NASCAR R&D press conference
GARY NELSON, NASCAR Managing Director of Research and Development
JOHN DARBY, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Director
BRIAN DeHART, NASCAR Busch Series Director
WAYNE AUTON, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director
GARY SMITH, NASCAR Director of Event Logistics
Part 3 of 3
Q: John, what would the racing look like on the racetrack for you to say we have accomplished what we want to accomplish in terms of the competition? In other words, at what point would you think would say okay, we don't need to mess up with the rules anymore, we have got it like we want it?
JOHN DARBY: I think our feeling right now is that the racing is pretty good. But we also understand that some of the inherent problems that come from too much of one thing - the trends in competition on the racetrack that are undesirable. Obviously, we work really hard to promote side-by-side racing and at least to provide the opportunity and abilities for a faster car to pass a slower one in front of him. That's the goal of everything we do is surrounding the Competition Department.
The changes will be small enough and slow enough that we won't see a drastic difference on the racetrack. Obviously with the first adjustment and probably not the second, but as we continue down the path in the evolution of this trade-off between aero dependency versus mechanical dependency, what we'll start to realize is buzz words will start going away like aero-push and aero-loose and all that, and it will be, hopefully, back to the days of the driver that maybe abuses his right front tire and now has a push because he ran the right front tire off the car instead of the lack of air holding the right front tire together. So it going to be a slow process and understand that when we met to make all these moves in this movement, and continue to race 38 times a year, so that's part of the reason the process has to be slow is because we don't want to see a drastic change on the racetrack. The merits behind it are more to address some problems that we see coming at us that could potentially distract from what we are doing on Sunday today.
MIKE HELTON: One of the challenges that NASCAR has that other professional sports does not, is the mechanical aspect of our business. And one of the reasons we have had this R&D Center now is understanding that for 50 years the complexities of all that because whenever there is a rule made - and our rule book is not very thick - but whenever there is a rule, when it particularly relates to the car which is only half the rule book - the teams, the competitors, the participants go to work on how to live within that rule, but to expand or tweak or take a benefit from it that someone hasn't found out yet. That's the nature of our sport. You do that with the complexities of the equipment added to it; the advent of understanding aerodynamics; the advent of technologies, creating materials that we have never seen or heard of yet; the advent of the safety mechanics becoming now into engineers with the street smarts and common sense of a safety mechanic, but the technical ability of someone to use a computer that we can't even pronounce. Those are challenges for us to police the sport. So every time we think we have got -- we have got this box built, we find out that it's a balloon full of water and we can't find the cork. That's a challenge for us. That's going to be a challenge for us. That's why we invested, in part, in addition to the safety, the competition and the economics of this sport is important to us. And answers that seem simple to us come out not to be. So the answers are more complicated and complex in order to find them. That's why we have got this building, this group sitting up here. We have got three national series, an R&D Center, and safety things represented functions that we never managed before. We have got people David Hoots and Steve O'Donnell, Karen Masencup, Joe Garone, Steve Peterson, Bill Erskine, Carl Wolf, we have got people in this building whose functions are to stay ahead of the game. Those are challenges. It makes our sport, I think, a lot more complicated than any other professional sport. And certainly offers a great more opportunity for debate, if you will, with this. They haven't changed, with the exception of maybe going from wood to aluminum and in some cases, cork baseball bats. They haven't changed dimensions of the diamond. They haven't changed the dimensions of the basketball or the court or the height of the goal or the football field. But our world changes with our elements that we play our sport out with constantly; sometimes ten times a day. That is a challenge for us. And it is hard for us to keep our hands around that.
Q: Could you address the aerodynamic and tire package for Daytona? Are you dead set on those parameters? Gary, any movement toward looking for a formula, that would be across the board, that would allow for the removal of restrictor plates such as maybe a smaller carburetor.
JOHN DARBY: Traditionally, as we approach Speedweeks in a brand new season, we like to approach it with a package, as you mentioned, that we have at least had the opportunity to use in competition and feel pretty comfortable with. The package for the NEXTEL Cup Series going to Daytona, in just a couple of weeks, is identical to what we used in Talladega in October of 2003. What that does; not just from NASCAR's side, but the competitors can approach a new season with a package that there's already a little bit of a comfort zone in it in the fact they have already used it; they have seen it, they have been shown that it works.
