Media Tour - NASCAR staff press conference, part 1

Transcript: 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour January 21, 2010 Interview with: Brian France Mike Helton Robin Pemberton John Darby Joe Balash Wayne Auton Richard Buck BRIAN FRANCE: Welcome to the NASCAR Media Tour to kick off our...

Transcript: 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour
January 21, 2010

Interview with:
Brian France
Mike Helton
Robin Pemberton
John Darby
Joe Balash
Wayne Auton
Richard Buck

BRIAN FRANCE: Welcome to the NASCAR Media Tour to kick off our season. This is an exciting time of the season, No. 1, you have some new teams you have some drivers that were surging at the end of the year, notably Denny Hamlin and notably Juan Pablo Montoya, who I think arrived they have arrived at a place where they are going to contend for a championship.

You have a situation that is the most competitive in the history of NASCAR. And I'm not just saying that because it's convenient to say, but you really have at least 25 teams at this stage in the season when everybody has a clean state that believes they can get into the Chase and compete for a championship in the end. That's what makes the anticipation -- that's what makes this time of year so special.

And then, to top it off, we kick it off with Daytona. We kick it off with our biggest event at the front part of our season. I want to take a moment to mention to you something that is dear to everyone's heart in this room, Jim Hunter, things are are going well. He is about to get his clean bill of health back and join us for the opening of Speed Weeks, and I know that if you see Jim, say hello to him, he is really looking forward to seeing all of you guys.

Obviously a lot of things as we go into 2010, one of them is the Hall of Fame that we are eagerly awaiting much it's been talked about for a number of years. It is obviously getting close to completion and will open this May. First round of inductees have already been chosen and the Hall is going to allow us to celebrate our past, look ahead to our future in ways that we have not been able to do and the things we are going to do in and around that great place and around the Speed Weeks that are here in Charlotte will be terrific and we are looking forward to that.

Let me say, that most of you heard by now that we have been pretty active in the month of January and we will remain active in meeting with every member of our industry. And I personally have met with every driver, every team owner, every track operator, and we will be meeting with all of our television partners, as well. And the reason that we are doing that, is because it's really a takeoff of what we started in May.

Our town hall meetings, our ability to get the kind of input we need and we did it this time in team-related meetings, specific meeting, smaller meetings where we can really get the exchanges going and the back and forth for the drivers and team owners and track operators and everybody talking about one thing, talking about this is a contact sport: We have got the best racing in the world, and what are the things that we can do to make it better. What are the things that we can do to open it up a little bit. What are the rules packages that are available to us, with all of the things that we have to balance, but what are those things? And we got very, very good input I'm pleased to say and shortly Roger Pemberton and our other competition team members will be talking about some of the changes that we are going to make.

But what you need to know is whether it's specific changes that wither going to announce today, or whether it's just how we regulate and officiate the events week-in and week-out, we are going to have an eye on putting things back in the drivers hands. They are going to mix it up a little bit differently because we are going to loosen it up.

We have been doing that for several years and we are going to continue that. And the goal is to make very, very good racing, better. That's the No. 1 goal that we have. We think we have got the right package to do just that.

Want to mention a couple of other things, too. The team that works directly with me who makes it all happen. You know, we made a number of announcements and changes getting some additional people new roles, Steve O'Donnell being one, who is going to get a much bigger role directly working with Mike Helton, running all of our competition group. Robin Pemberton has more responsibility and Brett Bodine and others are getting more responsibility.

And we have some really talented people on the competition side. We are loading them up differently and, better and I would be remiss if I didn't thank it -- where is John Darby -- John, for his incredible service to what a lot of people believe is the toughest job in NASCAR, and that's the series race director that he's held for a number of years. And John is going to be transitioning here to the R&D center to have a bigger role with the company, but not the role as series director. Thanks, John, for everything you have done to make racing great.

Let me say a few other things that are on our plate that we are working on and have been in the off-season and frankly, for a while, that are coming to fruition. One of them is something interesting that my father actually pulled me into his office back in 1996, talked about, believe it or not, iRacing, or the ability to have simulated racing on a computer that would feel like you were racing, sort of multi-player against other gamers or other people around the country and even around the world.

And my dad had a good idea that he was just ahead of the technology and ahead of his time, but we are now at the place where we are going to be able to showcase NASCAR to a much younger audience, starting with what we call iRacing, which will be debuting in February. And we have had some interesting collaboration on that.

One of the chief architects of our racing plant, and no one knows this or very few people know this is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He is on the computer racing all of the tracks in NASCAR against what he says is a number of drivers out there that know how to get around some of the tracks better than he does in the simulated version of racing. He's been a big help, and so has John Henry, who has been a -- has an interest in this kind of technology. So John has been helpful. Those are the two guys, and Paul Brooks on our team, who have been putting this together. We will be launching that in February.

The two other initiatives that are either always working on and that are never finished, is one's diversity. We talk about that frequently, because of how important it is and how important it will be when we ultimately reach all of our goals way down the road. But we are making progress, Marcus and his team continue to look for drivers and give opportunity to people who would not have an opportunity. They are going to get noticed.

