Hunter, Pemberton, Darby - NASCAR teleconference, part 1

NASCAR Teleconference: Jim Hunter, Robin Pemberton and John Darby April 27, 2009 An interview with: JIM HUNTER ROBIN PEMBERTON JOHN DARBY JIM HUNTER: Good afternoon, everyone. In regards to Sunday's late race incident at Talladega ...

NASCAR Teleconference: Jim Hunter, Robin Pemberton and John Darby
April 27, 2009

An interview with:
JIM HUNTER
ROBIN PEMBERTON
JOHN DARBY

JIM HUNTER: Good afternoon, everyone. In regards to Sunday's late race incident at Talladega Superspeedway, it's extremely unfortunate that a few fans suffered minor injuries. No one wants anyone to get hurt while attending one of our events and our thoughts are with each of the fans injured this weekend.

Safety is, and always will be, NASCAR's No. 1 priority, and we are glad that each of the safety devices at Talladega yesterday worked properly, including the roof flaps and the catch fence. As most of you know, we are constantly evaluating safety initiatives. It's something we do every day we are at the racetrack, and it's something we do every day at the R&D center.

We tried letting the competitors police themselves when it comes to blocking and bump drafting. After reviewing all of those procedures, we might have to start making some judgment calls of our own and penalize, issue penalties for drivers who blatantly block and abuse the bump drafting.

We are going to take whatever measures we need to in order to ensure the races are as safe as possible for everyone.

And with that, we'll open it up for questions. We've got our vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton with us, and we have got our Sprint Cup Series director John Darby with us. Thank you.

Q: I guess this would probably be for Robin. From what Jim is saying, does that mean you attribute the accident on the last lap to blocking, and if so, what types of penalties would you be considering? Are we talking points penalties or would it just be position maybe on the track?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think what happened, guys are racing for the finish, and it's obvious they are doing whatever they can do to get to the start/finish line.

I think from a goal standpoint, you're looking at intentionally issues during a race as it relates to blocking or being aggressive driving and take it to a different area of the racetrack; say it was the backstretch, those are more easily identified, and I would say that they would be more along the lines of a procedure penalty during the race or the event itself.

Q: Do you consider last night then blocking or aggressive driving?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think it was a combination of both. They were in bounds, or above the yellow line, and I would say that Carl was doing everything he could to try to maintain the first place coming across the coming across the line, and the guy was trying to win the race was running second. That's what these guys do.

Many times they come together trying to win a race, whether it's Martinsville or Talladega. I would say they both have some ownership in it.

Q: I imagine this is either for Mr. Hunter or Robin or both: I'm a little puzzled, the focus you all are talking about is the decision making on the part of the drivers, rather than the safety of Talladega itself and restrictor plate racing, specifically. Do I infer from your owning remarks and Robin's response that NASCAR sees no reason to look at other options for making the racing at Talladega safer for drivers and fans alike, and that what you are saying here is that this is the fault of the drivers?

JIM HUNTER: Let me go back. This is Jim Hunter.

Q: Of course, yes.

JIM HUNTER: Let me go back to what I said in the opening statement.

We will take whatever measures we need to in order to ensure the races are as safe as possible for the drivers and the spectators. I don't recall trying to blame anything on anyone.

Q: If I could continue, how can you say that each of the safety devices worked properly if fans ended up being injured? And quite wonderfully, no one was hurt seriously; I'm sure that's not a risk NASCAR wants to take twice a year at Talladega.

JIM HUNTER: I think you're absolutely right. One of our primary goals over the years is to build a restraining fence that keeps the cars and parts and pieces out of the spectator areas. And nothing is bullet proof from yesterday from what we saw yesterday, the fence, the retaining fence did what it was supposed to do; it threw the car back on the racetrack. There was some debris that went in the grandstand that, fortunately, did not invoke serious injury.

So we will analyze the fence and make sure that it did what it was supposed to do. We think it did. If there's something that we come up with, as we analyze this accident, we will certainly put it into play. We will make it as safe as we humanly can.

