NASCAR Media Conference
April 11, 2013
KRISTI KING: We now welcome Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. Thank you for coming in this afternoon. We just heard from a couple of our drivers, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., and Paul Menard talking a little bit about the test today. Talk a little bit about the Gen‑6 car, obviously we tested the car here last year and are coming in a little bit early and testing the car here today. Just talk a little bit about that and being here at Texas.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, well, as everybody knows, we've had a few of these, and this is basically just a time for the teams to get a good handle on it and an opportunity to run data and things like that that they wouldn't ordinarily get a chance to do without burning a test.
But here at Texas, we were here early in October, early October last fall, and Texas is really one of the pivotal moments in the development of this car and the package that we wound up handing off to the teams to race this year.
As everybody knows, as we talked throughout last fall and over the wintertime that we'd been through a lot of iterations on the car with high downforce and low downforce and tire tests and things of that nature. And with the guys that we had here, Greg Biffle was one, I think Paul Menard was here, Kyle Busch, Juan Montoya and a few others, but they worked really hard at helping us develop the package, and this was‑‑ and it was a result of the test that those people help us put on here in the fall.
It was important for us, and it really set the stage for what we have for 2013.
We feel like the test is going well for the teams, and I think we're off to a pretty good start for the year for the package that we have, and it seems to me that the teams are pretty happy with what they've been handed off to start with.
Q. Can you give me your definition of an entertaining race and whether you think the new car has made the racing more entertaining this year?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, that's a personal opinion on what an entertaining race is. I mean, I've been here long enough to know that everyone has their own opinion, whether it's a photo finish, whether it's the last lap battle between two competitors, or there's some fans that have the ability to watch a race as the whole race takes place, which is from the first place car to whoever is on the racetrack, the 43rd place car. So everybody has an opinion on what an entertaining anything is, an event, a concert, a race, a sporting event. You know, just like a home run derby is entertaining to some and a no‑hitter is entertaining to others at a baseball stadium. So you won't get an answer out of me because I just have an opinion like everybody else.
Q. Any tweaks coming down the pipeline?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I don't think so. I think we're in a fairly good spot. The teams‑‑ one of the things we've learned over the years is if you keep moving the targets, people have a tendency to‑‑ it's harder for them to keep chasing that. We feel like the playing field is fairly level. It looks like everybody has an equal opportunity to compete, and we don't feel like that the teams are‑‑ they're done developing their own packages for this car. And as long as the input is‑‑ it's still pretty rock solid as far as being positive, they've got plenty to work with, we feel like there's no reason to move the target on them right now.
Q. You mentioned the Texas testing was pivotal. Just out of curiosity, what made it pivotal?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: This was one of the tracks that we had the opportunity to go to with Goodyear, with a number of different tire combinations, and we were able to put cars on the racetrack in groups and run with low downforce, high downforce, and some different tire setups.
At this point‑‑ at that point during the test, it became quite obvious to us that the cars race better around each other with more downforce than they did with less downforce. Greg Biffle and Juan and Kyle and the others that were here worked very hard at whatever it took to run cars around each other. As people have pointed out over the years, some of the‑‑ that in traffic and at some of these high speed mile and a half racetracks, it's hard to race around another car. And so we've taken measures to help that, cleaning the cars up a little bit. It's probably gone a little bit under the radar, but we've removed the roof camera for our high speed racetracks because it does create downforce that you have when you're by yourself, and you don't have that downforce created by that camera pod that's on the roof when you're in a group of people.
So there's things that we worked on on the car along those lines, helped clean the car up a little bit, and to help it run better in traffic.
But it was here that we realized where we needed to be heading with the downforce situation.
Q. One of the drivers said a few weeks ago that he had heard at least some drivers kind of lobbying for a smaller spoiler on this car. Is that something that you're even looking at at all?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I have not heard one driver talk about less spoiler. I have heard some say, well, maybe they may take some spoiler off the back. I've heard that statement by one or two, but I think they were just kind of hedging their bet. But to be quite honest with you, there's not been anybody that's come in and said, take the spoiler off, or less spoiler.
