NASCAR Media Conference
October 16, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We kick off our first of three teleconferences today with NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. Robin has joined us to provide an update on the competition release distributed earlier today and answer any questions regarding it.
Robin, I'll turn it over to you to make a brief opening comment.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Thank you.
As hopefully everybody knows, earlier today we announced a number of competition changes for 2013. We hope that these competition changes will enhance our three national series and bring back some excitement to the fans and some opportunities for the teams to strengthen their performances through testing throughout the season.
I'll open it up for questions.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Robin. We'll now go to the media for questions.
Q. Robin, what is the Daytona 500 qualifying going to be?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: The qualifying will be the same. As you know, the front row is set from our Pole Day. Those times will set the Duels. How you finish in the Duels will set the field through the first 36 or so spots, and then we'll go on with our provisionals and past champion.
Qualifying will mean the same as it did, but the Duels will take on a larger role in making the Daytona 500.
Q. Will provisionals carry over to the Duels this year?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: The Duels don't use provisionals. It's the lineup for the 500 that will. The Duels will just be set up according to how you qualify on Pole Day, those lineups.
Q. Robin, just to clarify on the Daytona 500. In the past, there had been some guys that have gotten in via qualifying speed, position 31 to 36. That won't happen? You're not bringing that back, I guess?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: The final details will come out with the entry blank. But there will be a speed element that's in there along with a finishing order to the Duels that will be in there.
Those final details haven't been worked out. But basically it all wraps around it being the fastest cars and also the ones that perform in the Duels to set the 500 lineup.
Q. Is there any limit to provisionals for a driver or team throughout the season?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: No, there will be no limit for those provisionals.
Q. Could you basically go over a couple of nuts and bolts things first. Which of the changes in policy apply across all three series and which are just to Cup?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, actually they each are unique. I guess the only thing that laps over is the test policies will be tied to an organization. If you're a one car, a two, three or four car operation, you get four tests per organization. That's basically the thing that overlaps between the series as far as the testing goes.
The qualifying formats, they'll remain the same when it goes to Nationwide and to the Truck Series. We feel like those series having their races impound with a practice and a qualifying, how those events unfold, the thing that we currently do there is best served for them.
The other thing that happens to be the same amongst all three series is the fact that the points for 2013, for the first three races, how it may affect a rain lineup, are for the top 36 in points based on 2012. That will be the same for each series. We will only use these points for the first three races of 2013.
Q. The random draws for qualifying order will just be Cup?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yes.
Q. In devising the 36‑6‑1 system, did you do any sort of studies or anything like that comparing what the results would be versus the way they are? If not, what sort of change or difference might you expect?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Absolutely. Many of these things, by the time we unveil them or decide to roll them out, they've been kicked around and scrutinized for years. We have taken all the statistics that we possibly could compile over the recent years and looked at how these lineups would be.
The changes are very, very minimal on who makes or who does not make the field. It's really based around very low in the points, somewhere in the 40th to the 45th range. So it's a very, very minimal change as far as that goes.
Q. While you were considering the changes, in light of the current Earnhardt situation, not just because of that, I'm going all the way back to Davey Allison racing badly hurt 20 years ago, why not consider, or has it been considered, to allow in cases of medically documented cases of severe injury for a substitute driver to continue to collect points toward the championship if the primary driver is clearly and seriously hurt? My analogy is if Eli Manning goes down, the New York Giants wins continue to count. With NASCAR being such a team sport now, why not consider that?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, it's a fair question. But when a driver is out, the team does continue to get points towards the championship. That's why there's two separate points systems: one for the driver and one for the team itself.
If you look back over recent history, even this year there was a time that the 55 car with multiple drivers, their team actually had a legitimate shot of securing a place in the Chase, and it would have gained points for an owners championship. In other years that drivers were in and out of cars, those cars compiled parts towards their owners championship.
Those type of things can happen.
Q. But the owners championship, media‑wise, public‑wise, it's almost an afterthought to the big and glaring championship is what I'm talking about.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: But the facts are we have points systems for owners and points systems for drivers. If your star quarterback got hurt and was out of the game, they went for three touchdowns, 17 for 18 passing, that quarterback still doesn't get those statistics because he wasn't in the game.
Q. We get a lot of calls with excellent suggestions from fans that maybe in the hopper for NASCAR. At the end of the previous year do you say, Let's sit down and talk about the rules? How does all this come up? Put into perspective how much there is before you make a change and what you might be discussing for the future.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: That's a good question. Your fans always do a good job with that.
When we get to the point where we are today, this is a discussion, within reason, probably started in excess of two years ago on a lot of these points, whether it's the points system, testing, all of those things. We don't get together towards the end of the year to talk about these things. We start as the year begins, talking with our teams and stakeholders, we continue those conversations throughout the entire year. Roughly at midyear we start to narrow down our list of things that we think we could do to make it better for our fans but also for our race teams.
It takes a long time. We put a lot of thought into it. It's a lot of man‑hours in many of these things. These aren't decisions that are made in 60 or 90 days. These are decisions that take a year or longer to pull the trigger on.