And are actually pretty excited after spending the two weeks at testing that we had in Daytona in anticipation of the different characteristics that there are at Daytona versus Talladega, I am pretty excited; I am looking forward to the Daytona 500. It is going to be a heck of a race.
Q: Wayne, you have been rather quiet. This is the first year that the trucks body on the four models have been all matched up. Briefly take us through the process of getting to where you are at and then you have had pretty aggressively off-season of testing, are you satisfied thus far in the way things have meshed up with the trucks?
WAYNE AUTON: The process that's got us to the point that we're at today we started about three years ago with Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford of trying to get the trucks closer together. The perception out there that one truck was always better than the others so we started about three years ago with it; then with Toyota coming into the fold this year, it seemed to be the right time to do it with the four manufacturers working together, it became a reality and so far we're pretty pleased with what we have seen; went to Talladega in December with ten trucks, two or three at least, makes. Done a good test down there in December with the new Sunoco fuel, then going to Daytona and doing the test also, right now we're pleased with what we have seen with all four makes.
Q: I had a question on restrictor plates that wasn't answered.
GARY NELSON: My answer was the same as it was when I was a crew chief, I don't like them. I didn't like it when I was a crew chief. When I got this job at NASCAR I said I was going to get rid of them. I am still trying. Haven't found anything better. What we have done in recent years is if we're going to use restrictor plates, make sure that we do the best possible job we can do to eliminate any perception that there's one different or something like that. So our folks here take it very seriously. They look at them with microscopes. They flow bench (PHONETIC) every plate. They pack them in sealed containers. They handle them so carefully to just to make sure that restrictor plates are as good as they can possibly be. But that doesn't stop us from trying to figure out ways to accomplish the same thing a different way.
And there's been a lot of ideas that we have kicked around and occasionally one will stick around for a year or two, but ultimately we always find that going back to that restrictor plate is pretty simple, pretty easy and is pretty well understood by the competitors.
Q: I know that this is not a Playoff we're going into but in the Chase of the Championship during Playoffs in other sports there's so much attention on the officiating not making the decision in a Championship. For John and/or Mike, what sort of breakout discussions in preparing data and information that you had on how officiating might affect rain, penalties. One competitor said all heck would break loose at Richmond. Of course, there is going to be a lot of intensity not affecting somebody's points going into the Chase for the Championship.
JOHN DARBY: Our main focus throughout that whole process is the fact that we have 36 events in a season that competitors are able to earn points and for us to do our job correctly and accurately in policing the sport, we have to approach race No. 1 with the exact same accuracy, professionalism and consistency as we do race 36. What happens in between those two, it goes on the same as it does from the beginning and the end. Personalities are involved. It's only nuts and bolts and car numbers and inspections.
MIKE HELTON: Let me add to that, John is absolutely right and that's why on Tuesday we said that this is not a Playoff. Expanding on John's answer just a little bit, one of the strongest programs that the R&D Center has been working on for a year now is -- Joe Garone is our Director of Officiating. (Inaudible) -- was developing a very intense and a very detailed and a very well-organized method to train officials so that; particularly in our national series, but all through NASCAR, that the individuals who are officiating this sport do it the same as each other and do it the same every weekend with every series. That's important. I think that's a responsibility that NASCAR should take and be sincere and very conscious of and we're doing that. That consistency of response by NASCAR in the officiating of the sport is a big issue to us. It begins day one in Daytona and it should be identical every race that we run until we're through in November. It doesn't matter if it is Richmond, New Hampshire; doesn't matter if it is Daytona 500 or Bristol, at every one of these races, by everybody we have, and the title official, will be done the same. Every crew chief that sees a different personality in his pit box should have confidence that his particular team, his driver is going to be policed the same way as they were the last time and next week is the same thing. It doesn't matter if it's the 25th race or the 32nd race. Our job is to do it correctly and do it consistently. So that everybody understands, that that's the way NASCAR does it.
Q: John, situations that have come up; particularly over the last two years, where there is part of a penalty for use of improper parts or rules violation, a driver has lost 25 points in the standings. I am wondering under the new format, as we close in for race 26, if the threat of that penalty doesn't lose some of its sting as the spread develops, normal spread develops among the Top-10 drivers knowing that there points are going to be arbitrarily fixed at a certain number anyway, have you thought through that scenario and any alternatives to that penalty?
