• Stewart-Haas Racing zeroes in on digital dash

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    The digital display in Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Chevrolet race car that was used in September last year at the Darlington Raceway. NASCAR.COM

    The digital display in Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Chevrolet race car that was used in September last year at the Darlington Raceway. NASCAR.COM

    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will adjust to a new innovation wrinkle this season, making use of a digital dashboard display that will replace long-used analog gauges. True to the competitive spirit in the NASCAR garage, one team might have a leg up on the rest.

    Stewart-Haas Racing was the first to apply the technology in actual race conditions, deploying the digital display in Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Chevrolet last September at Darlington Raceway.

    For the No. 41 team to blaze the trail created an interesting juxtaposition at the South Carolina track. Here was one of NASCAR’s most tech-savvy teams making an early embrace of one of the sport’s newest technological leaps, but hosting the coming-out party at stock-car racing’s oldest superspeedway with one of the most old-school crew chiefs in Tony Gibson leading the charge.

    ”We got on it,” Gibson said last week during NASCAR’s annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. “We didn’t want to go to Daytona and have, ‘What have we got? How does the layout want to be in this dash?’ So we worked out all the bugs in ours before the end of the year. Kurt had his own layout and what he wanted to see, and he knows how to run it. We had to move some things around, work some bugs out like everybody else.”

    Other teams followed suit, taking advantage of last season’s breaking-in phase as an audition for a NASCAR-mandated rules change in 2016. A quick canvass of drivers and crew chiefs during last week’s media tour revealed that some teams still have some fine-tuning to do before cars hit the track for opening Sprint Unlimited practice on February 13 at Daytona International Speedway.

    If the pattern of Stewart-Haas being ahead of the game in the offseason sounds familiar, it should. In a pivotal December 2013 test session with the new driver/crew chief pairing of Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers, SHR’s No. 4 team was the class of the field in quickly adapting to the next season’s rules package – a transition that eventually netted the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.

    ”Anything new, you have to put time into it and understand it, and I’m thankful to have that opportunity with Stewart-Haas to have the engineering department, to have a dedicated guy who’s working with McLaren on the software and to be able to find new things,” Busch said.

    Making the system work
    The next step for teams beyond making sure the system works: Getting the most out of the information. The existing settings – tachometer; voltage; water and oil temperatures; oil, water and fuel pressures – will all be accessible, but delivered on one of 16 different preset displays. Teams will be able to drill down and customize each preset based on driver preferences.

    The first full-field implementation of the digital display is just weeks away, but NASCAR competition officials said the new system has room to grow. Tire-pressure sensors have been tested ahead of a 2017 rollout, with the potential to help teams make educated decisions about air pressure and other adjustments during pit stops.

    Tire sensors aren’t yet approved for competition, but Sprint Cup Series director Richard Buck said he’s hopeful for other advancements in distributing the dashboard data beyond drivers and teams.

    ”The exciting part about it is the possibilities of the future,” Buck said. “Integrating it with the fans, integrating it with [the media], the data that we have on race cars available to us and be able to tailor that and get it out to the fans. That’s what makes it exciting to me.”

    NASCAR.COM

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