Brad Keselowski says he will continue to keep a cell phone in his Sprint Cup car, but other drivers aren’t so sure that they will keep phones – or how long they’ll be allowed to – in their cars during races.
Keselowski posted photos and answered fans’ questions via Twitter while the Daytona 500 was under a red flag on Monday night. His actions gained international attention and resulted in an increase of approximately 160,000 followers on the social media web site.
As of Friday morning, the Penske Racing driver’s account had 224,800 followers.
While it appeared that having a phone in the car could violate NASCAR rules regarding the use of radios and recording devices in cars, NASCAR announced Tuesday that drivers could continue having phones in their vehicles during races. NASCAR will be on the lookout, though, for any use that could impact competition.
“I don’t know how you would use it to do something illegal,” Keselowski said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. “I’m sure there are some smart people that would try to think of one. The ability to give access to fans is more than worth any of those small ramifications.
“I don’t see any significant advantage you could get even if you did find a way to make it a data recorder because with the new [fuel-injection] system, it does data recording as it stands right now.”
The Daytona 500 was stopped for 2 hours, 5 minutes to clean the track after Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer, which erupted into a fireball. After he stopped his car, Keselowski tweeted a photo. And then tweeted. And tweeted. And tweeted some more.
“As an athlete, entertainer, race-car driver, whatever you want to call me, the things I did on Twitter was something I would want to see,” Keselowski said. “The people that I follow on Twitter, if you were to ask me what I would want to see from [them], that’s what I would want to see.
“That’s all I did. I don’t think any harder than that. I’m glad that people liked it and enjoyed it.”
But not everyone seemed enthralled with the idea.
Kevin Harvick apparently doesn’t think carrying cell phones in a race car is a good idea. He already has found a miles-per-hour application for his phone that he believes he could use to monitor his speed down pit road.
“I’m going to look for every app I can for mile-per-hour, GPS mapping, and anything I can find to put in my car,” Harvick said. “I’m looking for it because I’m looking to outlaw this rule as fast as I can because I don’t want to have to keep up with it. I have found a mile-per-hour app, so that’ll be good down pit road.”
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon also wondered whether the phone could be used in more sinister ways.
“The social media aspect was great for the sport, great for Brad,” Gordon said. “From that side of it, it’s awesome that NASCAR is being that lenient. But I think the technology of phones these days is growing rapidly.
“There could be some things that NASCAR might need to pay attention to that might need to keep the phones out of the car.”
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said the sanctioning body is aware that drivers could have phones in their cars but doesn’t see that as a way for them to tap into fuel-injection systems.
“We’re probably going to watch and see what path it takes,” Pemberton said. “Right now, there’s not much of a concern about it.”
Obviously Keselowski doesn’t have much concern.
“You could definitely make an argument that a smartphone is a mini-computer,” Keselowski said. “I could definitely see that. But it’s not like I had it plugged into anything. You have fuel injection in the cars, but I don’t know how you could use it to cheat, quite frankly.
“Unless you mounted it to something to maybe make a video.”
Count both Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth among drivers who also don’t want to have the distraction of a phone in the car.
Kenseth, who won the Daytona 500, simply said: “That’s the last thing I need.”
Hamlin said “different people see things important differently” and social media, to Hamlin, isn’t important enough to have a phone in his car.
“Where does it end?” Hamlin said. “Do you text or Tweet during cautions and then you look up and run into the guy behind you?
“I don’t know. There are certain parameters that I guess we’ve got to all play in, but if I’m thinking about winning the race, I’m not thinking about social media when I’m under that green flag or yellow flag or any of those conditions.”
Keselowski said he doesn’t keep his phone in the car to tweet, but to be able to contact family if he gets in an accident.
He said after a scary crash at California in September 2007, he was airlifted to a hospital and had no way to contact his parents. After his August 2011 accident at Road Atlanta, he had his phone and could text his mom from the helicopter before she heard it on the news.
“That kind of put the fire out before it really got started and she really appreciated that,” Keselowski said. “It put me a lot more at ease [to have the phone]. … From that moment on, I decided I was going to keep my phone with me in the race car.
“There actually was a practical purpose for having it with me and I designed a pocket to put it inside my car to be able to keep it there. I didn’t put it in my car thinking, ‘We’re going to have a red flag at Daytona for a guy hitting a jet dryer and causing an explosion.’”
Keselowski marveled at how much attention his tweeting during the red flag generated.
“I was amazed that it got that much attention and somewhat felt bad for Matt because obviously he won the biggest race of the year,” he said. “I’m sure he got a lot of attention but I didn’t need to take any away from him.”