HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Brad Keselowski can't have his phone in his car regardless of how much NASCAR loved the attention it received from his Daytona 500 tweets.
But NASCAR chairman Brian France stressed Saturday the sport is committed to both social media and technology, and drivers could be communicating from inside digital cockpits as early as 2014.
Keselowski, who is seeking his first Sprint Cup championship in Sunday's season finale, was fined $25,000 for having a cellphone inside his car last week at Phoenix International Raceway. NASCAR found out about the phone because he tweeted during a red flag in the race – the exact same thing he did to worldwide acclaim in the season-opening Daytona 500 without penalty.
France admitted Keselowski's tweets in February caught NASCAR by surprise, and the rule has since "evolved" to address the possibility of competitors manipulating electronic fuel injection with onboard digital devices.
"That was the first time at Daytona that we had seen somebody in real time tweeting during a red flag," France said. "Immediately loved the idea, loved the attention that it brought to the sport, encourage it. But (we) have to balance it on the competition end to make sure nobody gains an advantage."
Still, France doesn't want a slowdown in social media from NASCAR's participants, and the digital cockpits could aid drivers in giving in-race updates without needing a smartphone.
Although the digital cockpits could come as early as 2014, there is no clear timetable for social media capability. NASCAR would like the participating manufacturers to use technology from their production cars in the "glass dashboards" and it's unclear how long it would take to get the system functional for drivers to use in the cockpit.
"I fully expect that we'll have one of the real incredible opportunities because of how information, telemetry are integral to the running of each race," France said. "For us to be able to share that information in very, very interesting ways with our fans, we are in the best position in sports just because we have so much of that information that is so relevant."
France also dismissed the notion NASCAR is walking a fine line between sport and entertainment in relation to the incident between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer last weekend at Phoenix. Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer on the track and it triggered a garage-area melee that drew widespread attention for NASCAR in mainstream media.
Gordon was fined $100,000 and docked 25 points in the standings, but avoided suspension and is allowed to race in Sunday's season finale.
The fracas has been in the spotlight, and as NASCAR's ratings have slumped during the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, some are wondering if that drama isn't what's needed to spice up the sport.
"We have a stated approach that this is a contact sport. We expect contact, especially late in the race," France said. "But I always say, there are limits. Drivers know what those limits are, and you can cross those limits, and that's exactly what happened on Sunday. It was very obvious and very easy for us to figure that out and for everybody to figure that out, and so we deal with it.
"If they have any confusion on that, they can certainly talk to us directly or look at our calls and how we've dealt with (incidents) when we think that those limits have been broken, and that will be that.'"
But seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty said the garage-area melee that wound up on Monday morning national television shows is exactly how incidents were taken care of in the old days of the sport.
"The way we handled it was the same as what happened in the garage area in Phoenix – you jumped in there and beat on somebody's head and got it squared away and forgot about a telephone," Petty said. "What's apologizing over a telephone? That's zero, man. Anybody can think that up. There's no emotion, no feel, there's nothing there. Some of you can do anything talking on that deal where you're not talking to people eye-to-eye, so, to me, it's a waste of time."