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In a previous article, we looked at the question of how important the car is to any NASCAR race and team. As a follow-up, we’re now going to take a look at the importance of the driver.
NASCAR drivers obviously play a vital role in a NASCAR team, however to achieve success in NASCAR it requires a whole team. The car, the mechanics, the organization and more all have vital roles to play. The drivers may get the attention, but they themselves put their importance to success as low as 35 to 20 %.
It may seem like a silly question to ask how important a driver is in a car race, because surely without the driver, nothing would happen at all as these very expensive and very powerful NASCAR vehicles just sit on the track doing nothing for 3-4 hours.
Let’s try to put those feelings aside and take a more meaningful look at this question on the importance of the driver to a NASCAR team, race, and the sport in general.
To start, let’s try and understand exactly what it is that the driver has to do. Below you’ll find the main roles and responsibilities of NASCAR drivers:
The first and most obvious thing that they have to do is drive their stock car around that oval or other course track, preferably without crashing it or causing other people to crash as they go along. Considering the fact that these cars will be hitting speeds of up to 200mph, this is a pretty big responsibility, and doubtless dominates much of the driver’s focus, time, attention, and worry before and after race day.
As we touched on just now, the responsibility of driving the car isn’t just about trying to win the race for their own glory and for that of their team. With conditions being potentially so dangerous on the track, drivers have to take this role of maneuvering that car at such high speeds with tremendous care. Their mistakes don’t just endanger themselves, but potentially other racers as well.
As if the role of keeping their 200-mph metal brick in good order while it whizzes around the track 500 times or more wasn’t tough enough, the other critical role of the driver during race day is to maintain good communication with the crew. This role is something of a two-way street, and is shared between the driver and the various members of the team’s crew.
Spotters will feed key sightings to drivers and crew, while the driver also has to communicate how the car is doing so the pit crew can determine when the best times for a pit stop will be, and what might have gone wrong when disaster strikes. A breakdown in communication is a breakdown of the entire team, and drivers are central to that.
When the driver and crew have communicated about making pit stops, the onus is then on the driver to get the car to the pit crew still in one piece for its stop. Any driver not paying proper attention, or perhaps shirking this role by defying the pit crew and going on longer despite any agreed intervals or a call for an urgent pit stop, is failing to fulfill one of their key roles as a NASCAR team member.
Next, let’s look at two key roles that the drivers have off the race track, the first of which to promote their team. They do this in a number of ways, the first and most obvious of which is wearing their uniform and driving their car in the race.
Another way they do this is by representing their team as they speak to on-site reporters and other media either at the track or during a more formal press conference.
A big part of fulfilling this role is first of all knowing their own cars inside and out, not to mention knowing the tracks they are racing on. They get support in this role from other team members, of course, but when the cameras are rolling, it’s most often the drivers we hear from.
They also have to maintain a good attitude when talking to reporters, keeping their cool even when emotions are running high, and never making it personal with other drivers or teammates.
A driver’s image has a direct bearing on whether or not a team is able to get sponsors, and sponsorship money forms a part of what each driver can earn in a year. Drivers shirking their role or behaving in a poor way that reflects badly on the team are not taking this responsibility seriously enough.
Finally, and following on from the previous point, NASCAR drivers are largely public figures who live in the spotlight. That being so, it behooves them to act accordingly, being good citizens, demonstrating patriotism, good community and family values, working hard at their education or other self-improvement activities, and so on. NASCAR drivers in this way become role models for other young people.
So, when you think about these roles and responsibilities, how does it all translate into an answer to our core question on how important the driver is to the overall success of any NASCAR race or season, especially compared to the car?
In one USA Today article, Kyle Busch made an estimate that “drivers are only 35% of the equation.” His NASCAR colleague Jeff Gordon is more skeptical, claiming that the driver only contributes 20% to it all. Kasey Kahne agreed with Gordon on that lower percentage.
We’d be more inclined to agree with Busch on this one, since his figure allows for a three-way split in credit between the driver, the car, and the pit crew, which is probably the fairest overall way to look at the equation.
Gordon and Kahne obviously know of what they speak, but we fear they are mostly just being modest. Besides the key roles and responsibilities that we mentioned above, NASCAR drivers also have to be:
- Dedicated – singularly focused on developing their skills, winning races for their team, committed to keeping on going even after setbacks rear their ugly heads.
- Risk-Takers – ready to make near instant decisions and calculated risks that will either mean victory or disaster in a race
- Team Players – humble enough and knowledgeable enough to understand that they are part of a larger unit
- Experts – as we touched on earlier, highly knowledgeable about their cars, the tracks, opponents, the impact of weather conditions, and more
When you put together the roles and responsibilities with the skills they need, it’s good and proper to say that Kyle Busch had it right when he said that they are about 35% of the success equation.
As we mentioned above we also have an article on how important is the car in NASCAR which ties in with this article here. You can check this out here and on the link below.
Although its not unfair to say that how important the driver is in NASCAR depends very much on the car and the driver, the drivers themselves don’t see this as an equal partner ship. As mentioned both Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon put the driver at less than 50% of the importance in race results.
this shows that NASCAR races, although the driver may get the credit, plaudits and fame there is much more to it than talent, there is countless hours and hard work that goes into getting those drivers into winners lane.