On Monday, NASCAR executive VP and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell admitted he got a kick out of the teams’ response to rumors at Michigan International Speedway regarding the series’ random car tests.
Admittedly, the sanctioning body was a wee bit deceptive in the process, having planted the idea that a number of cars would be impounded and hauled back to NASCAR's tech center in Concord, N.C., for testing after the race.
“We always do that,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Morning Drive about randomly taking cars. “We actually found it kind of comical this weekend, because we kind of put the rumor out there and candidly it worked. Most of the rumors in the garage were that NASCAR was going to take the cars.
“The bottom line was we feel comfortable with how we review the cars. We have a process in place but we’re not going to telegraph when we would do that at a certain racetrack. We always want to make sure that we have the best information possible – particularly on the aerodynamics of the cars. So we’ll continue to do that.”
Brad Keselowski specifically threw shade on the Toyota camp, where Martin Truex Jr., has been the dominant driver on the tour this season with most wins (four), most laps led (1,372) and most stage wins and playoff points – 15 and 35, respectively. Keselowski opined that the Toyotas might sandbag by dialing back their engine performance, believing the horsepower of the cars would be measured after the race.
Team owner Joe Gibbs dismissed the idea as “a joke.”
“There’s a lot of politicking going on out there,” O’Donnell added. “I think that will continue as we get closer to the playoffs. There’s a lot on the line – a lot of different winners, and that’s actually kinda cool to see because people care and they want to do all they can to win.”
O’Donnell also continued to back up what NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France has said since March of 2016 – and what Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles acknowledged in December – that there are ongoing talks with new manufacturers.
“I would confirm that ongoing dialogue is still happening,” O’Donnell said. “We’re excited about the possibilities of new OEMs coming into the sport. There are still continuing discussions with some potential OEMs and hopefully we’ll have something coming.”
The numbers would have to make sense for Dodge, for example, to make a comeback. The manufacturer left NASCAR on a high note in 2012 after winning the Cup championship with Team Penske and Keselowski. Some insiders say Dodge has the budget to race but not necessarily to spend on additional marketing and activation.
Still, O’Donnell seems pleased with the backing from the current OEMs – Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota.
“You look at the new models across the board and the support that we receive from the OEMs is incredible,” O’Donnell said. “Great competition on the track. We’ve got three great partners there. Those guys do a terrific job for us.
"I think the great news of each of the three OEMs that we have is that they’re open to new ones coming in. They feel comfortable with their ability to compete, which is terrific and just shows how much they care, not only about their interests in the sport, but the interest overall continuing to grow.”
With 13 races remaining on the 2017 schedule, the sanctioning body also discussed with competitors during the drivers’ council meeting at Michigan what potential sticky substances could be applied at which tracks and where. NASCAR is expected to announce its gameplay over the next.
“We really worked with the drivers to say, ‘What is the exact line where you think this would continue to improve the racing on track?’ It’s a collaborative process from not only the track to NASCAR but then the drivers,” O’Donnell said. “Then we have the ability to make adjustments during the weekend.
“It’s been going really well so far. We’ve learned where it works and where we have some changes to make. But we liked the first race at Bristol where we used it. We might have missed the line a little bit the last time so we’re going to go back to where we were with the first race. We think that will be a real good solution.”