It’s no secret that 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, and 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 and 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 Roush Fenway teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Also from Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon talked about emotions. Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman voiced their take as well.
Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
Greg Biffle did some big math in his comments.
“I think you get them before every race but mostly before the Daytona 500 because it is such a big event,” Biffle said. “There are a couple hundred thousand people here to watch 43 of us.”
Biffle explained how to handle the big moments.
“Take it in stride. Do what you can to not put pressure on yourself. Once you put your helmet on and start the engine it is all kind of gone. You go into tunnel vision and smell the thing running and feel it and are on the race track and then you settle down.”
Carl Edwards gets his emotions rolling when he is about to win.
“I don’t get jitters going into any of the races,” Edwards said. “I would say I get the most excited and my heart rate is probably up the most at the end of the race with a shot to win. That is when everything seems to slow down and you are hyper focused and I really like that feeling.”
Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick likes the fell of Speedweeks and the Daytona 500.
“Yeah, I think this race is different than most races,” Harvick said. “You come into this race excited just because it's a new season, a lot of optimism. Just getting back into the swing of things. Once you get into the grind, you get towards the end of the season, you can get wore down, especially if things aren't going well.
“To be able to get back down here, get back in the swing, definitely brings a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. I'm pumped up and ready to go.”
Austin Dillon (No. 3 Nationwide Chevrolet)
Young Austin Dillon is maturing at a fast pace.
“I think I’ve gotten better with the butterflies,” Dillon said. “The only time I ever kind of get a little bit nervous is probably before qualifying just because you are the only car out there and I always want to bust off a big lap.”
Kurt Busch (No. 78 Chevrolet)
Kurt Busch admits to some pre-race emotions.
“Each qualifying day is pretty stressful,” Busch said. “Each race, the start of the race, you have the national anthem, then it really settles in on all the weekend's preparations. It makes you a little nervous until they throw the green flag. When they drop the green, it's business as usual.”
Ryan Newman (No. 39 Chevrolet)
Ryan Newman has a steady demeanor.
“I wouldn’t say jitters,” Newman said. “There’s an emotion to it, but I wouldn’t say jitters. Not like I’m nervous. Not like I have the butterflies. Part of me is excited, but I have to control that excitement. Part of me is anticipating but I have to control that anticipation. Every driver is different. Every driver has different characteristics when it comes to that emotionally and mentally.”
It seems that the intensity of racing emotions 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.
Part two in a series on racing emotions.