No surprise with this solid fact: NASCAR drivers are humans first. Not every driver has iron insides to approach each new drop of the green flag without feelings. Some get genuine butterflies; some welcome the jitters as a necessary part of the fast task at hand.
Some are unmoved by emotions even as they anticipate fast speeds on the edge. Like the population, NASCAR drivers possess a wide range of personalities. Some are easily excitable, some are stoic and steady; many react with emotions somewhere in between
During the recent NASCAR Daytona International Speedway media day nearly all NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers greeted inquiring media in a daylong event located in the Daytona 500 club facility. This reporter was fortunate to get questions to 39 drivers over the course of a 10-hour day.
Sharing their thoughts about pre-race emotions and the Daytona 500 race were Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne. Also commenting were Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola. Germain Racing driver, Casey Mears also voiced his thoughts.
NASCAR drivers should know.
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet)
“Come Sunday morning right when you're getting ready to take the green flag, everybody probably handles it differently,” Gordon said. “But for me it's, Oh, wow, the Daytona 500 is getting ready to start. It's a huge race.
“So there's no doubt for me there's a few butterflies. Then once the green flag drops, it's back to business.”
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
“You get to the end of the year, and you are in the hunt, the championship butterflies supersede any other butterfly known to mankind,” Johnson said.
“That changes things quite a bit. I still do get that pre-race jitter. It is just something I'm used to, and if it's not showing up on race day, I actually question why and then somehow generate that feeling again. I think it is important to have it and get in the car and respect what we do. Then fire the engine; make a couple of laps—that always helps."
Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet)
“I get a little bit jittery just because I would say more the excitement and the feeling of just wanting to go the anticipation of qualifying or the race or even practice. It’s like two minutes until practice starts and it’s like ‘man just let us go early, I just want to get on the track.’
"So, I get some nervous more anxiety like excitement more than anything. I think that is one of the things that I strive for to. I enjoy that and kind of like that side of things. I like it when you feel that pressure and stuff. It’s a good thing.”
A consensus among these teammates points to a reality that jitters and butterflies are likely temporary.
Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 Ford)
“If you don’t you need to be looking for something else to do,” Ambrose said about getting butterflies. “You need to be highly motivated and excited. I think amped up is the right term and I am amped and ready to go.”
Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford)
“Not really to be honest,” Almirola said. “I don’t know if that is good or bad. What has happened for me is I realize how long the races are and to get all excited and worked up before the start of a race that is going to be three or four hours long is silly.”
Casey Mears (No. 13 Ford)
“I do but it is a different nature than when I first started,” Mears said. “It used to be a lot of nerves but now it is excitement.”
Seems the nature of jitters and butterflies vary from driver to driver, but in general they don’t seem to be debilitating. Green flags seem to cure all.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by NASCAR and team representatives.