Q. We've talked a lot about the qualifying format, the testing policy. The one we haven't talked a lot about is the maximum field set at 40 cars for Nationwide. Could you address that.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Absolutely. We feel to strengthen the ownership base, we really feel it's best served for us to reduce that field to 40 cars, and therefore it gives us an opportunity to put what we feel is a better quality field of cars in play at those Nationwide events.
Once again, it was not a decision that was made in 30, 60 or 90 days. These are things we talk about in great lengths for a great length of time before we pull the trigger on them. But we think it's something that will enhance the Nationwide events.
Q. On Cup qualifying, does that have to do with helping along the teams that really are second‑tier teams when they don't have much of a chance every week because they're 36th and below? And was there any thought of even reducing the Cup field from 43 to 40 or somewhere in between?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, we feel like the qualifying, opening that up, that helps lower the barrier of entry. It also makes the fact that the fastest guys are in the field.
There is a little insurance policy in there with six provisionals and a champion's provisional. We feel that will serve us well now as it has in the past. But so many times we see different events that have a lot of cars, quality cars. We felt like this new format would do us a better job as it relates to Cup.
Q. When you have these start and parkers that are off after 20 laps due to electrical, vibration, some of those things, why not reduce the field in Cup and keep Nationwide at 43?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, things aren't always the same on the surface as what they really are. But with the points provisionals going to six provisionals, based on the current points, you have to realize that those provisionals go to the first six eligible car owners. Those teams in the back will now have to race for those provisionals because they can get bumped out as we hand those out during qualifying.
So it's not just one single move. There's multiple moves in there that will strengthen our competition on the Cup side.
Q. Will this do you think help eliminate start and parkers?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: That's a relatively new term over the past few years. But when you look at the history of this sport, there have always been people that didn't run the distance, and it was their choice. It fluctuates throughout the seasons with sponsorships and opportunity.
So it's never been eliminated before, and I don't think it will ever be eliminated as we know it today. But if we can do things to put some incentive out there to race, I think people will race longer if the incentive is there to race longer.
There's more to it than just starting and parking. You're not going to do away with it, I don't think.
Q. Can you enlighten us with where you are on the 2013 car, a set package that you're going to give to the teams, what you feel you've accomplished so far.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We went to Texas last week. We had a pretty good test with our single‑car runs. We were with Goodyear at a tire test. We will have a handful of cars at Kansas this week starting tomorrow.
The big portion of the car is done. We're satisfied with that. Right now we're working on the combination of aerodynamics and mechanical grip, trying to get that balance out. When we finished with Texas, we know we needed to make some changes and address a different aero package a little bit. We'll continue to improve on that.
The ultimate goal is really to improve our racing everywhere that we can and get the cars to work better when there's multiple cars on the track at the same time.
We're close. Right now really it's a matter of finding a balance of the car. It's not anything big mechanically to change, it's just about working on the balance with spoilers and belly pans, splitters, things of that nature, things that are easy to change.
We'll continue to improve at our tests. So far everything is going pretty good.
Q. In Nationwide, in order to entice potential new OEMs, is it possible that NASCAR will look at incorporating B and C class cars into a secondary series instead of running the pony cars despite how sexy the muscle cars have been to car enthusiasts?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think the series is pretty healthy. We're having one of the best championship runs that we've had. I think the points system has been pretty good. You're seeing legitimate Nationwide drivers battle for the championship. It's been a great season and it's actually pretty healthy. Everybody is pretty happy with that part of it.
On your next question with B and C class versus the pony cars, muscle cars, it's a work in progress on how you integrate different types of cars and the rules packages that you put together. You have to try to do everything you can to maintain a level playing field obviously.
In my opinion, the cars that are racing against each other on our types of tracks that we race at, they should be like cars, meaning the field needs to be comprised of the same types of weight, the same types of safety, things like that.
When you mix different sizes of cars, once again, at the places that we race at, our high‑speed tracks, it's a difficult thing to manage, and it's best managed by having the vehicles as close to the same dimensionally as we can to help the level playing field and also for safety sake.
Q. Are you looking at incorporating road courses for the Truck Series next year, additional road courses for that series?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We are evaluating a lot of things. Trucks run road courses a number of years ago. There has been some interest by different groups to have the Trucks run at their venues. We continue to evaluate a lot of different places around the country, not just for Trucks but for Nationwide also.
As requests come in, we do track visits, sometimes we go off and we'll do an occasional one‑off test at different places, we're for doing it where it makes the most sense for our teams and we can put on the best show for our fans.
We're always open. We get inquiries and we do our best to sift through that and do what is best for everyone.
Q. At a meeting yesterday where teams met with heads of NASCAR, it came up the problem we have with intermediate tracks. Are you concerned with the new car coming out that we're going to have an issue trying to find a product that's compelling to watch on the intermediate courses, particularly after the Texas test where you said single‑car runs, they can race around each other? I understand you have a challenge trying to find a balance, but are we going to get there in three months?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, that's why we test. I think I said on one of the other questions, we continue to work on that. That's why we are testing, we are going off and doing these different things.
