Austin Dillon was the first driver to take a seat Tuesday morning on the annual NASCAR Media Tour, and it didn’t take him long to casually break some news.
On the topic of viewing telemetry data from new Richard Childress Racing alliance drivers Kasey Kahne and Bubba Wallace, Dillon said the distribution of information would go further than that.
“Now I can see it from everyone with NASCAR releasing their data,” he said. “The slowest driver can see the fastest driver, what he’s doing with the car — steering, brake, throttle. It’s out there.”
“So it’ll be big to be able to decipher that information quick,” he continued. “You’re going to be able to see it now, and you’ll be able to see if your car is faster or slower or not as good. I’m excited about that.”
Wait a minute. NASCAR is releasing data to teams about what other drivers are doing with their cars? As in drivers who aren’t on the same team?
Yes, Dillon said. At least that was his understanding.
That was news to the media, along with some of the other drivers.
“I haven’t heard anything about that,” Erik Jones said. “Is that something they’re talking about?”
“That’s brand new to me,” Kurt Busch said.
“Really? That’s interesting,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “That’s the first I’ve heard of that.”
So what’s the truth? Well, NASCAR confirmed later Tuesday morning it will be releasing additional data to the teams this year — but NASCAR emphasized it’s nothing that wasn’t already available publicly through NASCAR.com’s RaceView feature.
That data includes steering inputs, braking, throttle and RPM — not from a GPS, but from the electronic control unit (ECU) that is part of the electronic fuel injection system.
The wrinkle is some teams had apparently figured out how to “scrape” the data from NASCAR.com’s raw feed into their own systems, which they could then use to keep tabs on what other competitors were doing. So as part of the ongoing effort to keep the playing field level, NASCAR decided to just give teams the information instead of having some go through a backdoor method to get it.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends who you ask, because the best teams and drivers obviously wouldn’t want others to have their information.
“That’s entirely not fair,” Kyle Busch said. “I’d rather disconnect my stuff to begin with so nobody gets to see it.”
Even his teammates?
“Absolutely,” Busch said. “I’d much rather not have anybody be able to see anything. Even if I’m behind, I feel like I’m better at being able to catch up rather than just handing my data to somebody and saying, ‘Here it is. Here’s how you do it.’ That’s not good.”
Jones, now Busch’s official teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, was able to see everything Busch (and other Toyota drivers) did last year as part of the alliance with Furniture Row Racing. He said it was “great for me,” but understands why it’s not ideal for the top drivers.
“If I was Kyle or Martin (Truex) or Denny (Hamlin), I would be frustrated guys were able to look at exactly what I was doing and copy it,” Jones said. “Obviously, parity is low right now, which doesn’t create a lot of passing. Guys are super close — and that’s going to continue to just tighten that up.”
Of course, DiBenedetto said a small team like his will take whatever information it can get — though it’s not everything.
“(That data) wouldn’t do much to make up for the large lack of budget and aerodynamics and things like that,” he said. “But any resource you can have at this level, no matter what it is or how small, anything we can get our hands on is going to benefit us for sure.”
Media Tour Day 1: No major rule changes coming to NASCAR this year