Q: Regardless of the cost?

JIM HUNTER: Yes.

Q: The video seemed to indicate on the 99 wreck that the situation was exacerbated when it sort of got punted extra by the 39 car; but, it also seems in the video that the 99 car lifted up from the rear after it got turned around to allow it to be punted by the 39 car. Robin, specifically, does the Car of Tomorrow have aerodynamic differences from the old car that need to be looked at to help keep it on the ground? And even more specifically, will the rear wing be looked at as a possibility of causing some uplift in the car when it gets turned backwards like that?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, there was a lot of effort put into this before before this car took to the track. Actually, this car is better than the previous car. And what you saw, if when you look at the 99 car, the roof flaps deployed as it got turned around, and the car started to set back down, and then the 39 hit it.

One of the things that attributed to this is generally when the car turns around, it's got a car that the cars behind it are not still accelerating and trying to keep their speed up, like as the 09 did trying to obviously get around the 99.

So it probably didn't scrub as much speed off, it came around, and quite quickly, and didn't scrub as much speed off as it needed to. But the roof flaps deployed, and the car started to set back down, and as the 39 came into the picture, you know, it punted the 99 car, and that's what got it up into the fence.

Q: So are you satisfied right now that because it was sort of a one , two punch like that, that nothing necessarily needs to be looked at about the rear wing or the initial in the one , two punch, the one punch, as it were, the initial lifting of the car, are you satisfied that things will pretty much stay status quo about that?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, things will not forever be status quo. We will continue to look at things, but this car is better suited than the old car is, and you know, we will continue to look at things. And, quite frankly, these situations that come up from time to time are a one off, and things that you don't necessarily foresee, and they are hard to re create.

So we will take this and we will evaluate everything the best that we can. But to go back to the original part of your question, there was a lot of emphasis, a lot of thought, a lot of work that went into this car, where it's got better lift off speed, tire lift off speed than its predecessor, and that is all taken into account.

Q: You said that you guys would take "whatever measures we need to ensure the races are safe." Would that include changing the racetrack, perhaps looking at changing the configuration or banking at Talladega, or is it limited to just the race cars?

JIM HUNTER: I don't think it's limited to just the race cars. I think the racetrack itself is a fast racetrack. It's a smooth racetrack, and it's certainly wide, wider than any other racetrack we race on.

So from time to time we have to pave the racetrack and do other things at the racetrack. Like we have made a lot of improvements in the catch fence from where we started out years ago after Bobby Allison's accident there, and we will continue to look at everything.

Q: Dale Earnhardt, Junior said after the race that he wished that drivers could get away from each other a little bit more, but the only way that would be possible is if they were not running restrictor plates, and I assume that's not possible if the banking remains at 33 degrees. Could you look at changing the banking so you could take the plates off?

JIM HUNTER: Well, I'm going to let Robin or John answer that question. But I'm going to precede it by saying that the banking at California is lower than Talladega, and the racing at California, for an example, has been criticized by most of the members of the media.

JOHN DARBY: I don't believe it I think it's very easy to understand that part of the function of the speeds and having to use restrictor plates at both Daytona and Talladega is because of the amount of banking in the tracks.

Flattening the racetrack, sure, that would put us in a situation where you could run without restrictor plates, but I don't see that as a real viable option.

I think we know I think we understand today that the speed of the cars remains safe. I think the safety efforts that's been made, not only to the cars, but the tracks that surrounds the races at Daytona and Talladega, have proved effective, and they will continue to be improved as we go forward and as we learn more.

I also believe that it goes without mention that the most exciting races that we have today are both at Daytona and Talladega. That's a big part of our sport, and those two tracks have been a big part of our sport for many, many years.

I think there's more value in continuing the efforts, our safety efforts at those tracks, than turning those two very historical, very exciting racetracks into flat parking lots. I don't understand that thought process.

The speeds at Talladega are equal to many of the racetracks we race at from coast to coast. Talladega and Daytona are not the only racetracks that we have wrecks. Talladega and Daytona are not the only places that we have multiple car wrecks. But I think for some reason, there's always a temptation to sensationalize the wrecks at Daytona and Talladega way beyond what happens at Lowe's Motor Speedway or Atlanta Motor Speedway or any of the other tracks that we race on.

