NASCAR Media Conference
January 12, 2013
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Robin Pemberton.
Robin, we have three days under our belt here. What do you think so far of the car at Daytona?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I didn't get a chance to talk to anyone yesterday afternoon too much. All in all I think the test has really progressed quite nicely.
Teams yesterday with their drafting speeds looked to be where they need to be. Even though there was an incident there, I think it was a good opportunity for the manufacturers to look at the components they've built, the composite pieces and actually it was a good look at the new roof flaps, the systems, how everything worked.
Everything went pretty good from an overall view of it as far as how the cars react and things like that. So I'm pretty excited about the test and the success everybody's having with it, so...
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for some questions.
Q. 200 miles an hour, is that okay for Speedweeks? Are you okay with that number? If it gets over that significantly, is that problematic for you guys?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: No. We're in the ballpark. We know the teams will go back and they'll work, they'll bring a little bit better this, better that. So we feel comfortable with that.
The racetrack is coming to us a little bit. Speeds will fluctuate a lot. They'll be better on new tires. It will drop off as it goes. But we're right in the ballpark. We don't foresee any changes.
Q. Last year's test was sort of dominated with you guys making various changes and experimenting trying to find different packages in regards to the tandem and pack drafting. This year it seemed more of a hands‑off test as far as NASCAR was concerned. Would you agree with that assessment?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think we didn't forget the things we learned over the past year as it relates to the drafting and the pushing and things. This car and the setups, we built it and took a lot of those considerations that we've learned and put them into play.
Springs are softer, spoilers are smaller. We were ready to be hands‑on, but we felt like we did our homework on this working with the manufacturers and the teams and came down here and it was pretty straightforward. It feels good right now.
Q. Was there anything surprising that you discovered in these three days that you didn't expect or something didn't go the way you thought it would?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: No, no. Really, it was spot on. Speeds were there. You know, single‑car speeds are a little bit quicker than last year. That was a goal. Our pack speeds are the same or down a little bit. So that was another one of our goals.
We know that the teams will go back and work on their stuff. I anticipate the pole to be in the 196 range, maybe a little bit quicker. Depends on the weather.
Q. We heard even the teams that stayed today talking about a lack of inventory. Did they address that with you? Are they griping to you?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: No, it's just a fact that there's a lack of inventory. We know where we're at. It's on everybody's part as far as delivery dates on sheet metal, whether it's deck lids or hoods from every manufacturer.
When you look at the delivery dates on things, we should be in pretty good shape by the time we get through Speedweeks and into the first regular‑season race.
Q. How do you balance trying to figure out or predict how much they're going to gain on speed versus whether to make a plate change for when you come back in February?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: When you just look at the history. When you're down here with a large group, 34 cars over the couple days, it all looks and feels the same. You know that they'll go back, they'll bring back a little bit better with the engines, they'll bring back different cars, they'll tune on them a little bit.
We're comfortable with that. The days of coming back with plus 10 miles an hour have been long gone for a long time. We work with the teams pretty close. So we got a good handle on that.
Q. Speaking of the restrictor plates, with what you saw yesterday, the big accident on the backstretch, nobody getting up off the ground, we talked about that. Does knowing that all of that is working well influence or impact your all's thought process with regard to the size of the plates?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, and we think that we're in a good spot. It does help us as we make our decisions. We know that our guys, Daniel Honeycutt at R&D, has done extensive work in the roof lap development. They're not the same as they were in the old car by design, not square inches, not the mechanisms or anything.
It does help us. It gives us more margin where you don't have to react if you come back and speeds gain on you in a hurry.
Yesterday was a good test for us, all of us. Engineers built safety in the cars. The guys that were working on the chassis part of it. We do feel pretty good where we're at.
Q. As far as your expectations for the other tracks, could you talk a little bit about that?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We've put a lot of work into the mile‑and‑a‑half, the two‑mile, the unrestricted racetracks. We'll test at Charlotte next week. We've worked on the cars in areas that we have not worked on in the past for those open racetracks. There's more opportunity for downforce to be created down low in the splitter area with under‑body work that is cleaner air. Hopefully that will tend to allow the cars to behave better around other cars.
