Media Tour - NASCAR staff press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: As far as the 2011 schedule, have you received an application for Kansas to get a second date, and can you talk about Kentucky and if you feel like the litigation will be resolved in time for you to get an application...

Continued from part 1

Q: As far as the 2011 schedule, have you received an application for Kansas to get a second date, and can you talk about Kentucky and if you feel like the litigation will be resolved in time for you to get an application there?

BRIAN FRANCE: I'm going to take this time to answer something else, and I'll answer you directly. The answer is, we haven't had -- we don't start working on our schedules until the spring, so we would not have had an opportunity to hear from anyone on realignment. And Kentucky as we have said very clearly, as long as that is in litigation, that we can't consider realignment.

So we hope that -- and I know the track operator at SMI and Bruton Smith and I have had a coverings and we would love the lawsuit to go away and when it goes away, we will take any request and review it.

But I want to make one quick point about litigation and things that are going on. I want to pre-empt anybody on this, because we are going to defend the industry against anything in terms of the policies that we have to institute. And we are going to litigate them all the way to the end, all the time, and that's our policy. And what we want to do in the future is answer questions about these cases or issues which most fans do not care about, they are not interested in that. And we want to answer questions regarding that when there are verdicts or conclusions that have been made by a judge or a jury.

We want to get out of the idea that we are going to be commenting about every little filing and this thing happened, this today and this ruling and motion. There is going to be a lot of litigation; it's a litigious society. We don't file lawsuits. We have to defend them for our drivers, our teams and our tracks, and we will defend them. But we are not going to be commenting as a matter of policy in the future, unless there is some news or some verdict that has been rendered by a judge or a jury, and I want to be clear about that as we go into 2010 and get our media focused on what I know you really want to be focused on and that's what happens on the track.

Q: On the topic of putting the driving back in the hands of the drivers, a number of years ago at Daytona at a session with John and Robin, they said, well, are you keeping a scorecard on the drivers and ratcheting up penalties and fines, and I was wondering, how does the current situation now impact that ratcheting up or down of the fines, penalties?

MIKE HELTON: Well, I'll remind everybody a couple years at this function, we, myself, Brian, Robin and others, mentioned the fact that we were going to lighten up on the competitors allow their character to unfold more than the way we had forced it to do based on keeping your score card as you mentioned.

So we started that process already of lightening up, and what Brian mentioned today is we continue to do that, we continue to look for ways to continue to do that. So it doesn't mean that you get a free pass out of jail card or anything from some of the characters we have got in the sport, but it certainly means that what we are encouraging the competitors to do as we have for the past couple of years is for their character and their personality within reason to be unfolded. And as we looked at over the course of the off-season, at the rules and regulations we had, and what inspired that regulation, what caused it, and what it applied to and was it necessary today, we asked Robin and his guys to take a look at ones that we could talk about letting up on.

And we'll continue that process. We will continue to look at those rules and regulations as the season unfolds, but we have to be sure that we don't step too far the other direction but certainly we are encouraging the characters of the sport, the athletes and the crew members for their personalities to be a big part of the sport.

Q: When did the impetus, the idea of going back to the spoiler, originally begin, and also did it seem that no matter what you guys did with the wing, the fans just didn't really seem to like having a wing on these cars?

MIKE HELTON: Some people would say, I wouldn't say this, but some people would say that it started after the first race. But internally it was a work-in-progress from Day 1 when we got more and more experience are in our belt as to exactly what was happening at the racetrack in the garage area, and on the racetrack itself.

And as Mike Fisher and his guys started generating the Nationwide car, part of that exercise was to look at the difference and take a look at a spoiler versus a wing. We went in and put the wing in for all of the right reasons, and over the course of the little over two complete seasons that this car has been on the racetrack, the general acceptance of the wing didn't grow past the point we thought it should have.

So the move now is to go back to a more traditional-looking NASCAR-type Sprint Cup car, which includes a spoiler.

BRIAN FRANCE: I will make one comment, because I have seen a lot of -- well, it looks like we did that because of the Talladega, Ryan Newman's getting air under his spoiler contributed to that. As John Darby reminded me, we had a similar instance of more than one at Talladega with the spoiler, as well, in terms of the car lifting off. That's always something we will address; and putting the spoiler on doesn't have anything to do with the fact that we have car lift at Talladega. Lift is a problem and we will solve that and already lots of ways to do that. The spoiler is coming on for the look of it to look for like it used to and to drive differently and create better racing. That's the premise of the spoiler.

Q: Mike, I realize you take these things on a case-by-case basis, driver incidents, but the new policy you are talking about, do you expect fewer driver trips to the woodshed or maybe the same amount and just more discussion and fewer fines? What do you anticipate?