So, you know, it's always easy to fix a perceived problem by running away from it or throwing it under a rug, but I don't think that's the case or our approach in this situation. We'll continue on the path we are doing and continue to make the gains in safety that we have over the years.

JIM HUNTER: I might add that there have been multiple changes in the size of the restrictor plates over the years, both for safety and competition reasons.

As a matter of fact, we have changed the size of the plate during the course of the race weekend before, and we make it clear, we have different sized plates with us at every event, and we make it clear that the final plate size is not officially determined until the conclusion of the final practice.

Q: Just to clarify, is it fair to say then that improving safety does not include separating the cars or bringing speed down; you guys are all comfortable with the way it is now at Talladega?

JOHN DARBY: My point is, you could make that statement or make that suggestion at every racetrack that we race at. If we flattened Lowe's Motor Speedway and reduced the speeds to 70 miles an hour, sure, you could make an argument it would be a safer racetrack.

But at the same time, we are in the racing business, and a lot of what the sport surrounds is professional drivers controlling cars at high speeds. So that thought line or that thought process, sure, it's like telling you that the sky is blue if it's not cloudy, but that's not part of it.

Q: Today Lowe's Motor Speedway held a ticket promotion in which they priced a thousand tickets based on how many cars were involved in the biggest Talladega race wreck; because you had 14 cars involved in the largest race yesterday, tickets were priced at 14 dollars each. Wonder what you think about the promotion, is it fun marketing or something that may send an inappropriate message, given yesterday's events?

JIM HUNTER: To be honest, we would rather not dignify that type of promotion with a comment.

Q: Does anyone else have a comment?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: No.

Q: My question is for either Robin or John. You've said a couple of times that the roof flaps deployed; are you satisfied they deployed in the order they were supposed to? My understanding was the direction in that Carl's car was turning that the right one is supposed to come up first, and then the left; it seemed like the right one was delayed, the left came up first, and then the right.

ROBIN PEMBERTON: It really what order they come up in really is not significant at all. What it does is it just breaks the air flow over the car and reduces the lift.

So anything, any type of air disturbance can cause one or the other to happen, but that's why they are there; it's two different angles, so it's not an issue.

Q: And also, in the Nationwide race on Saturday, were you guys satisfied with the deployment of the flaps on Matt's car when he turned?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: When Matt's car turned, actually it turned it was in a clock wise and what made that car turn over wasn't air: It rolled over, because it was on the left side tires. That car really never left the ground until it started to roll, and I don't believe his flaps came up until he was either sideways or almost upside down.

And so Matt's situation was way different than what the 99 was. Matt's was a car that rolled over due to centripetal force and other things and the way it was spinning. So those flaps not deploying when it turned sideways was not an issue, and that's not why the car turned over.

Q: I'm probably a little confused about this whole thing. If the flaps worked, how concerned are you that the car still took off? And I don't want to be speculated about it or anything else, but if Newman's car wasn't there, where do you feel like Carl's car would have hit the barrier?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: It probably you know, Carl's car probably would have been on the ground before it even got to the barrier. If you look at the video on that thing, that thing was well on its way back down to the ground nearly as fast as it went up, so it would probably have got it would have got to the barrier, and maybe not even to the catch fence at all. There's a great chance that it would have been on the asphalt or the pavement before it even got to the barrier.

Q: And since the thing transpired the way it did, you could see on the video that part of the windshield was ripped away; part of the roof was ripped. Did anything in that accident compromise the integrity of the roll cage?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: We had a group of guys over at Roush Fenway this morning looking and evaluating the car, and their feedback was that everything everything worked according to plan on that car. The most important thing is keeping that cube, the seats attached, the belts, all of that, all of those things in the cockpit. The report back was very positive.

