Series pre-season test day 3 interview: Pemberton and Darby

NASCAR Series press release

An interview with: Robin Pemberton and John Darby

NASCAR press conference: NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby
NASCAR press conference: NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

KRISTI KING: If I could have everyone's attention here, as we have the last couple of days with this test, and it's been a really good test so far, trying to compile and consult the drivers and everyone's really gathering a lot of information, which was the intention of this test all along. But after the final drafting session started at 1:00, we had several requests from you guys just to kind of get Robin and John's take here on this last day of testing.

I'll open it up for you, Robin, and then we'll take some comments from John about where we are right now and looking forward to the Daytona 500 next month.

ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, I think so far we've had a good test, as Kristi said, and gaining a lot of information. As everybody knows, we've been shrinking plates, growing plates and working on different parts of the cooling system, and the goal was to see what our limits were.

As you've seen over the three days, got big on a plate, now we think we're honed in on where we need to come back and start Speed Weeks.

This morning we realized how far we can go on our -- as far as the pressure on the water system, and we've made some changes since early practice. But all in all, I think comments from the drivers have been pretty positive, the way the cars run in the draft, the way they can draft and do draft and what they do to get their cars running to their maximum potential.

So far, so good. You know, we know that when we come out of here, there will be some loose ends we have to tie up and probably get all of our information together and come up with our final plans for Speed Weeks. But all in all, everything is going according to plan. So I'll turn it over to John.

JOHN DARBY: Yeah, if I can add to that, just the things that we are happy with, one being the restrictor plate size, we talked yesterday about the reason for the change and that primarily being engine rpm. With the 29/32 plate on, we're still going to have the excitement of seeing some race speeds over 200 miles an hour. But at the same time we've been able to take all the engine builders off of suicide watch today. They're in a much more comfortable place. The rpms are back to what I'm going to call reasonable, and everything is performing very well right now.

The one grille configuration change that we made yesterday or last night seems to have been very effective, and as we continue to close the gap or lessen that delta, I guess, if you will, between old-school drafting and tandem drafting, that's being achieved. It's getting closer and closer every time we make a change.

Q. How confident are you that fans will likely see at least some of what they saw of the big pack drafting? And I have a quick follow-up.

ROBIN PEMBERTON: Yeah, that's a hard question because you don't know what pleases all folks, and everybody has got a difference of opinion. So I think there will be a solid mix of all kinds of things, and you never know. In today's world something else might pop up that becomes the advantage for a driver, a team, a group. We'll see.

But so far, we like what we've seen. It's been a good mix of what they can do in a larger pack and how close they can get for a limited time to push.

Q. And a follow-up, John, the other day you talked about -- or I think you both talked about not wanting to go the route of telling people not to do something, and from talking to several drivers in the last couple days, many or most seem pleased with that approach, rather tinkering with rules to kind of tweak the mechanics rather than putting out a blanket kind of statement or prohibition. Have you found that very receptive, that approach, for this test?

JOHN DARBY: Yeah, I think that's why -- that's one of the reasons we've had all the cooperation from the teams is because they would rather -- the competitors feel better when the race car package kind of tells them what they should and shouldn't do or could and couldn't do.

The rule of not tandem racing, I mean, we've used it before. It's there, I suppose. But I'm right with the competitors on hoping that we can develop a package that keeps us out of that business. I'm a race fan, too; I'd just as soon watch the Daytona 500 as try to police it for 200 laps.

I think, like I said, everything we've done has all been in the correct direction, and short of nailing down some final sizes of grille openings and radiator pressures and things of that nature, I think we're there. I think we're very close.

Q. Do you feel like you've done everything you can as far as in these three days, or would you consider bringing them back at all between now and February and/or when would you tell them what the package will be for February, at least for the start of Speed Weeks?

JOHN DARBY: Once we leave here, obviously there will be a lot of energy spent on looking through all of the data that we've collected this week, looking through lap times and speeds and watching film and footage like everybody else does. You know, I would like to have the final rules package out as quickly as we can just to make sure the teams have enough time to react to everything I guess is the right way to put that. And we'll do our due diligence and get it out as fast as we can.

Q. The 200-mile-an-hour range used to be like a forbidden zone. You would reach it and you guys would react, and whether you were consciously doing it or not, you would get them down below the 200-mile-an-hour range. We're there now. It looks like they keep creeping back up there. Is that something that's concerning you now, the 200 mile an hour range, because I think fans are looking at that as some kind of magic number where, gee whiz, they're at 200 miles an hour and it's going to attract a lot of attention. Is that barrier still something you're going to react to before Daytona, or is it not a concern?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: We've been over 200 for a couple of years now during the races. You know, we feel anything can happen, but we feel comfortable. We've done a lot of work in the wind tunnels, and I think if you saw the little contact today, cars stayed on the ground pretty good, knock on wood.

But you know, at some point in time you drew a line, whether it was 200, whether it was just something to keep in mind and keep us in check. But right now I think we feel pretty good about it.

Q. Are you going to ask the guys to draft anymore today, or are they done with that?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: It's up to the teams right now what they're doing.

Q. Can you give us an idea of how much you don't want to tweak things once we get back here for Speed Weeks, or is this target so elusive that it's virtually inevitable?

JOHN DARBY: I think we'll leave everybody's roll cage as they were when they came in.