We have got some really talented people, Richard Childress was telling me in October at the Speedway that he has found a driver with a diverse background that he thinks is going to have a real chance to elevate. We are seeing that all over the place, not just in the driver seat, but in management and other forms, other roles that they can play, somebody can play in the sport. So we are excited about that. That progress.

And then let me say something about the green economy and the industry of NASCAR and its slow, steady, march to be smarter about how we go about our energy footprint, smarter about how we treat the environment. And I have got to tell you, we went from literally nowhere 18 months ago to hiring Michael Lynch, who is our director of green innovation, and going out and meeting with our industry, a very receptive industry starting right here at the Speedway in Charlotte, and many of our teams, about how we can do this together, do it carefully and smartly where it can benefit the sport and the fans and make us more attractive to a green economy for sponsorships and new technologies down the road.

I have to tell you, we went from just some ideas on the table to a video I'm going to show you that some of you saw out in Las Vegas that it gives you an update on where we are with our green program.

BRIAN FRANCE: Mike mentioned that right here at the R&D center we are working with Sunoco and other third-party groups on new fuels, new ways to power the racing in the future, and that's going to be -- we are going to be hard at work over the next many years to see what that can bring, but we are really excited about that.

Let me finish by talking just a moment about, I know the issues of the day, beyond the meetings that we have had and rules changes, and that's how is this year going to be, and how is the economy affecting the business size and the race fans and all of the things that go on, sponsorships being certainly notable in there.

I would tell you that while we are not economists, that some things are stabilizing for us and our sport. First thing that is stabilized are are the car manufacturers. A year ago, there was a whole bunch of uncertainty about their future. They were coming in, going out of bankruptcy in some cases. They had very challenging business models. At that point they were unsure about the funding they might get from Washington. We were very supportive on that bill and we were we supportive with our car manufacturers to hope to get them the funding and the resources they need and that has all worked, because largely all four car manufacturers who compete in NASCAR are much more healthier than they were just a year ago. I'm pleased to say that. And they have all continued their investment. It may be different now and it may be different in the future but they have all still recognized NASCAR as a place that works for them.

The rest of the economy is much trickier. You have the tracks that I think have done an amazing job of reacting, and they were reacting back when the energy issues were going on a year and a half ago or more back in the summer of '08 is when they were reacting to high energy costs with how many of our fans drive RVs and everything else to the events. They have been cutting ticket price, working on ticketing packages. They have been zeroed in in their race markets with the hotels, restaurants, to get discounts to make things cheaper, because in certain places, North Carolina being one certainly, but Michigan, California, Florida have been very hard hit. I've been impressed with the tracks and what the net of that is, they are making it much easier and much more affordable at a time when that's really, really important to our race fans and I want to thank them all for reacting so fastly to do that.

And then the teams have obviously been affected immensely with the sponsorship business model that has been tough, no question about it. Companies are, as you now know, are very careful, caution to invest a lot of money in sponsorships of any kind, and we are dealing with that. And our teams are working with that. But despite that, that started to thaw a little bit.

Teams are getting renewals of sponsorship. We are seeing some new companies; we have two or three that our New York office is about to pull into the sport. And so the best place for corporate sponsors to work best has always been NASCAR, and that's no different today.

So while it's tough, it's not easy, we do see that getting a little bit better and we do see full fields of race cars, which is always an uncertain thing when the economy is tough. For 2010 for the most part, we will have highly competitive, well-funded teams, no small thing in a tough place. And to that point, I might mention one of the sponsors that we will be announcing later on is K&N, which is a California-based company.

They are going to make a seven-year commitment to the Grand National East and West Series, as well, and that's our grass roots series, our touring division series where most of the drivers from the Sprint Cup come from. We really appreciate their support at this point in time. The net of it is that we are going to make the changes that we need to make with the race car, to get things -- to get the car to drive as well as it can, and the racing to be as good as it can.

We are going to be very helpful with our teams as best we can and our tracks, at understanding this economy and sponsorship model that they are facing. We are facing it, too, every day that we are moving around. And then we are going to open it up. I said that earlier. We are going to open it up, because we want to see what you want to see: More contact, this is a contact sport. We want to see drivers mixing it up. We want to see the emotion of the world's best drivers just as much as everybody else does, and that is the goal for 2010 and beyond.

So with that, I will pass it on to Robin Pemberton, I believe, or Ramsey Poston, excuse me, and enjoy the balance of the day. Thanks for covering the sport, not only obviously this week, but give you a salute, we have the longest season in sports are that we are getting started here next month. So thank you very much for all you do.

RAMSEY POSTON: Steve, thank you for your commitment and welcome aboard and we are really proud to have you. K&N has had a great tradition in grass roots racing and you really continue that today. Steve is joined by George Silverman, our managing director of racing operations, Bob Duval, our director of regional racing, series operation, and our director for touring series, Richard Buck, who will reveal the new K&N logoed car.

Please welcome vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton.

