Media Session With NASCAR President Mike Helton Q: On NASCAR's continuing struggle with TV ratings. I don't want to undervalue the live audience whether it's at a race track or on television. I think that's things we have to watch and do...
Media Session With NASCAR President Mike Helton
Q: On NASCAR's continuing struggle with TV ratings.
I don't want to undervalue the live audience whether it's at a race track or on television. I think that's things we have to watch and do things to react to. I think a lot of the activity we've done over the past 18 months in the double-file restarts and the start times of the races and different things are a reaction to those to try to grow the strength around those because they're very critical - both the ticket buyers and TV audiences are very critical figures for us.
Q: On the bad TV ratings during the beginning of the season and whether the incident at Daytona and Olympics is to blame for it.
(The Olympics) always does. There are spectacles in sports that are entertainment in general that are challenges whether it's the Olympics, the Masters, different Super Bowls, but you know those things going in. You know the history behind those and the pothole at Daytona was more unique than that. It certainly came at a bad time because everything was going so well during Speed Weeks and I think at the end of the day completing all 500 miles - the action in the 500 miles - was indicative of what people's expectations of the Daytona 500 were. But with the Olympics setting as an alternate, the TV audience had a very specific direction that they could go and the longer we were down the more difficult that might become. Those things happen. They can happen to anybody. There's nothing anybody could have done to have foreseen that or prevented that. It would have been nice to have got it done quicker and not had as much downtime, but it is what it is and we did everything and the speedway did everything and will react in a way that will prevent it, hopefully, from happening again.
Q: On the two caution situations Sunday at Las Vegas.
There was some electronic piece. The first one we thought was a fluke and when it happened again we completely unplugged the electronics and went back manual. We're not sure where it came from and we're not sure whether it was something in NASCAR's system or the track's system or something, but something triggered those and when the second one happened, we just got rid of all electronics and went back to the manual system and got through the day ok.
Q: On NASCAR loosening its rules on the track.
Well I hate to see how this comes out after I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway. The admission, if you will, of NASCAR backing off of the regulation part of the sport and after looking at our own way of doing business, were the things that we could ease off of. I think the statement was more about 'Oh my gosh NASCAR is saying that they don't need to be such a heavy hand. They don't need to be so regulatory.' I think that's the message that goes out as much as what might happen following that.
Q: More on NASCAR loosening its rules and allowing the drivers' personalities to show.
Quite honestly, we've been doing that for 18 months. We told them up front a couple of years ago, 'Boys we're going to let you have at it,' and I think a lot of that had to do with testing what that meant and as each little occurrence happens, then they gain a little bit more understanding of what that meant. So we get to the end of last year and we had Denny Hamlin and (Brad) Keselowski in the Nationwide race and we had (Juan Pablo) Montoya and Tony Stewart in the Cup race and they saw how we reacted to that and how that might have been different in previous (years). So the drivers kind of breathed a sigh of relief for understanding what that means. So then we come back and we start 2010 and after the dialogue with the individual teams during the off season to explain more what that meant and then be very clear that's what we mean by this is that we want to put more of it back in the driver's hands and their own reactions.
Q: On Danica Patrick's impact on NASCAR.
Her impact has been huge already and she's still very early in her NASCAR career, so it's really just whatever it becomes. But I can tell you that her impact has been huge already and it's been very well received in the garage area. The drivers and crew members have been very impressed with her commitment to it and it's gained her credibility from that aspect of it. You guys know as well as I know it, the fan reaction, and it may not even be a NASCAR fan reaction, it could be someone that's a fan of hers that now looks at NASCAR and says 'Now wait a minute, Danica picked that.' So it's been huge already.
Q: On the start-and-park issue.
First of all, we didn't come up with the term 'start-and-park.' That came from somewhere out there, but it is what it is and we've learned to deal with those. The fact of the matter is that NASCAR is a free enterprise program that anybody that wants to can participate in as long as they abide by the rules and regulations. So if there are cars that enter a race, make the field by qualifying and pass all of the inspections, they've earned the right to compete in the event. And they've also earned the right to compete in the event within the rules by their own determinations. In the past we've had a lot of organizations that struggled to figure out how to do all of that over time, but figured it out and have now become big players in our sport. So I don't know that it's fair for us to try to define a team that may not be in our future as opposed to one that may be a very strong player in our future. So we stick to the free enterprise program that the entry blank goes out, you're entitled to enter if you do everything like everybody else does, you come to the race track prepared, you pass inspection, you qualify fast enough, you're going to be in the race. And what you do after that is a lot of your own decision or maybe circumstances that happen beyond your control on the race track or with a mechanical piece. That's the way we look at it. Over time we have shown, I think, that we will be a reactive or adaptive with our rules and regulations to fix something we don't particularly agree with, but right now it's more about NASCAR being a free enterprise system where the system stays balanced to take its own course.
Q: On NASCAR looking at the No. 66 car at Las Vegas.
I can tell you that we constantly look at it and I think that a lot of what the conversation right now is about the fact that we took the 66 car from California back to Vegas. There are a couple of unique elements there. One, going into 2010, the teams knew we were going to look at the cars that were not locked in - particularly when they have a real good qualifying. The 66 car qualified fifth or sixth in California and that automatically puts it on a list, so to speak. Which is what brought us to bring the 66 and take a look at it. We do that for the sake of the other cars that are not locked in and them having confidence. If I go home because somebody beat me then I got beat, I didn't get whodoed. The open inspection policy of NASCAR is for that reason more than anything.
Q: On the changes to the spoiler and what led to the changes.
There were some aero studies that we did as we were developing the current car that we use that indicated the wing might aid in the performance of the car on the racetrack when it comes to the aero push elements that you hear a lot about or the wake that a car would create as it would go around the track with cars behind it. A lot of that still exists. The benefits of the wing may still exist. The question then becomes is how well accepted is the wing and can you do those benefits if the decision is we'd like to go back to the spoiler? Fans tell us that is more traditional to them. The spoiler on a NASCAR is more traditional than a wing is. So if the industry benefits from the fans seeing a more traditional piece and that works for us, can we mechanically do the things that the wing presents as an advantage with the spoiler? During the course of our research we found out how to do that because we focused on that. We probably could have figured it out seven years ago if we had been focused on it. We have kind of come back around to that. So now it's a function of taking the spoiler and making a NASCAR car look more traditional and 'Oh, by the way' make the spoiler produce the same advantages that the wing had in a more traditional look.
Q: The feedback from the drivers regarding the new spoiler.
It's mixed. A lot of it is mixed because it's hard to come to a conclusion with a 10 or 15 lap run at different racetracks under different circumstances. The proof in the pudding is putting 43 cars on the racetrack and running a 400 or 500 mile race. Most cases it takes three or four of those. It's not a single event. You also have 43 different personalities out there who like 43 different recipes of how their car should or should not feel. That's part of the thing we have to manage is collecting all that and making a singular decision for the whole group of them. We've done a lot of conversation with all the drivers, crew chiefs, aero dynamists and manufacturers about how to do this. We get a lot of help on how to do it but at the end of the day we have to make the decision on how we are going to do it.
Q: On realignment for the 2011 season
The request for realignment would come from the track owners. We don't push realignment on anybody. So I don't know the answer to that one.