When you are in the sport of NASCAR, you will find that people wear a lot of different hats. It’s human nature to want what we want and for things to be the way we want them to be. That’s a challenge that NASCAR, as the sanctioning body, has faced ever since it came into existence.
You’ve got owners, drivers, fans, manufacturers and sponsors that NASCAR always tries to keep happy. That’s a lot of people to serve and try to keep all in harmony at the same time. Trust me; I learned this the hard way because I was always one of NASCAR’s biggest critics when I was a driver.
Now though, my role has changed. The driver hat has been put away for good. So now I try and be objective in what I see. In a way, I am now looking from the outside of the track in, where before I was in that garage area looking out. These days I try to be objective to what NASCAR’s challenges are and how they can deal with them.
Let’s face it, with a new car in NASCAR’s premier series, there are going to be challenges across the board for everyone. This new car, in only two races, is already as good as or better than the Car of Tomorrow (COT) was for the last five years. The huge upside is that this new car has so much more potential than the COT ever had.
I just think it’s really unfair to start to judge this car after one race on a high-banked, 2.5-mile restrictor-plate track and then the other race on a relatively flat 1-mile track. We need to give this car more time to grow and give these teams more time to learn what the car likes before we pass judgment on it. Two races simply aren’t enough. We need to give the car a chance to evolve a little bit.
This car is far and away the best race car we have had in many, many years. I think this is a car that will be around our sport a long, long time. Like I’ve told you time and time again, the COT was a safe car. Now NASCAR, along with the manufacturers, drivers and teams has turned a safe car into a race car.
A lot of effort went into the development of this new car, as you know. The three manufacturers worked side by side with NASCAR for two years on this project. We have finally gotten back to a race car looking like the car you can
NASCAR wanted the car to be fast and it is. We nearly broke the track record at Daytona and again at Phoenix last weekend. Again, all that and it’s only two races into the season. So when someone, particularly a driver, criticizes this new car it affects many, many people across the board.
When a driver criticizes the car or even our sport as a whole, they really aren’t just speaking for themselves. The driver has now pulled his sponsor that he drives for and represents into the mix. Using your platform as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to express your opinion about something directly associates your sponsor, owner and team with those comments.
Drivers have a tendency to want things their way. Trust me, I’ve been there – done that. That’s the way they see it and in my book that’s OK. Fans want drivers to have personalities. Oh they have personalities, but they just have to remember to be professional about it. They have to remember when they say something how many people it is affecting.
It affects my sponsor, my owner, my team, the fans and ultimately NASCAR as a whole. When I was a driver and if I had a complaint, I just didn’t complain for complaining sake. I also offered a solution. If I didn’t like how something was being done, I always tried to offer an alternative way to do things.
Again, you can’t just whine because you aren’t happy and maybe something doesn’t go the exact way you wanted it to. You have to have solutions to support your argument. That’s a challenge every driver has. Some drivers obviously are better at it than others.
Drivers speak out the most when they are frustrated. They climb out of the car after possibly a bad day on the track, and they're hot, tired and mad. They may vent their frustration at another driver, the new car or the sport as a whole. We all know in the heat of the moment that happens. That’s understandable.
At the same time, in the back of your mind you have to temper your comments somewhat with the realization and appreciation that as a sanctioning body, it is NASCAR’s responsibility to keep control of our sport.
Here the last few weeks NASCAR’s been in a tight spot and taken some hits. Our reigning champion, Brad Keselowski came out in an interview in USA Today back at Daytona criticizing the sport and how it is run.
In the Nationwide race on the Saturday before the Daytona 500 we had the accident that sent part of a race car into the grandstands and fans were injured. That has all of us, across the board, up in arms, rightfully so because that’s the worst thing that can happen to our sport. Again, as a driver you understand and accept the risks when it comes to racing. A fan spends his or her money to buy a ticket to be entertained, not put at physical risk.
Then we had a driver say something in an interview that was inappropriate. I can clearly see why NASCAR had to react. Then you had Denny Hamlin make comments about the new car. NASCAR reacted because it is the governing body of the sport. Every sport has rules and clearly defined lines of conduct. Sure you can cross that line, just as long as you are willing to face the consequences of your actions.
I learned this lesson the hard way, but a driver can’t fight NASCAR in the media. Oh you can try, but in the end you will lose. The best thing a frustrated driver can do is walk up into that NASCAR hauler and vent his or her frustrations. Sometimes the drivers probably think NASCAR isn’t listening, but that’s where it has to start and not in the media.
Everyone just needs to give this car some more time. It has been tested twice at Charlotte. There was a three-day test in January in Daytona. Drivers tested it at Darlington. Even here in Las Vegas they opened the track up a day early and let the teams test on Thursday of this week.
All this is being done, again, because it’s a brand-new car. There are no notes. The car has no history. You have to build a whole new database of information. That doesn’t happen overnight and it surely doesn’t happen in only two races. It takes a little bit more time than that.
This car has had a comprehensive review of everything that needed to be done. Everything that was good about the COT was kept, but everything that was bad about it was addressed to make this new car look better, drive better and be faster.
If a race car was perfect, if a race car was easy to drive and you could pass anyone, anytime you wanted, none of us would ever retire. Why would you if it was easy? I don’t want to hear about it being too hard to pass or too hard to drive. Hello! It’s supposed to be hard. It’s a race car that goes 200 mph. If you are going to be a professional race car driver, then you are going to have to get up on that wheel and work the car.
Racing is hard. It takes a lot of skill. It also takes a lot of courage. When you start in the rear of the field and pass 40 of your 42 competitors, yet get out of the car and say it’s too hard to drive and you can’t pass – well I simply can’t buy into that at all. I sure didn’t see that. I saw a great driver and great car put on a show for the fans.
Again, we have only had two races with this new car. Is the racing where we want it to ultimately be? No it’s not, but the huge upside is I can clearly see the potential of what this new car can do.
I don’t care if you are a fan, driver, owner, sponsor, or in the sanctioning body itself, when you get on the negative bandwagon after only two races, you are simply hurting the sport that we all love. Everyone wants it their own way. Everyone wants it perfect. Everyone wants it easy. That’s simply not the way this sport operates. It never has and it never will.