Time to help drivers feel less heat

June, 8, 2008

I have interviewed football players after the heat of battle on a hot field, I have interviewed tennis players who had to perform in 105-degree heat, but I have seen nothing like I have the last two Sprint Cup races.

Dover was bad enough. Drivers, with their faces red and sweaty and their bodies looking gaunt and drained, carried themselves limply away from their cars. But Pocono was a bit scary. It wasn't just one driver or two, it was a number of drivers, all as we know, fit and in shape, seemingly crippled by the extreme heat and the conditions of the car after a grueling 500 miles on a brutally hot, humid day.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed from his car, then asked for a few moments before doing postrace interviews, so he could catch his breath while sitting on the pit-road wall. His face was fire-engine red, and while he stared downward at apparently nothing, he stuffed a bag of ice under his driver's uniform against the skin of his chest. Earnhardt barely made it through two responses before excusing himself.

Then there was Denny Hamlin. He complained of shortness of breath and also need to sit down as he attempted to regain his composure. His face was ashen, and he struggled to cool his body with cold towels and ice. After doing a requisite network interview, he asked to be taken to the infield care center for treatment.

Afterwards, the color having returned to his face, Hamlin, along with second-place finisher Brian Vickers, complained that NASCAR's new car is too hot.

"They are hotter than the old car, by far," Hamlin said. He said the old car was 50 degrees hotter than the track and this car is at least 20 degrees hotter than that.

Yes, racing is about testing your skills against the track, other drivers, the elements, but at some point, isn't it ridiculous not to alleviate some of the wear and tear on the driver?

"Double and away, they are too hot," Vickers said. "We want to keep the cars light and go fast, but we're killing ourselves. We're going to the infield care center off the races, and that's ridiculous. NASCAR needs to step in and say we have to do something to cool these cars down and help us."

If you could have seen Hamlin -- who also struggled with dehydration after the Texas race earlier this season -- after the race, his eyes looking blank and lifeless, you just might agree that something needs to change.

"We're trying to do everything we can to stay hydrated, but these cars are way too hot," Hamlin said.
Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.



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