JOHN DARBY: Again, there's 36 races for the season. The key or the important thing is that after all 36 races are looked at in the same light. To give you more of the answer I think you are looking for, we started using car owner and driver points as part of the penalties because we evolved to a point it was too hard to figure out what was too much money because everybody has such different ranges of it and what $10,000 may mean to one person, doesn't carry that same meaning to the other. But through consistency we know that every point earned pretty much carries the same value across the board through the teams. With that being said, the point will obviously become a little bit more valuable at certain parts of the year. Understanding that NASCAR penalties are a reaction to an infraction, they are not something that we woke up and decided to write. It puts a lot bigger responsibility on each individual team and crew chief to make sure that they have the understanding and apply the NASCAR Rule Book to what they do even more because of the effect that a loss of those points could have, if they were involved in an infraction.
MIKE HELTON: Adding a little bit to that, it seems like NASCAR has got a lot of changes in it, but what does doesn't change is its philosophy in policing the sport. I think history shows that whatever reaction, as John mentioned, we had to an infraction, if that doesn't work, we'll change the reaction. So if 24 races into it, the guy doesn't mind losing 50 points or 25 points, he might mind losing 500 points. We'll react appropriately, not overwhelmingly or not to the point that we don't think we have to, but if, as John mentioned, we found that there was the possibility certainly that a guy wouldn't mind paying a $100,000 fine to win a race that paid a million dollars in today's world. He didn't want to lose points and he didn't want to go -- whether it was his fault or not the only two point systems we have are the drives and the owners. That's where we go to take them from when something happens. But if 25 points is not enough for the 26th race, we may have to adjust it.
Q: Can you tell us when the Car of Tomorrow might actually become the Car of Today and talk a little bit about what you are trying to accomplish and what will be different with it?
GARY NELSON: Certainly elements of it are applied on the Car of today so what I was saying a minute ago is a lot of it shows up instantly, or seems like it. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes, but when we come up with an idea that fits, if it will apply, if it will fit on a car, we go for it right away. The double spindle tethers that we did last summer, happened in a matter of days after the Talladega race, I guess it was in the spring, the hood tether changes, the fire bottle addition, all of those things are called Car of Tomorrow parts. But when you look at the bigger greenhouse or other elements that we're working with -- that don't just apply. You can't just put it on as an option and you can run it if you want or you don't have to, because it upsets the balance of aerodynamics, those are the kind of things that you kind of put on the shelf and say we have done the study we have worked on it, it has this effect, if we want it, it's there; if we want to wait a while, we can wait awhile.
So we're flexible enough to continue to do research and as we learn, keep those ideas and those projects that are done on the side and bring out the project that will fit, I think it's pretty neat overall, the timeline, it's pretty hard to say, but we started off as a five-year project about a couple of years ago when we first said let us design a Car of Tomorrow. So we're a couple of years into it and we'll see how it goes.
Q: Any thought given to eliminating private testing and maybe going to a limited number of open tests in an effort to maybe reduce the cost to teams?
JOHN DARBY: We did modify the test policies this year. Hopefully NEXTEL Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series. What we found and Mike made light of something earlier that when we were talking about the box of parameters that we were very hopeful we may some day achieve that turns into the water balloon, the competitors approach a test policy or testing restrictions much in the same manner. We restrict the amount of testing that can be done at the facilities that schedule NEXTEL Cup and NASCAR Busch Series events. And what happens is the teams go outside that box, if you will, and continue to test at will. If the test policy is purely designed with the car owners' budgets and wallets in mind, it seemed this year to make a little bit more sense to expand their opportunities, the facilities that we actually compete at so that No. 1, they receive a real value of the test. No. 2, we may receive a value of having a better race on Sunday. But in trading the cost from a test that would be at a facility that we don't compete at and applying it to the one that we do, just made a little more sense. That's why the change was made.
JIM HUNTER: I want to thank all the people at Lowe's Motor Speedway for including us on the tour. We appreciate it.
VOICE: I want to offer my thanks and I think I speak on behalf of everybody in here, Jim, for you and Mike's leadership in opening this up to the media tour and having us coming in here twice and being so open, and stand there - it's not easy to be sitting in these chairs up there and not knowing how many daggers are going to come into you. We appreciate that very much, and we appreciate your leadership, Mike, on this and owning things up. I do have one final thing to say this stage and these lights, I see where my sanction money is going.