NASCAR Media Conference
July 7, 2011
KERRY THARP: With this being kind of a special weekend here at Kentucky Speedway, the first time that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been on track, obviously we're having an extensive test session today here, we thought that it would be a good thing to bring in Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, and John Darby, who is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director.
At this time I'll just turn it over to Robin. Just a couple of general comments about the test session, coming here to Kentucky Speedway, and some of the feedback you're getting back from the race teams as they get set up for Saturday night's inaugural Quaker State 400.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Things are moving along smooth, as you would expect. I think there's a lot of teams that have been up here over the last decade or so testing when it was a place that you could test.
But we're getting good feedback. Tires are good. Grip level seems to be adequate. Surface seems to be doing what it needs to do. We've got an extra five cars on the ground that are doing the fuel injection test today. The feedback from all of those is everything's going according to plan.
Other than the fact we're here a day early and we have half a day on the ground running laps, everything seems to be as normal as it can be. We're having a good time and things are going well.
KERRY THARP: John, how important is it for the teams to be here and get these laps logged in order to be here for Saturday night's race?
JOHN DARBY: Well, Robin alluded to the fact that most of the Cup competitors have logged thousands of laps up here, which kind of gives them a little bit of a heads up about a brand-new facility to go compete at.
At the same time, as everybody knows, through seasons tracks age, surfaces change, just the general layout of the land, the garage areas and everything else is constantly changing. So it made a lot of sense to come up for some time, the teams to get really acclimated with everything here at Kentucky Speedway in an effort to be able to put on the best race we can on Saturday night.
KERRY THARP: We'll take some questions for Robin and John.
Q. Robin, what else has to happen with fuel injection before next season? What about more tests scheduled?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: You know, we'll see what the racetrack has planned. We think they've done a great job here with the facility over the past few years getting things updated, getting enough seats in to hold the capacity crowd here. I understand they're sold out and it will be standing room only. We're all looking forward to that.
For the rest of the year, we have a test scheduled at Phoenix that will be a tire confirmation test later in the year. That's about all we have on the schedule for right now.
We do have some repaves that are on the books for next year and the year after. So we're still working on the schedules for all of those.
Q. But you're satisfied the fuel injection process is going, how it's working so far?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Absolutely. You have to remember, as far as the fuel injection goes, many of the teams have been testing a form of fuel injection over the past two years, two and a half years anyways. A lot of our engine builders out in the field, they do build engines for other forms, other leagues. They do have experience with that. All the input that we're getting, all the feedback is things are seamless right now.
Q. Robin, with the fuel injection, the drivers, they're really not going to be able to feel a difference, the fans aren't going to be able to see a difference, right? Isn't it really about making the car more relevant to what they're selling on their street models?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I will say this: we wouldn't have done it if it would have been worse for us. This will be the same or better. We feel like our competition is the best that it's ever been. We'll put it up against anybody. This is just one more thing that we've tackled in the last year or so moving forward that will be more relevant out there.
Q. I don't think I've seen as many engineers at a news conference you have held forever. Talk about the competitive side of fuel injection, the competition side of it as the teams race to get it underhand. Also, talk about the cost of it. Is it true that it's up to $26,000 per car for fuel injection?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: You've been talking to car owners or engineers but not both at the same time.
We knew there would be some added cost to this. There's always upfront costs. Anytime you have a rule change, there's upfront costs. It's something we need to do. We need to do it for our sport, for our competition, and to be relevant out there. We knew this moving forward when we decided to take this on. Everybody knew the challenges. That's why the timeline was as long as it has been.
The easy part is, you know, anybody can do fuel injection, but to do it the way we've done it with our partners, with McLaren, all the manufacturers, Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Dodge, to keep a level playing field, that's the most important thing. Because at the end of the day it's about having a level playing field and our outstanding racing we've been able to put on. That's what's important to us.