MIKE HELTON: I think today's conversation is as much about any master changes in the conversations NASCAR might have to have with folks in the garage area from time to time, because again, we will continue the track that we set out a couple of seasons ago. And quite frankly and honestly, you can look at the 2009 season, and I think even back when we announced that some of the drivers say, well, I'm not sure what that means just yet, and they are going to have to gain confidence in what that meant. And I think if you look at '09, particularly the last couple of races in the Nationwide Series with Denny Hamlin and (Brad) Keselowski, at the last Sprint Cup race with (Juan Pablo) Montoya and (Tony) Stewart, our reaction to those, No. 1, we gave it a lot of latitude, and then when we finally had to say enough's enough, our reaction to that was, a good deal less than it might have been through or four years ago.

So that process will continue. And I honestly believe that the visits to the Sprint Cup hauler for the last couple of seasons has been less than it's been in the past, and hopefully that continues, because that works well for everybody. But what we are saying today, more importantly, is that what happens on the racetrack, particularly in Daytona, where we for the past several restrictor plate races had enforced a bump-draft policy and we elevated it in Talladega last October; we are going to back off completely in Daytona, beginning in Daytona here in a few weeks, and put that back in the hands of the driver.

And they choose what they can and cannot do out on the racetrack. Now, they all understand that we are still sitting there, looking at the unfolding of the race as it might relate to a driver going too far, but if we look at Daytona and Talladega now the same way we do at Charlotte or Texas or Kansas City, there still could be a line to cross but it's not going to be related to bump drafting, per se. It will be over-aggressive driving if it got to that.

But even the incidents like that we have had in the past, they might have called us to the woodshed, but we made the call during the race and it was over with as far as we were concerned.

Q: I want to ask a question about the point at which NASCAR's green initiative goes from the tracks to facilities and recycling, things of that nature, to actual competition; is this related to a shift to fuel-injected engine technology, and what is a reasonable time frame for a change in the engine technology and moving to fuel injection?

BRIAN FRANCE: I'll take the first part of that. I'll let Mike mention about the future of the engine.

But I would tell you that, you know, we are looking at all of the things that you would think we would be looking at. One of the things to consider is all of the car manufacturers that we deal with are all going to obviously high energy-efficient cars. They are going to some versions of technology that's different today in the engine and beyond. And certainly, as a power plant of the car, there are lots of things on the table, and it's our hope, too, frankly, to be in step with them best we can because there's a lot of different views and lanes that people are in trying to push these new technologies.

But one of the things that you've heard us say is that in addition to being good stewards of the environment, we also want to be appealing to new, green companies, new companies that are going to have technologies that they want to verify or validate. And we want to be a place that they are encouraged to do that.

And I know, because we met directly with all of the car companies; they really appreciate that we are thinking about these things, that we are in instep, it's very important, and frankly it's very, very important to many of the correspond sores that have their own green initiatives or ongoing -- we can do this in a way that doesn't put a big burden on the industry or our tracks.

We can do it without a bunch of mandates and different things. We can do it carefully. We can do it with incentives. We can get over a long period of time a sport that has a better carbon emissions footprint attached to it; that as I said validates new technologies that way that only we are going to be able to -- there is no one in the world, when you think about new power plants, new technology, we are going to be one of the real great places to test, validate and experiment, if you will, at the highest performance levels.

So we are excited about this, and it's a long, long plan that we are on, and we are going to do it carefully.

MIKE HELTON: And John Darby and Robin can speak to this in much greater detail in the next go-around or even at the one-on-ones. But from the competition level, and particularly the fact that NASCAR very much includes Grand Am today, and you saw the touring series, the K&N Pro Series, and our weekly program; we have got a lot of opportunity to do things.

And so here at the R&D center now, we are looking at alternative fuels. We are looking at alternative architectures for engines. And in the meantime, we are doing everything we can at the racetrack already as was mentioned in the video, about how we run races, how we move to and from races with our transporters, our different vehicles, and the move and the cross back and forth track to track that we have already made a lot of headway. But there's a good deal of effort going on here at the R&D center that John and Robin can expand on later on.

Q: Your grandmother and father worked under a benevolent dictatorship and I'm seeing a few more senior vice presidents up on stage than there were even five years ago. Can you talk about the restructuring that seems to be going on in NASCAR right now and all of the moves that are being made?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, it's a bigger sport with a whole lot more complex ties and specialization that occurs today. Hearing us talk about the green economy and that whole initiative, obviously you've got to have people that understand those issues carefully. To regulate the events, you know, is far more complicated. A race team today has a whole lot more engineering, a lot more specialization in their own right. We have to keep up with that. We have got all kinds of things in the digital media space that are a whole group of people working on those issues to help the SPEED Channel, help all kinds of programming things to publicize the sport. Those are all highly talented, specialized people that report to Paul Brooks and Steve Phelps.

