News & Media


Sharing EFI information has its limits, drivers say

March 16, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- If NASCAR is about to enter a new era of cooperation, where competing teams and organizations share much of the same information relating to new electronic fuel injection systems, the drivers have two words to add to the conversation.

Be careful.

"They can look at all the data they want, but unless you're Tony Stewart doing what Tony Stewart does with his talent, you're not going to have a restart like he does."

--JOHN DARBY

"It's kind of like this: if you've got a video game and everybody knows how to win, how fun is that? Keep the challenge in it without giving away all the answers."

--DALE EARNHARDT JR.

Or maybe three words.

Be very careful.

"I'd rather not have that," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. "It would be a benefit to be able to see all that. But I think it's 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 so as to not 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."

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, said he agrees with Earnhardt.

"The thing with us drivers is what we do with the pedals and steering wheel and all that stuff is all our proprietary stuff," Edwards said. "From NASCAR's perspective, I can see how they would want everyone to not have an advantage and [how they would want to] keep feeding everyone information to make it tougher and closer.

"But I know for me personally, with the fuel-mileage things and other stuff, there have been times when I thought there were things I did in the car that I wouldn't want anyone else to see. If those days are over, then they are over. I guess that's just the way it is."

The ushering in of EFI has brought NASCAR a new reality where there are mounds of data available through computers that never before could have been measured inside the car during competition. For instance, "mapping" of race winner Tony Stewart's engine data could provide insight to other drivers as to how Stewart repeatedly was able to stage faster restarts than the rest of the field during last Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas.

In fact, fellow driver Jimmie Johnson said it already has for him. As driver of the No. 48 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson's team has a technical alliance with Stewart's No. 14 Chevy team at Stewart-Haas Racing. So it's not unusual for them to share information anyway. There's just more of it to share -- or not to share -- now.

"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."

And that, Johnson said, is the way it should be -- in that SHR and HMS have that technical alliance. He just wouldn't necessarily want NASCAR to go share all the information he's just learned with competing teams who drive Toyotas for Joe Gibbs Racing, Fords for Roush Fenway Racing or Dodges for Penske Racing, and so on.

"In a situation like what we have at Hendrick, from the inception or start of Stewart-Haas Racing having that relationship with Hendrick, we've been sending information back and forth. It's designed as a two-way street. So it's good to have that," Johnson said. "Amongst those six cars, that's the way it is. That's the way it works and I'm sure it's the same way through Roush and their satellite teams."

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Dodge for Penske Racing, said he thinks he understands why many drivers are fearful of the new information age.

"The ultimate fear is whenever you involve computers, you replace humans -- whether it's in the car or out. And that's been the fear for the last 60 years. This is no different," Keselowski said. "This sport has always managed to maintain the human element. The real fear is that as that technology develops, the human element will become less and less critical and the sport will lose some of its substance -- just as anything else would."

Meanwhile, Sprint Cup series director John Darby insisted that the drivers' fears are largely unfounded. He said NASCAR has yet to share widespread EFI information from the season's first three races with teams or organizations, and pledged that the governing body would indeed be very careful about what it dispenses when the time comes.

"We've got data files from cars that we've downloaded from our first three races," Darby said. "Part of what we're doing right now is going through the data to understand what would be of value from tuning an engine operation versus the data you could extract that would be driver information, if that makes sense.

"Our interest is not to show the world where Tony Stewart slammed his throttle to the floor on a restart. It's about how the engine was tuned, whether it be a fuel map or a timing map. That's all we're worried about."

Teams then can use the general information given them by NASCAR to help alleviate possible engine-wear issues that might be related to the new fuel-injection systems. Plus Darby thinks the theory that a driver can learn to perform better on a restart by merely looking at computer data is a long shot for most.

"There is enough driver-characteristic information that could be extracted from the data if it was looked at properly, but we have no interest at all in passing that out. That would be up to the individual teams," Darby said.

"The bottom line is that a driver having a great restart and fuel injection have absolutely nothing to do with each other. That comes from the driver's talents. They can look at all the data they want, but unless you're Tony Stewart doing what Tony Stewart does with his talent, you're not going to have a restart like he does."

Earnhardt just thinks less is more in this case, and hopes NASCAR doesn't share too much with the entire racing world. He tried to put it in a perspective that everyone should be able to understand.

"It's kind of like this: if you've got a video game and everybody knows how to win, how fun is that? Keep the challenge in it without giving away all the answers," Earnhardt said.