ROBIN PEMBERTON: Most of it. Yeah, I think in today's world, people are used -- we're all in this together. I mean, things have changed. The landscape has changed, how we do business, communications between the governing body and the teams. So I think the day that we would come down here and it would be this, oh, wow, we're making a plate change, it doesn't even affect anybody anymore. Everybody is prepared for that. They know what the rules of engagement are, and they respect us for what we have to do. There's no animosity or anything like that. It gives us an opportunity to come down here with a clear head and watch what unfolds and do what we do, you know, on our side and on the team side. You never know what you might have to do to make a change, but we're okay with it, and so are the teams.

Q. You were a crew chief a long time ago. If you were on the other side of the fence, if you were a crew chief at this test, would this be driving you crazy as a crew chief do you think?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think what you would want is as early as you could to have the rules just locked down, you know, so you can go and work on your package. I think that in today's world, they know that that's unrealistic. But the whole mindset is different nowadays. I think when you look back, back in the day, you would build your best car, you'd come down here and you would hope that nobody would even come look at your car. You just wanted to be on your own and hide what you could hide and work what you could work with and get your advantages.

But that was then, and I think in today's world, I don't think the mindset is near the same as what it was then. I probably would have shot myself by now if it was.

Q. Robin, the changes that you guys have been asking the teams to make during the day and from day to day, how long does it actually take these guys to initiate those changes, especially like the grille and the shark fin, things like that?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: It's only a matter of hours at the most. I mean, we've got other folks that are here working and doing some work for us with the pressure relief valves and things of that nature. But it's not something that -- not anything that's taken a lot of time by any of them.

JOHN DARBY: I'll give you an example. The new rear window fin was finalized in the tech center Monday evening about 4:30, 5:00. Our aero guys made phone calls to the teams Tuesday, knowing that their test cars were already loaded and getting ready to leave for the way down here.

By noon on Thursday, I think every car in the garage had the new fin on the car. The teams, as good as they are, have the ability to react to changes today much, much, much more quickly than back in Robin's day. That's a big plus for us.

ROBIN PEMBERTON: A hammer and a block of wood.

JOHN DARBY: Part of it is because the teams have the expectations of changes, so they're more prepared to adapt to them. The other side of it is the fact that the cars are probably a little easier to change in the areas that were working.

Q. It's been suggested that when the grip starts going away from this track that the tandem racing will also go away. Are you assuming that's the case, and if so, how long do you think it'll be before we get to that point?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: We assume that that will happen because that's what happens when the grip goes away. But to be quite honest with you, the technology used to build racetracks and the paved racetracks nowadays, the job is tremendous. I mean, hats off to them; they're doing just an outstanding job. I mean, Talladega has got a few more years on it than this place does, and it's not even close to going away.

You know, it's -- the stuff is really nice nowadays. It's a shame, you don't want it to age, but you wish that it would, but it's not going away.

Q. It seems like an ideal situation might be pack racing for most of the race and tandem racing maybe for the last five laps or so, and that might make fans happy. But fans tend to be really impatient. Could you explain just how difficult it is, your job is, to arrange for this kind of stuff? Sometimes they really just don't understand, don't get it.

ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, I think everybody has opinions. We all do in this room. I'm sure some people like the way it was ten years ago or a year ago. I mean, everybody is different. And so we've just got to have a nice mix for everybody, and you don't want to alienate any part of the fan base for one reason or another.

I think we're going to get geared up and probably have a pretty damn good race when we come back here based off of what we've learned the last three days and what'll probably unfold in the R & D Center and the shops over the next week or two.

I mean, I'm pretty excited about it. There's a lot of good cars out there. Speeds are up. For the first time in forever, we feel really good about our qualifying speeds, being in the mid-190 range, I think, according to John's estimate. And we're in for some good stuff ahead of us.

Q. I know you guys make it a point to talk to the people in the garage to get their input and feedback on stuff. With the changes that you all have made, how much weight do you give to what they're telling you compared to what you guys are trying to achieve out there?

ROBIN PEMBERTON: He's asking if they're lying to you, John. (Laughter.)

JOHN DARBY: I guess you make those decisions from the large number of people you talk to. You know, if you talk to 30 people and 29 of them tell you that something is wrong, then the chances are great that there's something wrong, you know. The competitors today, though, also understand that -- they're the actual guys that hold the responsibility for exciting racing. They all want to win, right? But they all want to have the opportunity to win, also, which kind of makes -- that's where that excitement thing comes into play.

What we know is if every car on the racetrack, all 43 cars run exactly 200.000 miles an hour, right, and we line them up, you could pretty much predict that the checkered flag is going to be how we lined them up, right. So there's got to be -- in development of all of these packages, there's got to be enough room and areas for the teams to still move around a little bit so that if I am at 200.000 miles an hour, you can still work on the possibility of getting to 200.1 miles an hour; see what I mean? Because otherwise we're not going to race, we're just going to parade.

I think a lot of that leads to the reason that we're not trying to totally eliminate the tandem, because what we know for the competitors is it's a very useful tool when you want to pass somebody, whether it's a full, locked-together tandem or if it's any version of, if it's a bump draft down the back straightaway, that extra momentum many, many times is what helps a competitor or two create the pass, right, and that's what makes a race.

The balance between everything we're doing is trying to manage how the cars perform on the racetrack and what style of drafting they choose to use, but at the same time leaving enough tools in their toolbox that we can still wave a checkered flag and go, wow, that was really great. You know, so that's the goal.

KRISTI KING: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Eric Gilbert
Tags darby, daytona, drafting, pemberton