The air duct systems that we are allowing back into the cars, they haven't been around for probably 10 years or longer, 15 years, the air up underneath the car and using that for your cooling all help the car in traffic. We'll continue to work on that with our R&D group.
If there's things that we find along the way that are better for the overall competitor and the group as they race, we'll implement those as we go forward.
We feel like we're in a way better place than we were a year ago with a lot of different things, not just the speedways, but the unrestricted racetracks also. Remains to be seen when the cars get in the teams' hands and what they do with them at the racetrack. But we're overly optimistic it's going to be pretty good, really good.
Q. Brad Keselowski yesterday talked about, after the incident, that drivers were going to have to rewind, go back and forget the bump‑drafting, the two‑car tandems they've learned in the last few years. Was that your goal, something you're trying to do at the super speedways, or was that incidental in the development?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, we took that in consideration with the package here. The cooling, the inlets, the softer springs, the small spoiler. All of those things are in consideration of putting on the best race possible.
The push drafting, when it became the thing that you had to do, when it was new it was cool, and when it was a couple races old the coolness wore off of it. It's something that wasn't very normal for us.
As you saw us last year at this time, we left this racetrack drafting at 206 miles an hour and went back and made rule changes based on trying to minimize the advantage of doing that and minimize the appetite to do that knowing that if it was the fastest way around you would do that late in the race to win the race.
When we were working on the package for this car, we took all of those things into consideration because we know it probably wasn't healthy for any of us. Didn't look good. Didn't feel good. It wasn't really that exciting. Even though it was a lot more lead changes, it just didn't feel right.
Q. When you get your feedback from teams, do you plan now, maybe before Charlotte, having a meeting with all the teams and getting their feedback? Is it still just going to be this one‑on‑one in the garage area like you do now?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: No, we have weekly calls. We've done that quite regularly. During the early development, we had a call every week with the manufacturers. Then as we've launched the car, got off into the larger groups' hands, we do a weekly call, so all those questions are answered. It could be everything.
Virtually everyone that competes in the Cup Series has been on the call.
Q. To go back to the inspection process. We know that the teams have to submit chassis, bodies, et cetera, there in Charlotte. A lot of these teams left because they had one car. How intense is that process occurring now? What are the deadlines before each race that they have to have a car totally inspected before they can use it?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: It's not exactly that. The chassis are certified at the R&D center. You could have a hundred chassis stacked up in your facility waiting for body panels that come from the factories that are stamped.
The other day I was talking to OEMs. One had shipped over 100 complete sets bumper‑to‑bumper already. Another one was well over 100 sets shipped to competitors. Another one was just under 100 sets. There's well over 300 complete sets of sheet metal out there in the industry right now.
The only thing that is short is hoods from the manufacturers and deck lids that come from our supplier. We're on a pretty organized schedule for delivery dates on those. There's over 100 deck lids out there in service right now. There's prototypes, there's decks from other manufacturers that were built just to use for testing purposes and things like that.
We'll be on a shipping schedule that starts next Friday, 50 every Friday, so we should be pretty well handled by the time we head off to Vegas.
The hoods that come from the manufacturers, they had to pass tether pole tests, things of that nature, before they could go into production. There's far less hoods out there than there are deck lids.
The good news is, the way this car is organized, many of those parts and pieces, they can be swapped from car to car. Not the thing you prefer to do, but it's an opportunity to do that. All that was taken into consideration when we designed this and when we decided to do those two composite pieces. More often than not they get damaged and get thrown out.
To answer your question about inspection, we don't inspect the bodies at the facility, it's at the racetrack. They can come to the facility. We can run them through the templates, run them over the laser inspection platform that's there, but that's not a necessity.
The chassis being certified is the only necessity right now.
Q. What is the status on the chassis?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We started with chassis inspection last October, September. We inspect eight a day if we have to. We work weekends if we need to. That's not a shortage.
Many of the chassis, when we did the update, the roof structure update, that bar change that was in there, we didn't make them come back for recertification. We sent officials out to inspect that and then they documented and then they entered that into the database. So they didn't have to bring all of those back for that change once the change was done correctly.