Q: My question is for Robin or John. I know it's more of a track issue than a NASCAR issue, but are you satisfied with the height of the fences at Talladega? I'm not positive if Carl's car could have gone over the fence, but obviously that's a most horrendous scenario. Do those fences need to be higher? And possibly does Talladega not need to sell tickets or put fans in those first 20 rows of seats?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: I'll answer that. I can't answer the question as far as where you sell your tickets at, your seats.

But I think when you look at the fencing, those are things periodically that we look at on the safety side that we upgrade. And until something like this happens, then you evaluate where you're at.

I think the fence was plenty high, but I do believe that we'll go back and we'll look at some other things. And whether it needs to be reconfigured or not, it's something that we'll get with the racetrack and ATC and all that to look at.

So you know, many of the racetracks in their fencing, there's not one design, because all of the racetracks are configured differently. They don't all have the same race cars or types of car that run on them. You can look at the different fencing that is around some of the open where some of the open wheel cars run at, Kansas, Richmond, things of that nature.

So many of the fence designs are different, and you know, this fence at Talladega has been there for quite some time, and we'll just we'll evaluate it as they do the repairs.

Q: Second question, different topic. I think many people walked away from the race thinking it was the best race of the year, the race that had the most excitement, lead changes, passing and at the same time; and you had a lot of drivers getting out of the cars saying: This place really sucks and we hate racing here. How do you walk the fine line of, the show was great, but the risks still remain and the drivers don't really love it. How do you sort of balance that out?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: It's a fine line and it's tough to balance out. But you know, our series is 22 different racetracks, and we have run on everything from a half mile, road courses, Super Speedways with restrictor plates on them; speeds from 100 miles an hour to well over 200 miles an hour.

Not every driver likes every racetrack that we run on. Some of them hate the restrictor plate races and they hate Daytona and Talladega, and there are others that equally hate road courses just as much.

You know, we do the best that we can, and I feel like our guys do a great job with safety and making the cars as safe as we can, working with the facilities and making those facilities as safe as we can with SAFER barriers and things of that nature. We continue to improve on those.

Our seasons are long. We have run a lot of different racetracks, and not everybody likes every place that they race at, but that's part of our season and part of what makes it work.

Q: Different subject. About the yellow line, during the warning given in the drivers meeting about passing below the yellow line, I just wanted to get your take on the rationale behind simply warning the 83, and I think the 11 also went below the yellow line, and improved position over the 09 at one point during the race.

JOHN DARBY: That's an easy question, so I'll be happy to answer that.

The 83, specifically, what the rule says, is you cannot advance your position while below, okay. There was not enough conclusive evidence that although we won't deny that they were below the yellow line, but there isn't a rule that says you can't be below the yellow line. It's about the positioning of the car as it's making its advance.

It's very clear that the 11 came completely above the yellow line before he advanced anybody. And in regards to the 83 and the other car, it was pretty much a dead heat; so always will give the tie to the runner. But at the same time, it was close enough that we felt like warning the team just to put them on alert that they don't need to put themselves in that kind of a box was justified, as well.

The yellow line rule itself has been very effective in controlling some of the huge wrecks we used to have. It's a very simple process, because if you look at the backstretch for Talladega that may be 15 lanes wide if you allow the competitors to use the skid pads and everything, the entrance to turn three is not; it's back down to three lanes. What happens is it becomes a big game of chicken from going from 15 lanes wide down to three, and nobody wants to give; and that ultimately created some very large and unwarranted wrecks.

The yellow line rule has at least made the width of the racetrack consistent all the way around, so the competitors know how much real estate there is there to use.

The relationship of the yellow line rule and what happened Sunday I think although it's been pointed at, I firmly believe in my own mind that if you move both cars up two lanes on the racetrack, the same wreck would have happened and the results would have been very similar.

Q: Can we clarify exactly what flew into the stands; what was it? There was some speculation from fans that were there that it was a sign, and that when the car hit the fence, the sign went flying out. Do you know exactly what piece of the car it was?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: No, I don't believe it was a piece of the car, but it has not been confirmed; or we won't speculate on what it was.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Allison , Jim Hunter