only recently were media and other guests invited, and it’s been some time since there was real discussion at those meetings about issues on the track.
“It hasn’t been, for a long time, a true ‘drivers meeting’ in the true sense of the word,” Matt Kenseth said. “Nobody is going to raise their hand and ask a question in that environment, not anybody these days, anyway.”
Kenseth said that if a driver has an issue today, he tries to resolve it in a private meeting with NASCAR officials.
“It is different, but it has been like that for a long time,” he said. “They have been letting more and more people in. I remember when we used to do it my first couple years in the series, we did it in the scoring stand at Charlotte, and you could barely get the drivers and crew chiefs in there.
“That is all it was. It was never a media event or fan event. It was a drivers meeting where there was a forum with discussions and stuff like that. We haven’t had that in a long time.”
Earnhardt Jr. agreed with Kenseth, saying he had difficulty following the basic instructions given in the meeting last week at Las Vegas.
“I couldn’t see those video screens,” he said. “I really couldn’t pay attention to what was going on. So, the meeting to me didn’t serve its purpose.”
Jimmie Johnson agreed with Earnhardt and Kenseth, saying the drivers meeting “needs to be more intimate.”
He said he only recently learned that for some time drivers meetings have been streamed online, and he doesn’t like that either.
“I just feel like, that is what that meeting is for, we need an opportunity to sit there and have open communication weekly,” he said. “With all the eyes, it limits that ability, I believe.”