Q. Can you talk about them working together rather than competing?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Everybody works together in the early stages on any project. Today's probably the stake in the ground where everybody goes off and does their own thing. I'm speaking for them. They're all in the room. You should circle up with them and get their opinions.
But in my opinion right now I think everybody feels comfortable. There's a few little things we've got to get buttoned up, but they're minor details. I think today, it's a line in the sand, and we'll move forward from here and let the competition begin.
Q. Last week was another two-by-two race at a restrictor plate track. Some drivers were critical of that style of racing again. Are you satisfied enough with it to the point where there's still no changes planned or do anything that would break that up, or is that being looked at or considered at all?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: That's a good question and it's a tough question. I think if you look over time, whether it was two-by-two, single-file, pack racing, whatever you want to call it over the last number of years, you will always have critics no matter what you do.
But we have had great statistics. We've had a lot of leaders, a lot of lead changes. The competition is great. I think it's too close to the checkered flag from the Coke Zero 400 other than us gathering our thoughts about that, you know. But I'm sure we'll put some folks together and we'll talk about it.
But there will always be those that will be critical. I never saw anybody or a driver get out of a car after a wreck and compliment how things were going. I haven't seen it yet.
So, you know, there's elements of that that are different. It takes a while to digest that. There's quite a few folks that opinions have changed over the course of time. It's only been since we started the repaved racetracks. It's a backhanded compliment to how smooth the surfaces are at Daytona and Talladega that this type of racing has evolved. It's not necessarily anything new on the cars, whether it be the Nationwide or the Cup cars. The Trucks haven't had any change in the last few years, and they're starting to master that drafting technique.
It's going to continue to evolve and we'll keep an eye on it and see what comes out of this. But we talk about all types of racing, not just restrictor plate stuff, when events get done.
Q. As far as the fuel injection goes, are you asking the teams to do anything specific today or are you talking to them about anything specific, or is it pretty much they're testing and you're not all that involved?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We're just getting their feedback. I mean, we're not telling them what to do. I would say that it's pretty broad right now what they can do. They're off experimenting with whatever they need to.
John would answer that question a lot better than I would in some of those areas.
But, really, it's about the teams, it's about the manufacturers, it's about the hardware, the software, and everybody out there competing right now.
KERRY THARP: John, you want to expound on that at all.
JOHN DARBY: You hate to just say it's as simple as logging laps. But really it's proving all the individual systems out. If you look at the whole package, right, fuel injection is way, way simpler than a carburetor from the design, all the moving little parts and functions that a carburetor does, to be replaced by an electronic module and eight injectors, it wasn't that it moved into a higher degree of difficulty, a lot more technology, but not difficulty.
Knowing after all the years of tuning and development they did on the carburetors, the teams know where the engines are optimized in regards to air/fuel ratios and everything.
Today it's a matter of working with their different maps, their tuning pages, their laptops, if you will, to get back to that point of optimization that they had with the package we're running now.
There's a lot of energy being spent in that direction. It's about looking at fuel pumps. It's about looking at different sensors. It's taking a lot of temperature readings from under the hood, inside the car, every place that there are components now that can fail because of heat, and doing everything they can do to ready themselves to be able to have all of those components survive and function properly through a 500-mile event as we head towards 2012.
Q. Tony Stewart said today he feels as if the track could use some more SAFER barriers. We've heard some drivers saying a repaving could be in its future. Where does NASCAR stand on those? Will you make any recommendations after this weekend?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: The racetrack, they've taken on a lot of work since they've announced a date here. As always, we'll evaluate the facility itself and where SAFER barriers need to go, as we do throughout the year at every racetrack. We'll see what the racetrack actually has planned for a surface. We know that it's got some age on it. We'll just have to see what the racetrack feels they need or can do moving forward.
Q. Is NASCAR plugging into the fuel injection cars today to see what they're doing?
JOHN DARBY: Absolutely. The one advantage I guess or the one additional feature to all of the fuel injection components is there's obviously the ability to log and record everything that happens during the process of today.