ROBIN PEMBERTON: Thanks, Ramsay. Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to start the afternoon off here and begin and update you on some of the changes and moves we are making here at the R&D center. Mike Fisher will continue to lead our efforts here at R&D. His existing team will be joined by Brett Bodine as director of racing R&D. Tom Gideon, director of safety R&D, and Jamie DiPietro as manager for safety inspections.

Also, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director John Darby has been promoted to managing director of competition. In addition to the national series directors, the touring series directors will also report to John. There's probably nobody in the industry that's better qualified than John Darby to take this job. He knows the ins, he knows the outs of the garage area and he's a perfect fit, and I look forward to having John in the office next door instead of the one down the hall. And I appreciate that, John, I do.

But as we begin our search for the next Sprint Cup Series director, John will also be involved in that choice, and he will continue his duties as a Sprint Cup Series director until that void is filled.

And now for a few updates on the Nationwide Series. As you know the new Nationwide car will run in four races this year, starting with the July 2 race at Daytona. Followed by races at Michigan on August 14, Richmond on September 10 and Charlotte on October 15 and it is targeted for full integration in 2011. And those tracks where the car will race this year, we will also go in and have a team test the day before, everyone will sign in a day early, work on their setups, and preparation for Daytona on May 18 and 19, we will also have an open test at Daytona which will include all of the race teams.

As we welcome Road America on the tour, the Nationwide Series will schedule an R&D and Goodyear test there in the spring or in the summer. It will be a typical test that we have done as we have gone to other brand new facilities in México and in Montréal. The teams will also be going to Road America a day early as they prepare for that event.

Another thing we have in the Nationwide Series is crew limits. Starting this season, the NASCAR Nationwide Series will institute crew limits of 15. The teams will include driver, crew chief, spotter and seven over the wall members. This is the same procedures that they have used in the Truck Series last year.

Leading on to the Truck Series, we have got a few updates. We will be implementing the double-file restart shootout style this year. And as a result, we will go back to the conventional style pit stops. We are also giving the teams a couple of different options, including a self-venting fuel can which will eliminate the need for a catch can man on pit road. We will also be giving teams the option of a spec engine on every racetrack a mile and a quarter or less. We hope that that gives the teams on the regional and touring series an opportunity to compete in the Truck Series.

As it relates to the Spring Cup Series, there's been a lot of debate and talk over winter times, as everyone knows. The bump drafting as we know it at Daytona and Talladega over the past few years will be totally eliminated. We will put it back in the hands of the hands of the drivers and we will say boys, have at it and have a good time, that's all I can say.

As it relates to the yellow line, that has been a highly-debated conversation over the wintertime and the general consensus is the yellow line is, it needs to stay, and it will for now, and we will look at it at a later date. But now, it will be in play from green flag to checkered flag.

As we go to Daytona, some of the things that we have found over the wintertime with all of our testing and our wind tunnel tests, we have added some stability to the cars, a little bit of drag, and this will result in an added -- adding to the restrictor plate size, so in it Daytona this year as we go into Speed Weeks, a 63-64-size plate will be used and that will be the largest restrictor plate since the 1989 Daytona 500.

As we move on to the transition of the spoiler from the wing, we have been in several wind tunnel tests this winter, we have been with several manufacturers and the race teams and we are coming off a very, very successful two-day Goodyear Tire test at Texas Motor Speedway where the teams ran both the spoiler and the wing. And we also have tests scheduled over here at Charlotte Motor Speedway on March 23 and 24 for all competitors as they will prepare the cars for the spoiler.

So in closing, I think we have got a lot of good things to offer everybody. I think all of our rules are positive moving into 2010. To be honest with you, I'm as excited with you about 2010, very excited about the spoiler coming back. And since I was a kid and saw my first race with Richard Petty in 1970, watched him win, my first race at the track as a crew member in 1980 at the Daytona 500, I think 2010 go down as one of the most exciting years of all. Thank you very much. I hope everybody has a great afternoon. Thank you.

RAMSEY POSTON: Thank you, Robin. Good-looking car, isn't it. We will now welcome up to the stage our first question and answer panel, which will include Brian France, NASCAR president, Mike Helton, chief marketing officer Steve Phelps, senior vice president and president of the NASCAR media group, Paul Brooks, and senior vice president of racing operations, Steve O'Donnell. Gentlemen?

Q: For Brian France, can I talk about the precedent for change, because sometimes when you mention or talk about change, the headlines are NASCAR is desperate, because they are making change and then a while back change was like, we are not going to change but early on in the history of NASCAR there has been change throughout the history, so can you talk about the precedent for change in NASCAR?

BRIAN FRANCE: Clearly there is an ebb and flow, sometimes you can do too much, and that's unsettling to people. That certainly can happen. And then there's times when there are things right in front of you that everybody feels very strongly about, and in this case, the spoiler with what that's going to do to change the racing; and there will be a significant change, and depending on which driver and team you are, you'll feel differently about that.

But I think that there's no question that in the exchanges we have had with the drivers and the team owners, and everyone else, they want to go back to a more traditional-looking race car and a traditional-handling race car, and that is a change we think that will be the right one at the right time.

Continued in part 2

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Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya