News & Media

Great radio debate brings differing points of view

April 15, 2011, Dave Rodman,

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Some drivers looking for all the help they can get; others flying solo at 'Dega

Race car radio communication might have run a close second to politics in terms of its polarizing nature Friday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Before and after practice, the debate raged. Trevor Bayne, who won the season-opening Daytona 500, said if it was up to him, he might program the whole field into his radio.

"We're gonna have a lot of people on our radio," Bayne said, laughing. "Not so many in the Nationwide race, but on the Cup side, you almost want to have 43 channels, because you never know. At the end of the [Daytona 500] we definitely didn't expect the 47 [Bobby Labonte] to be pushing us and [David] Gilliland to be pushing Carl Edwards. That just goes to show you anybody can be your buddy."

When Talladega's first practice opened Friday, Bayne and Gilliland immediately engaged in some two-car runs. In the end, Gilliland was ninth on the time sheet after running 17 laps while Bayne was mired down in 27th after doing 33 laps.

It was a definite blessing that, with a potentially violent band of weather threatening track activity Friday afternoon, Sprint Cup teams got on the track at all. They ended up with just less than an hour of practice in preparation for Sunday's Aaron's 499.

"We've discussed it, but all this radio stuff is way overrated, when it comes to race time, I feel like. It works great for practice, but in the race it doesn't work so well."


But it brought "the great radio debate" into focus, at least as far as how it related to the two-car drafting tandems that were discovered last October at Talladega and used almost exclusively during February's Speedweeks at Daytona.

From the time Jimmie Johnson led the Cup cars onto the track for practice at 2 p.m. ET, drivers paired up and around they went. The initial practice was extended 10 minutes -- 55 minutes total -- to enable more cars to get on track, as rain continued to threaten. In fact, about 12 minutes into practice a splattering of rain led to a caution, which lasted only a few minutes.

Second practice, scheduled for an hour, began on time but ran only about four minutes, with eight cars posting lap times and three others making it onto the speedway, before a downpour ended all track activity for the day. In the first session, Michael McDowell was the only driver who didn't get on track. In the second, he ran only an up-to-speed lap before rain began falling.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were first and second in practice 1, running 20 and 15 laps, respectively. Stewart's best lap was in 49.30 seconds, an average speed of 194.239 mph. In Happy Hour, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin each ran four laps and were atop the sheet, but their 190.412 mph laps didn't represent what would have been done in a full practice.

Even with limited on-track time, Bayne said the process of expanding one's radio "playlist" was a simple one.

"You take it over to the RE [Racing Electronics, which services the NASCAR garages along with primary supplier Racing Radios] truck," Bayne said. "And they'll program in whoever you tell 'em, but you have to get permission from that team first.

"To me, it's just kind of the buddy system -- who have you talked to, who said they wanted to work with you, who do you think is going to be fast because obviously you want to work with a fast guy. And that's how you choose it."

Kyle Busch, who won here in fall 2008, the first full season with the current car, took a minute to compile a list of who'd be on his radio this weekend.

"I don't know -- The 4 [Kasey Kahne], the 22 [Kurt Busch], the 48 [Jimmie Johnson], the 1 [Jamie McMurray], 99 [Carl Edwards], 00 [David Reutimann] -- that's all I can remember," Busch said. "Apparently crew chiefs have been calling each other all week and trying to figure out who's going to want who on whose radio."

Brad Keselowski was among several competitors that said it was nowhere near as easy as Bayne made it out to be. Keselowski was adamant he was going to keep his communication simple, when he was asked who was going to be on his radio Sunday.

"Me, and that's how I want it to stay," Keselowski said. "We've discussed it, but all this radio stuff is way overrated, when it comes to race time, I feel like. It works great for practice, but in the race it doesn't work so well."

Kevin Harvick, this race's defending champion, was adamant he would more than likely "fly solo."

"I just want my spotter to be loud and clear on the radio -- that's really all that I care about here," Harvick said. "I know my spotter is going to give me the information that I need. We've been together for a long, long time and he knows what I want to hear. That's just how it is.

"It's a lot tougher job for those spotters than it used to be. I told [the media] two days ago I wasn't going to have a lot of people on my radio and I look at my Nationwide car and I have 20 people. I don't even know how to keep track of that."

"I have my [Joe Gibbs Racing] teammates on my radio, that's the way we did it at Daytona, and it went pretty good and I'll probably just stay with that," Joey Logano said.

"We discussed it a lot when we were down in Daytona. But there just seemed like there was a good chance of something going wrong -- trying to get a hold of somebody, doing something, or this and that; it's probably just easier to focus in on what you're doing [and] do your own job out there."

Matt Kenseth was among those who said he'd go the way of simplicity.

"I'd rather just stay on my own channel and listen to my own spotter and crew chief," Kenseth said. "I know there are some people we gave permission to get our frequency that can talk to us, but I just left ours in there. There's potential for a lot of things to go wrong. I'm not the smartest guy in the world. I get confused real easy and I hate to switch channels and then you don't get it full of gas on a green [flag] stop and your crew chief can't get a hold of you, or who knows what can go wrong? I didn't go crazy and program a bunch of different stuff."

Ryan Newman said he had the capability of communicating with other teams, but didn't anticipate using it.

"Gloves are going to stay on," Newman said. "[I have] two radios -- one primary and the other one has options. Honestly, we set up the same scenario here as we had at Daytona and I never used it at Daytona; not one single time did I ever use that second radio. I think it all depends on the situations that you're in and how lucky you get."

Jeff Gordon said there were proprietary issues that were a concern to him.

"Right now we just have six [on our radio] and that's our four Hendrick and the two Haas teams," Gordon said. "We'll evaluate some things as we go through the weekend and I'm sure we'll be adding some to it.

"Number one, we don't want other people on our radio, because what happens is if we get a radio channel for someone else that means we have to give up ours to them. While I'd like to switch over and go talk to somebody else I don't want them switching over talking to me while we're doing something or accidentally.

"We kind of have a plan in place right now with the No. 5 car [teammate Mark Martin], which makes the most sense. You want to work with your teammates and I believe the No. 88 [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] and the No. 48 are probably going to work together and us and the No. 5, that's the plan."

To Keselowski it's simple.

"I don't see any huge advantages to it," Keselowski said. "The biggest minus I see is it instills you with a sense of overconfidence in your surroundings."

That's definitely a double-edged sword -- keeping it simple versus keeping it safe -- as four-team owner Richard Childress said when he analyzed the situation.

"We've created a situation to where I think it's safer to have the guy in the back, that's doing the pushing, talking," Childress said. "To me it's a safety issue because if you've got two cars, the guy in back is going to push the car in front straight through some [problem]."

Even having help on his radio doesn't completely put Gordon's mind at ease.

"I'm not totally comfortable with it but I think it makes sense because you are basically blind when you are the car behind, so it's really up to the guy in front, and that spotter is trying to get that car through," Gordon said.

"Not being able to see was the most difficult part of it," Bayne said, "But to me that's all about trusting the guy in front of you and to me, I felt safe the whole time because I was the pusher and I could back off whenever I wanted. I don't really like being a leader and when it comes down to that you just have to figure it out. I'd just rather push all day -- that's a security blanket to me. If I was being pushed all day I'd be worried about getting run over."

Whatever happens, Busch seemed to believe a driver's feel for his car and its surroundings would rule, even with the intricacy involved in changing the running order of two-car drafts. With rule changes NASCAR made at Daytona to restrict the cars' cooling systems, they can only run a limited number of laps before they have to switch positions to enable the trailing car's engine to cool.

"It's not that bad," Busch said. "If you have to exchange, you just pull out [and] whether you tell that guy or you don't tell that guy it doesn't matter. You just pull out, he knows what's going to happen and you know what you're doing. You just do it."

But Busch admitted the newly-found formations weren't trouble-free.

"The biggest problem with it is just the two guys pushing each other, or whatever, coming up on cars that are already side-by-side with nowhere to go," Busch said, citing the Daytona 500, where he said Michael Waltrip spun him out when he caught two cars, saying "I couldn't go anywhere and he didn't see, and he just pushed me right around."

"Yeah [that was a case where having the ability to communicate about it would have helped]," Busch said. "I tried to tell him to whoa up, but I don't know if he really knew what that meant."

Childress didn't have a solution for that, but he had a sincere desire.

"Really, I hope we can figure out how to get the cars apart before we go back to Daytona next year," Childress said, before elaborating on his plan for Sunday. "We've got it where all our teams can talk to each other. And if one guy says 'I know I'm going to run with this guy some, and we're going to work it out,' you want a back-up plan [and he's added to the radio]."