So, no, we don't have to stand over their shoulder to watch anything. We can walk in tonight, hook up, walk off with what we need to look at.
But the team also have that same ability, too.
Q. Recently Tony Stewart took a step ahead in self-policing in the sport. I'm wondering if he does that with your encouragement and support and how you look at the self-policing as it stands now?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: On or off the racetrack?
It's okay. You go through times where it's not everything you dreamed it would be. But I think all in all the averages are there. I'll just leave it at that. I think it's okay.
Q. On or off the racetrack, policing, can you define both? I mean truthfully, Kmart parking lot or...
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, Kmart parking lot or not. A little off-the-beaten-path question. I wasn't ready for that. But it's going okay.
Q. This is a practical question about the fuel injection. The module that the teams have to put in there, do they need like one for every engine? Does it last the life of the engine? How many will they need for each car or team or whatever?
JOHN DARBY: What we know is McLaren has brought to the table a piece that's very reliable, has a pretty good lifespan. So in its simplest term, right, you could buy one ECU and every week transfer it from car to car to car. What we know from experience, specifically Cup teams, they don't do that. You could feasibly race 38 races with two racecars, excluding damage, right? But you don't do that.
How many will you need? That's a very flexible question because obviously somebody like Roush-Yates engines that has close to 200 engines in service might need a few more pieces than a Penske operation that's only supporting two cars.
The fact of the matter is, yes, you could take one unit and continue to work with it weekly. But the habits that the Cup teams have, I don't see that happening.
Q. A bit embarrassed to ask this question with all the brilliant engineers here. When there's no carburetor, there will be no restrictor plate next year or you'll be able to electronically control what you do now? How will that change plate racing as we know it?
JOHN DARBY: The easiest and most economical way for us to accurately and across the board in fairness control or restrict the horsepower of the engine is with the amount of air that's introduced into it, okay? So we'll continue to do it that way.
Will it be in the form of what we know today's restrictor plate? Maybe, maybe not. We're looking at some other things. We more than likely won't go down the path of trying to restrict the engines through electronics because we have a much higher comfort level doing it in a mechanical way. It's the same for every engine that's on the racetrack type of fashion, which will be through some sort of an air restriction.
Q. Why is now the right time? Why is 2012 the right time to institute this technology as opposed to five, six, ten years ago?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think there's a comfort level with the manufacturers that we're dealing with today, the suppliers being McLaren. Also when you go back five or ten years ago, I think the architecture on the engines was quite different between all manufacturers. I think to keep the level playing field was going to be very difficult for us.
I think with everybody having new engines onboard, all manufacturers, and the work that we've done in the last three or four years on that to get the horsepower where it needs to be, where it's level and fair, now with the fuel injection, it's an easier transition for us.
JOHN DARBY: This is our first year in competition that we've had all four manufacturers competing with the engine architecture that was prescribed five years ago. You build the foundation of the house first, right? Now we've finally gotten to the point where the engine architecture is where we want it. It's much easier to advance to the next level of engine now.
Q. With Iowa rumbling about wanting a Cup race, are we still at the point where 36 is a number? If anyone is going to add a race, is it going to come to somewhere else?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We're pretty thin right now with what's available out there for off time or adding races. I mean, the statement has been made we are at the limit at 36, plus two non-points races.
As you've seen Atlanta move a date to here, we've moved things around over the past few years, whether it be Wilkesboro, Rockingham, California Speedway. Everybody knows the routine that those dates need to be moved around or traded amongst the ownership groups that are out there.
So we'll see what happens moving forward. But right now I believe the company line is we are, today, happy with the number of weekends that we spend at the tracks.
KERRY THARP: Before we adjourn, I'd like to recognize some special guests. Thanks to our partners here today, representatives from GM, representatives from Dodge, Ford, Toyota and TRD are with us on the manufacturers' side. Representatives with us on the exciting new venture of fuel injection are here from Holley, Freescale and McLaren. We appreciate all you men and women being here and all you do for our sport.
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