Early on when we introduced this package, there was the opinion that‑‑ just an opinion before they were able to drive the car that we may‑‑ that we may have to take spoiler off, or the spoiler was too much. But what's kind of been forgotten about is the fact that the way cars were constructed for 2012 and before with cars and yaw throughout the racetrack because of trailing arm and mechanical setups, the way that the deck lids and things of that nature were fabricated that achieve more downforce on the racetrack than what you would normally read in the wind tunnel.
So I think we've matched it pretty good. We're a little bit better, but I think that there was some obvious opinions early on what needed to happen, but that hasn't‑‑ it hasn't really come back to us like that.
Q. Can you speak specifically about tire wear and what you might have seen after the first practice, because talking to Goodyear they said that since they had the tire tests coming back here there's more downforce on these cars now, and so it's‑‑ they didn't quite know what to tell us as far as what to expect.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, and also as tracks age, they take on a little different character as everyone knows.
You know, we had seen excessive tire wear on the right sides here, and in particular the trucks, and so the tire that we have for the Cup cars this race is something that had already been run here and proved out in the trucks. We ran it on the test here when we were here last October. It's a little bit tougher compound. But as this track continues to get time on it, it tends to eat tires a little bit more aggressively than it had, which is a good thing. It helps‑‑ it really helps what a lot of people like in a way. It's another element of tire management by the drivers and the crews and strategies and that. And I think it's quite‑‑ it's a thing that people like. They like that different element of strategy as it relates to tire wear and your management.
Q. This is sort of related to the answer you just gave. After last weekend's two races at Martinsville, it seemed like many drivers were raving about tires, and in particular the tire wear. Several people seemed to think that that was headed in the right direction of being able to produce better quality racing. Do you expect to see more of that as the season goes on, and did Goodyear, as far as you know, learn anything from what happened last weekend that can carry over into some of the other tracks? I know it probably depends a little bit on the track size.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, it does, and it's not‑‑ and Goodyear didn't need to learn that. Goodyear knows that. But when you‑‑ and Goodyear is pretty aggressive on their track test and tries to develop a tire for every individual racetrack, and they cross over sometimes. You may have a tire that you run here that you may run at Homestead or something like that.
So they know what they are shooting for. Martinsville, I think we come out of there, and we said, we don't need to make a change. That's a good tire. California. And it's really the tire/racetrack combination because the surfaces are a little bit different everywhere you go. They're not the same age, they're not always made out of the same material, and so you hear drivers sometimes talk about once we get a couple races on or something like that that it'll continue to get better, the racing, and that's because of the relationship of the racetrack surface and the tires. Everyone likes for the tires to wear and fall off, across the board, and it's not something that is easy to do and you can achieve.
The high tech surfaces today take high tech solutions to get that to happen, and it doesn't always happen. Sometimes Mother Nature plays a role in that, and we'll see when we get to Kansas. It's another great surface. It's new, and it'll‑‑ hopefully where it's located, it'll age nicely and give us an opportunity to continue to put on great races there, and it'll just get better with time.
Q. We talked to Greg Biffle last night and he kind of reflected what a lot of the drivers are saying. We go from where they didn't really know what the Gen‑6 car would do to now they're very excited to see once we figure it out more what we will see. Do you learn a lot from tests such as today in that direction or is that mainly a test for the teams, and where do you think it's going as these guys figure this car out?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: When we're at this point, it's up to the‑‑ it's important now that we've handed the car off to the teams for the teams to go in and do their development. I mean, they're the experts. We can just‑‑ we can only take it so far. The difference with this go‑around with the new car than any time in the past is it was so much buy‑in all along. I mean, we've tested this car for over two years before we hit a points race. Some of it nobody knew where we were at, and we were at Homestead a few times and nobody knew that we were there, and we were other places.
And teams spent a lot of time, a lot of effort. We had a lot of backing. And I've got to hand it to Richard Childress and Jack Roush and Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and all of those folks, Michael Waltrip Racing. They did a tremendous job when we said we need cars and we need to go to the track, we need to test, we piggy‑backed with Goodyear, and historically Goodyear could go test with two teams, three teams and a backup team. All last year they allowed us to go to the racetrack, and it wasn't‑‑ many times we had six or seven or eight teams. So it's as expensive to run a test as it is to go run a race. But everybody knew that it was very important to get it right, and we had great input from the teams. We worked on mechanical things right alongside with aerodynamics, and we put good science to it with really smart people in the industry, manufacturers and the teams.