Q. For clarification, can you go over why the deck lids are coming from NASCAR rather than being stamped out by the manufacturers? I know Jack Roush was building prototypes. I know there was a manufacturer somewhere down in South Carolina. Why are they coming from NASCAR specifically?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: The vendor is from South Carolina. It's Composite Resources. The deck lid is an area that is very important to the car. Over the past few years, it was becoming a science project, whereas if a deck lid can distort a certain way during a run, during the afternoon, it generates more downforce. That being said, then they became a piece that was only made at a race or two races, then it was thrown out. So that got to be labor intensive.
It was not predictable. It wasn't fair for some teams that had more resources than others that could afford to do that week in and week out when other teams could not.
So we knew it was going on. That was an area that as a group we felt it was healthier for the sport to have that one area controlled. It's a very small area, and actually it's the only area that we delegate, we hand out a piece for.
Q. What material is it made of?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Carbon fiber.
Q. Can you also go over the composites that go into building the new windshields.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: The windshields, it's the same material we have used in the past. It is just a laminate. It's two thinner sections of material that's laminated together. It's stronger.
We've done tests. Our group, John, in particular at R&D, he designs, comes up with a test process and designs the machinery to test it. We can shoot pieces of steel at this thing that are the equivalent of the weight of a connecting rod at over 200 miles an hour at this windshield, and that's how we did the test.
Many of those things that are done back there, John is the guy that designs and writes the program, does the test. The window nets in today's world for this year, they've been upgraded. There's a new system that he has designed that holds the window net in.
In the past, you could pull on the window net and the mechanisms, the brackets, would pull out of the car before the window net would fail. We are to the point now where we can hold the window net in and pull on it till the window net fails.
Some of the video we have is quite interesting when you see something as simple as shooting a nine‑ounce water bottle at it at 200 miles an hour would knock the window net out of the car. It can't happen now, so...
It's something they continue to do. We hit a lot of different projects like that.
Q. You said Monday that some teams were a little bit hesitant to draft because they'd be using the same car for the Charlotte test. Do you anticipate any teams missing Charlotte?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I haven't heard anybody that was missing the test, I really didn't.
Q. Talking to a crew chief who said he noticed with this new car a lot of old‑school setups seemed to be en vogue again. He's finding the five‑and‑five stuff from the early to mid '90s is working. When you hear that, how does that make you feel? Is that a sign of success that maybe the mechanical grip is working?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I have all my old notebooks, but I'm not going to go get them out (laughter).
You know, you don't know. Jimmy Fennig has probably got the most extensive file folder of setups from his experience out there.
I don't know if you measure success like that. But everything, it's just a temporary. They'll find something else to make it go. It goes full circle.
But I'm happy to hear some of that.
Q. Is there any chance that we'll hear any bickering among the different makes, be it from the crew chiefs or car owners, saying Ford is apparently in better shape than Chevy or Toyota? Any of that like we used to have in previous days where one manufacturer is complaining about the advantages of another?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: There's always that opportunity. But last year Roush, they dominated the restrictor plate races. People were complaining about that. So it's not anything new.
If somebody didn't complain about something, I would be in shock, to be honest with you. So it's coming. We just don't know from what area.
Q. An attempt at bump‑drafting yesterday got kind of ugly. Do you anticipate that drivers will not be trying that as much in the 500 because of the new noses and rear‑ends and alignments and such, or do you see it as something they might try late in the race when it comes down to the nitty‑gritty?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: When it comes down to the trophy, check and trophy queen, all bets are off. They're going to do anything they can do to get there for any or all of the above. That's just the way it always is here. That's what I expect.
I mean, Dale Earnhardt said he'd run over his mother a long, long time ago to get that trophy. These guys are no different.
So I expect them to run hard at the end. I expect them to do things and make sure that they're around for the end of the race, make sure they're positioned where they can get there at the end of the race.
This track is a little narrower than Talladega, so there's only room for three‑wide in some of these areas. It really chokes down. So I would expect business to pick up late in the race. There's no telling what you'll see.
Q. Are you bringing back trophy queens?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I wish somebody would (smiling).
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Robin.
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