So everywhere you turn, it's not because we are just -- the truth is, when you look at the infrastructure of NASCAR over the last three or four years, we even added a lot of people. We changed some roles and changed some directions with some of the different kinds of people we have hired when others have left. We are actually a pretty flat organization, believe it or not. But we are elevating people that are talented for the reasons that you want us to, because they deserve more responsibility, and these issues that I refer to, they need it. They need the -- one of the fun things for me, is that this sport gets bigger and better and all of the things, is getting to work on all of these things. I mean, we have the best jobs I think out of anybody because we get to work on the highest level of sponsorship, certainly the highest level of engineering; what goes on at the racetrack, and all of the things in between. But it takes the right group of people and my job is to make sure we have all those people, that they have the prioritize set, they are clear what we have got to get accomplished, and that I give them the resources and I hold them accountable to where we want to go, and that's how we are managing the sport today.

MIKE HELTON: Let me just add to that. Today's business of NASCAR as a sport and as a business is more complicated than it's ever been, and that's a good thing, because that means it's bigger and it's got more moving parts and pieces to it.

The one thing about the France family that I learned a long time ago is that they have a large, genuine interest in NASCAR, not necessarily just as a corporation that's based in Daytona Beach, but a NASCAR community that we are all a part of to run very seamless as time goes on. Brian's grandfather was concerned with that. Brian's father was concerned with that, and Brian, Lisa, Jim France, are all concerned with that.

So from time to time when you hear us talk about advancing people and putting new faces in places, it's a structural reorganization for us to spread out the responsibility, get more responsibility to some of the new talent that's coming along, and they may be new faces to you when they are not new faces to us, but they have earned the right to take on more responsibility because they are the next generation of care keepers of the NASCAR community.

The big effort, though, is to be sure that NASCAR runs seamless, irregardless of what may happen or what soldier or lieutenant you lose; that NASCAR continues to progress without a hiccup, because the stakeholders, you may not consciously think of that, but the stakeholders certainly expect that, and I think that's a big part of this as much as anything.

Q: For Mike or Brian, how much of a concern is there walking a fine line between promoting it as more of a contact sport than ever before and giving anything up on the safety end? And Brian, you mentioned there are a must be of ways to keep cars from listing at Talladega, wondering what those might be and how close you are to implementing those.

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there are different things with the body of the car, different pieces we can attach. Obviously the roof flaps and how they deploy, certain angles we can put regardless if we have a spoiler or anything else, so that's always available to us. We are testing that right now and we'll be telling you what we are going to accomplish.

I'll let Mike carry on the contact portion.

MIKE HELTON: Again, Robin and John can speak more to the shark fin that will be added in Daytona that is an aero piece that helps the lift-off speed, which helps the cars to stay on the ground even at a further radius; and at a higher speed than we have got today that they have been able to figure out from a lot of research and everything. The NASCAR racing from day one has always been highly competitive, and there's an age-old saying that NASCAR, if you ain't rubbing, you ain't racing. And I think that's what the NASCAR fan, the NASCAR stakeholders all bought into, and all expect.

Now, our role is to deliver that, correctly, and it also comes with the responsibility of maintaining law and order. And throughout the history of our sport, we go and we come back and we go and we come back, for the last few years, we are on a comeback cycle of backing away from rules and regulations, because I've got to tell you, nobody wants to regulate the sport. We are the last people on earth that want to over-regulate the sport, because it takes a lot to do that. But there's a lot of steps in regulating the sport that we have to take to ensure the safety and the correctness of the competition between the competitors, and also balance the safety between the competitors and the race fans.

You asked, also, I think about giving back more to the drivers and what that relates to on safety, is that's why we are very careful about the decisions we make on what regulations we ease up on. But another factor, again, as we collect data over multiple seasons and we can get more confidence is we know today that this car is safer than five or six years ago, much safer.

And so that balances into the equation, as well, and the racetracks are, too, the SAFER barriers, the different things the tracks have been the past nine years to make their facilities safer, the new fencing, the different things all the tracks have invested in to make the sport safer, it is much safer today and we are not going to let off of that as a topic, but we are also very interested in looking at what we can do to change our role in the sport as far as being too many regulations.

Continued in part 3

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup , NASCAR
Drivers Ryan Newman , Denny Hamlin , Mike Fisher