Race Weekend Central

Live SMT Data Walks a Thin Line in Modern NASCAR

Modern technology.

No matter your line of work, it is something that has become vital to the health of businesses in the present day. Another group’s advancement risks putting a competitor at a vulnerable disadvantage.

As I was on a road trip recently, it got me to thinking about what it was like to not have Google Maps (no, I’m not trying to make anyone feel old). I remember seeing several Atlas maps in my grandparent’s car over the years, and it really shows how dependent we have become on modern technology.

The stream of technological innovation has poured into the sports industry as well. Each piece of data and statistics have become thoroughly analyzed and studied across most sports to give an athlete or team the highest percentage chance of winning.

However, what if the lights went out?

Look no further than this past weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway when internet connection went down, preventing teams from accessing live SMT data.

In 2018, all Cup teams received access to SMT data from their competitors. Provided by a company called SMT, teams can see live timing and scoring, telemetry that shows drivers’ braking pressure and zone, throttle time, and where they ultimately use it on the track.

This data is also provided to the broadcasts so they can provide to viewers who is the fastest on track or who is struggling. It also allows them to use the GhostCar that you typically see during qualifying sessions.

Without question, technology goes into the cars and set-ups across all motorsport disciplines today. In NASCAR alone, drivers use it to study their own data and that of their competitors to better themselves. It is a valuable tool for engineers and crew chiefs as they set up their cars. Simply, technology is the framework for much of what happens behind the scenes anymore.

The conflict that arises is how it pairs with the Next Gen car. It is no secret that NASCAR’s seventh generation car has received complaints on its inability to pass and how close the competition is. At several tracks, the entire field is within just a couple of tenths of each other at times.

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But how much of today’s close quarters is attributed to live SMT data? Driver opinions have varied, with some who like it, some who don’t mind either way and others who have opposed it.

At least initially, Kyle Busch wasn’t a big fan of it.

“I’ve spent 13 years in this sport to figure out how to drive a race car to make it go fast and do the things that I do to make it go fast and win championships, and now you are going to hand all of that to a young driver on a piece of paper and they are going to figure it out as long as they know how to read it,” Busch said in 2018.

“That’s our signature,” Busch continued. “Us driving a race car is our way of figuring out how to make a race car go around the track fast. It’s not how we are driving our car at particular moments, it’s how we set up our cars.”

In a 2022 article by Sports Business Journal, Martin Truex Jr. said it has made things easier to see what competitors are doing while it has boosted the amount of studying drivers have to do.

“Back in the day when I started, it was all a big mystery,” Truex said. “You didn’t know. You had to figure it out. You could kind of watch a guy and think you know what he was doing, but you may not have known exactly what it was, and now you can see all of that stuff. So, I think that just brings the field closer. It’s hard to have secrets, it’s hard to not see somebody’s driving style or a guy that’s faster than you.”

Ultimately, the human element comes into question. It’s a growing topic in sports in general on how much is natural and how much is dictated by technology. Overall, I don’t like when natural talent cannot be fully showcased.

I have no problem with the amount of data being collected to help teams. Statistical resources are things that are constantly being honed in and distributed to create intriguing results.

Live SMT data? That’s another story.

Now, I’m no crew chief, nor am I an engineering major. And if a crew chief is reading this, they have every right to disagree, especially with how much time is put into studying and sifting SMT data.

However, it does take away some of the human element and diversity of what a driver does with their car, or what line they find at a select track. The danger of live SMT data is potentially creating a field where everyone is doing the same thing.

Even without SMT, drivers and spotters still have an opportunity to mirror another’s line and communicate it with the pit box. Jimmie Johnson has been adamant that his Martinsville prowess came from following Tony Stewart during a race there in his early days.

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Additionally, what is the line between driver talent and what SMT data provides? A driver’s ability still outweighs the data, but it is not a vast discrepancy as it used to be. And because of that, a driver’s clear style of how they drive or their ability to absolutely dominate at a track has been limited.

The issue that eliminating live data would spring up is the fact that many teams have war rooms where much of this data is analyzed and communicated to the at-track team. Still, how much of the human element does that take away?

There is no sign that NASCAR will strip live SMT data away, but if they did, there are still many opportunities to use it. I would like to see teams have that provided to them after a race for their notes, film, and preparation for the next week. Also, having SMT data of their own car would be a given, while the war room could see it for the whole team.

If NASCAR is investigating an on-track conflict, such as the one between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin at Charlotte Motor Speedway last year, then that data comes in handy.

But if NASCAR is going to make the data live, then it should also be public to fans.

In 2007, NASCAR launched RaceView for fans to virtually follow their favorite driver, look at live scoring and even listen to radio communication. The software was dropped in 2020 and replaced with a consolidated version where fans can now listen to audio and watch on-board cameras.

Allowing fans to view live SMT data or at least a less sophisticated version of it would enhance the fan experience and create more transparency.

SMT data is a topic that has arisen more with the parity of the Next Gen car. And like technology in general, it certainly carries its benefits while also holding potential threats.

But in a day where a constant topic is seeing a diverse array of talent and uniqueness, there is a point where technology limits that.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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WD

The SMT data should be owned by the team and not shared If you owned a restaurant would you share your recipe for your signature dish ? It “race craft” figure it out on your own

Bill B

Although I’ve never given it much thought until right now, I agree with you 100%.

Dav_Daddy

In the past I would have agreed to each team keeping their SMT data to themselves.

Today however where drivers and teams get basically zero practice laps it’s just not feasible. Coming from an avid Sim racer who needs several thousand laps at a venue before getting within spitting distance of the faster guys in the field. It is a complete mystery to me how the young Cup drivers can go to a track they’ve never been to, get zero seat time, and run at or near the front?

If I didn’t see it with my own 2 eyes I’d probably call BS.

DoninAjax

If a driver or team figures out the fastest way around a track, why should that data be available to everybody else?
David Pearson won pole position at a track for 11 straight races over five years. Do you think he wanted anybody else to know why?

Last edited 5 days ago by DoninAjax
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