CONCORD, N.C. -- Crew chiefs are huddled at the far end of the Sprint Cup garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway. They are gathered around a new laser platform that will be used to measure about 40 mechanical points on the new "Gen 6" car during at-track inspection this season.
A year ago at this time, they were working out the kinks of fuel injection replacing the carburetor.
Has NASCAR finally reached the 21st century?
Short of finding a quicker way to dry the weepers coming up through the track that delayed the start of Friday's test session for more than three hours -- and according to chairman Brian France, that mechanism will be unveiled sometime this season -- the sport is getting close.
"I don't think it's 'finally,' " Cup series director John Darby said. "In my mind, in what I know, there is more technology already employed in NASCAR racing than Formula One. The only difference is it's probably not showcased live at the racetrack like F1 does.
"From computer simulators to wind tunnels to seven post rigs to the [laser] platform, NASCAR is a very technologically driven sport. But nobody knows because nobody has ever said anything."
They're talking now, showing off new toys such as the laser platform and other mechanisms that make the new car a technological marvel.
And while it may be a stretch to say NASCAR has more technology than F1 -- considered by most the most sophisticated racing on the planet -- Toyota's Andy Graves agrees the technology is at least on par with it.
"It's just not as glamorous," said Graves, Toyota's vice president for chassis engineering.
If you look around the garage, particularly during a test such as this, you'll understand why. There are more engineers with laptops than you'll find at a space shuttle launch. Some of them are F1 transplants with Ph.D.s.
It's actually been this way for years, but because the sport was born on team owners taking cars from the showroom floor to the track, because leaders such as former chairman Bill France Jr. wanted to keep costs downs and the human element dominant, it was downplayed.
"I understood Bill France Jr.'s stand on keeping technology out of the sport," said 54-year-old Mark Martin, who has driven almost every generation car there's been. "I also realize that at some point in time you have to modernize."
The laser platform is the newest form of modernization. It's not a sexy subject such as predicting whether Brad Keselowski can repeat as Cup champion or Dale Earnhardt Jr. can win his first. It won't get the same number of web hits as a story on what Danica Patrick had for lunch -- FYI, there was a truck from "Sticky Fingers" ribs parked outside her hauler on this chilly, sun-splashed day.
But it's there. And it's tightened the box teams can work in that many complained was already too tight. Teams that try to push the envelope with rear-end yaw as they did in past years for more speed best beware.
"We were accurate in the old way of doing business," Darby said. "But you still had the human element of error that could be introduced. Some of the positioning of the cars by the teams, there was still some minor discrepancies.
"All of that is gone now. Once you push a car up and let [the laser platform] go, it takes over."
That's why crew chiefs and cars chiefs were huddled around the platform. They were trying to understand all of the nuances to avoid troubles on race day.
"It's a new age," said Kenny Francis, the crew chief for Kasey Kahne.
It's an age of iPads and iPhones that NASCAR hopes will make the sport more attractive to new fans that were born into technology. It's an age where fans want more than they did 15 or 20 years ago when they filled the so-called "chicken bone" section in the stands without worry of having a scanner or Sprint Vision.
"I'm of the belief that our fans expect more today than they did 10 years ago," Jeff Burton said. "I watch a lot of racing as you guys do. I just don't think the racing is different last year as it was 10 years ago, but a lot of fans do.
"I think the expectation level is raised with the advent of the X Games. With the advent of people jumping motorcycles on top of the thing in Las Vegas three years ago on New Year's ... the expectation level has gotten raised. We have to match that."
One way is to make the racing closer and better, which is why getting the track dry and cars on the track was so important after Thursday's session was rained out. Because a majority of the 36-race schedule is on intermediate tracks such as CMS, crew chiefs understand the value of every second of data collected.
You know, technology.
"There is still a lot of technology the teams use that is not shared by NASCAR," Keselowski said as he patiently waited to get on the track. "It's not the culture of our sport. It is the culture of F1, whether that is right, wrong or indifferent.
"It's not in our culture to share technology. I don't think our fans really embrace it."
Teams have. Those with common manufacturers talk more among themselves than ever.
Manufacturers have. It was their combined effort that helped develop a product that most agree already is light years ahead of the previous car from an appearance standpoint. It was their combined effort that helped make the performance in a test such as this go without major hiccups outside of weepers.
NASCAR has, too. As Keselowski and a few others noted, the governing body finally is catching up to using the technology teams had. Had officials not turned to the experts of a few manufacturers, the "Gen 6" car could have been a disaster.
"The sport has always been in the 21st century," Keselowski said diplomatically.
That's debatable. But as you watch crew chiefs huddle around the laser platform, you understand this really is a new age.
Welcome to the 21st century, NASCAR.