It's not any different than we did any other time we introduced something of this magnitude of change. So we're fortunate that we've got good teams that we test with. We are focusing on every racetrack, every type of track that we run at. The most visible is our mile‑and‑a‑half to our two‑mile racetracks. Obviously, that's the one that most people want to pick on.
So we've been at Texas, we'll be at Kansas, we'll be at Phoenix testing these things. We're been to Homestead a couple times over the past year on some different tests. We'll continue to work on that.
The good news is that we are testing and we have good teams we're testing with and good partners in Goodyear that are working with us on doing what we can for the best product.
Q. As a crew chief and car guy yourself, is there a quick fix for intermediate tracks? The compelling storyline is going to be fuel mileage, fuel mileage, fuel mileage.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Fuel mileage has nothing to do with the car itself. Fuel mileage only relates to when the last caution comes out. That doesn't matter if you're in a car, truck, a B, C class or anything. Fuel mileage is strictly based on when the caution comes out. It has absolutely nothing to do with aerodynamics or anything else.
The thing that we are working on is just to have the cars where they are comfortable to drive around each other where drivers can be racy. The fuel mileage thing is a non‑issue when you're coming down to what the car, the vehicle, everything else takes to race one of these races.
The fact of the matter is there's nothing on a car that changes a fuel mileage strategy. It doesn't change. At every racetrack that you go to, every crew chief knows when his last fuel window is and he knows when his second to the last fuel window is.
As the race unfolds, you evaluate what competition is. You understand that you very well could be in one of these rock 'em sock 'em races where you get a caution every 30, 40 miles, or you're in one of these races where it looks like it's going to be a pretty clean race. You start working on that.
Many sometimes, two sessions from the end, two fuel stops from the end, a crew chief is having his driver save enough fuel to get into the window on two stops from the end so his last stop is late enough so he's got enough fuel for a green‑white‑checkered. Those things happen, and it happened this past weekend, so it's on the forefront of everybody's plate here.
Yeah, we would all like to talk about a three‑wide finish every week. But at the end of 500 miles, you're coming down to a quart of fuel in a tank, sometimes that happens. It's not anything that we can fix, and not that it needs to be fixed because it's just a different style of racing at that point.
Q. The last few years NASCAR has had pre‑season testing at Daytona. Are you planning to have a test session at Daytona?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Absolutely. Daytona is critical to getting our season kicked off. Having four restrictor plate points races for Cup, the Shootout, the Duels, all those things, Daytona is a place we need to come and get things tuned up for the season. So that will happen at some point.
Q. So do you have dates for that yet?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Not off the top of my head, but I do know there will be three days that we'll be down there testing.
Q. When they come down to Daytona to test, that doesn't count against their four tests that you're allowing?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: No, that doesn't count. To that point, there could be times during the year that we have an event that we feel like we need to go in a day early, get some extra practice time. I know that the Nationwide and the Trucks will also have a few of those days where they go in early, and the Cup test at Daytona. None of the early days, nor Daytona, count as any of the test allotment.
Q. Going back to qualifying for the 500. In recent years, top 35 are guaranteed a spot. Can you say the top 36 are basically guaranteed a spot from this year to next year?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Absolutely not. They are not guaranteed. You're going to have to race in. There will be a number of cars that will be picked that will have the lineup based out of the finish of the Duels. There will be speed cars and there will be provisionals, then the past champion.
We're putting it back into the speed from qualifying day, and we're putting it back into the finishing order of the Duels in how you make the race.
Q. Has the top 35 rule outlived its usefulness to a certain degree?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: It serves a purpose. It's different when you look at the Nationwide and the Trucks because they have impound races and things of that nature. Early on when we looked at our top 35, we were going down a path of a more compressed weekend with our practices and qualifying, a number of the races were impounded. It's something that's served us well for a period of time. But like other things, such as testing, the testing ban served us well for a period of time.
Times change. We have to change with those. To go back and make the field the fastest 36 to get in the race, six provisionals and a champ's spot, we feel that's good. We feel opening the testing up where teams can go across the country and test at tracks we race at, we feel it's good for the teams but it's also good at the tracks that they have some action going on throughout the year as the teams move around the country testing.
Like many things, as we talked earlier, a lot of these things take a long time to get put on the burner. We talk about them. It takes a while to pull the trigger on it. But we feel what we've done for 2013 is best for everyone.
Q. People who have been fans of this sport for a long time are going to recognize some of these changes, feel familiar to people who followed the sport in '03, '04. Do you think people will embrace these given that so many people may be comfortable with them from years ago?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think they will. I think some of our newer fans that haven't experienced this type of format for qualifying, it will take them a little bit to understand and get used to it.
Quite frankly, I think our core fan, our hardcore fan, they will identify with this and they will identify with the need for cars to run fast to make the race. I think this is what they've probably been lacking or been looking for for a few years now.
THE MODERATOR: Robin, thank you for taking your time and joining us today.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Appreciate it. Any time.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you to the media for joining us on this call, as well.
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