Drivers pick sides on new open radios
by Bran Strickland, Star sports editor
Apr 16, 2011 | 6132 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Distracted driving is a major problem in America, and Matt Kenseth admitted Friday, “I’m not the smartest guy in the world.”

That’s why regarding one of NASCAR’s newer movements, the Crown Royal driver politely says, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

When the checkered flag drops on Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, drivers will follow suit with a plan that caught fire in Daytona at the season-opening event: open communication.

In the days of old, drivers were satisfied with talking to only their own: outside of the driver, crew chief, spotter and owner, nobody else was on their radio. Now, however, drivers can pick and choose — inside certain limitations — whoever they want to be able to talk to during the race.

“I get confused real easy, and I hate to switch channels and then you don’t get it full of gas on a green stop or your crew chief can’t get a hold of you,” he said, “or who knows what can go wrong.”

NASCAR does limit a driver to two two-way radios, and on each radio there’s a limit to the number of channels; during interviews drivers varied that number between 15 and 20, some questioning the legality of the higher.

Also, in the one-way world of NASCAR, this endeavor is a two-way street. In a Facebook sort of way, you must be “friended” to get into their racing world.

Jeff Gordon said they’ve been asked for two weeks to join in on their radios, but they’ve declined. On Friday, he put the number at six: their team and the two Haas cars. They’ll evaluate the situation, but said, “I hope we don’t have to go outside of that.”

Others, though, are a lot more friendly.

“If I could, I’d have all 43 on my radio,” Kyle Busch said.

Trevor Bayne, another of NASCAR’s under-30 crowd agreed, because, “you never know.” And he proved as much winning the Daytona 500.

But one thing is known — the two-car tandems are going to dominate. While two different tracks in the past — Daytona, more handling and Talladega, more raw speed — the newly laid asphalt at Daytona brought the series’ only other restrictor-plate track closer to the style of Talladega.

While nothing has exactly outlawed it before, the two-car tandems that are all but guaranteed to dominate the day create a reason — at least for some — to justify all the buzz about the buzz on the radios.

Some old-school drivers scoff at the idea of having anyone outside their teammates, almost hinting that it would have been unheard of back in the good old days.

But Gordon points out that old school or new school, at the core, the same thing has always been the most important.

“It’s different, but it doesn’t change the mindset of doing whatever it takes to win,” he said. “That’s always been the mindset and the only reason why we would do that is we’re trying to get ourselves in victory lane.

“You’re not winning by yourself, it’s got to be done with somebody else, It’s just who is that somebody else.”

Being able to quickly find your drafting partner — the other half of that winning combination —can provide a significant advantage. In the days of yesterday, two cars weren’t the ticket; It was multi-car trains. And then again, in the days of yesteryear, deals were made more than 15 stories above the track’s surface, up where the spotters reside.

“You don’t have to go through two spotters and wait for the response,” Clint Bowyer said, “and then get back and then by the way, you missed your opportunity. Now, we are no longer leading the race because somebody else was talking and did it way better than you were.”

So, there are definite advantages. But those who would rather play their cards a little closer to the firesuits, contend disadvantages as well.

The debate is there. Perhaps not as polarizing as politics, but who is on what side is as clear as whether they like smooth or crunchy peanut butter.

At Daytona, Busch took it to the max and hooked up two radios, trying it out in the Nationwide race. He liked it so much he had the same thing going in the Cup race the following day.

He’ll use the same set-up this weekend with his selected stable of drivers maxed out with no problem juggling all the different voices in his head.

“ … it’s not really distracting,” he said. “If you were at a 1.5-mile track or a short track or something like that, it would be distracting, because you’d be hearing way too much stuff going on.

“With Talladega being the way Talladega and Daytona are, you definitely want to hear all that stuff.”

However, Bowyer did point that while he loved it, it’s not as simple as finding something to listen to on the radio. With lots of driving, switching between stations isn’t easy — especially when driving at 200 miles per hour inches away from a competitor.

“I guess you just go through and say, ‘Is this Kyle?’ and they say, ‘No, get off my radio.’ And you say, ‘Hello, is this Kyle?’ and you just keep switching until you find them.

“But like I said, it’s going to be interesting at the end of this thing. I would say it will be quite humorous.”

Or helpful.

Or distracting.

Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.

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