There was many engineers that worked their own time on weekends to do work for us. It was nothing for me to call a friend of mine that worked on one of the teams and say, I need you to look at this, and they went and looked at that, and then they would‑‑ they were open enough knowing that we would share information amongst the larger group, because at this point in time it wasn't time to take the gloves off yet like it was from Daytona to today, it was a time to do development work, so they all had something that they could start with and work with so they could put on great races. And I think we're off to a great start.
The problem I have is I like racing wherever it is in the field, and I honestly think we've had some of the best racing we've had in a decade. I mean, they're really hard racing. Vegas was a great race. People were worried that Vegas wasn't‑‑ Vegas was an outstanding race. Best race we've had there. California Speedway, best race we've had there. It was an opportunity for us to start over in many ways, shapes or forms because we had everyone working together, so everyone started at a higher level when we handed this car off, very different than what we've done in the last decade.
Q. You do have the Goodyear tire test at Daytona next week. Do you know the aero package that you're going down there with?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Same, same package. You know, as Goodyear continues‑‑ once again, like I said a minute ago, the combination of track surface and tires, you know, the surface continues to change, the tires need to change with them. And so we feel‑‑ and even going into Daytona in February, we had a little bit of a hint that it was time to get after the tire combination again when we were down there and testing. And so we had already‑‑ Goodyear had already put it on the schedule to test to try to get a new tire as soon as they could for that racetrack, because as it wears it's going to need more grip.
Q. You just mentioned Kansas Speedway, and I guess the Roush drivers were there a week or so ago. Have there been any other‑‑
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Maybe. I don't‑‑ the teams get their tests, the organizations get their tests. What you'll see probably throughout the summer is they'll be around the country doing whatever they need to do with our new revised test policy that gives them an opportunity.
Q. I guess my question is we've been through a heck of a winter there.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Good for you. We've watched it on the news, you know.
Q. Have you gotten any feedback from‑‑ this weather in particular, does it accelerate the development of this track or hurt it?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: It's always‑‑ on a new surface, it's always good to get some weather on it. And it's hard. I mean, I know Kansas, it was one of the newest tracks that had to go through one of the earliest repaves based on the fact that it goes through this very cold and very hot summer. It's probably harder there than it is at maybe Michigan or something like that. We didn't get any feedback from the teams, and that's their private test. If there's anything, they would have maybe informed us as this car continues to‑‑ looks like it's a little bit quicker than where we were last year, then rpms might need to get rolled back. We rolled them back here a little bit, and there's a few other places that we'll have to keep an eye on and make sure the rpm is not too high.
If you're a track owner, you don't want to have to go through and repave too many times. But if you're a competitor, you like a surface that's got a little age on it because it puts something else in your control, which is tire management, which is what you saw at Martinsville. It took a lot of that.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the new car. Is it possible that it's become a great equalizer because you have single car teams such as Casey Mears, Kurt Busch, obviously he had problems last week and dropped six positions, but before he was up in the top 15, Finch, you have three single car teams that usually would be out in oblivion. I know it's only six races into the season but they all seem to be holding their own against the mega teams.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, it's hard to really put your finger on. I mean, I think if there's something that you take ownership in that you want to point towards being positive or whatever, but any time you reset it, there's opportunity for somebody to do a better job than others to get out there.
But one of the things that we do have this year that's not car‑oriented, which is the inspection platform. And when you had these mechanical measurement devices and tolerances that enabled well‑funded teams to get everything to the last nth degree and not all teams could afford to do that or would even take a chance at doing that, with special built cars that had some tolerances that were specially built into them. Some of the feedback that we got and continue to get is the laser inspection platform has actually helped a lot of the teams where they wouldn't have to go into so much of a gray area with the risk of not being able to compete.
So it's helped‑‑ that part of it may have helped some of it. But we have gotten some good positive feedback from a lot of the organizations that has made life ‑‑ as complicated as it looks, has made life a lot simpler for them.
KRISTI KING: Robin, thank you very much for your time this afternoon.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|