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NASCAR MEDIA TOUR
January 26, 2015
SCOTT COOPER:¬† Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.¬† My name is Scott Cooper and I'm the vice president of communications at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and on behalf of our president and general manager Marcus Smith, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 33rd edition of the Charlotte Motor Speedway media tour this year presented by Technocom.¬† We do have a sponsor connected with the tour this year, and Technocom is the official business solutions provider for Charlotte Motor Speedway, and they'll be providing copier and printing services for us throughout the week here with the tour.
Now, when a customer has a question, Technocom's response and slogan is always, "you got it," and when it comes to the schedule we have this week, we have got that, too.¬† Each of you should have picked up a credential like one of these at registration along with a schedule, and as you will note, the majority of our programs this week will take place here at the Charlotte Convention Center.
We'll hear from NASCAR in just a few minutes as they set the table for the week and for the season, and then later this afternoon we will have our first look at the new look four‑team lineup for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Now, following each program, our breakout interviews will take place in the room behind me.¬† If you'll note your credentials, everything is noted either print, online or broadcast, and what we're going to do is we're going to start each breakout session with the print online media on the left side of the room and the broadcast media on the right side of the room, so please abide by the grouping as noted on your credential and be prepared to switch sides when we make those announcements.
At registration you should have also picked up this welcome letter.¬† Please read this carefully as the information that is included is really the key to making this time as productive as possible for you this week.¬† It also includes some parking and transportation information, as we will have several signature off‑property programs this week, including a special world premier event tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with our friends from FOX Sports.
Marcus Smith will play host, and we are expecting appearances by Speedway Motorsports chairman Bruton Smith and FOX Sports president Eric Shanks along with the entire lineup of NASCAR on FOX personalities, including Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds and some new faces that you'll see reporting and hosting on FOX this year.
Our buses will depart from the Convention Center Martin Luther King Street entrance, and we will return this evening with drop‑offs both at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for those of you who may have parked there as well as at the media hotel, the nearby Hyatt Place.
NASCAR, of course, finished the 2014 season with a lot of momentum, and we've certainly seen that excitement steered toward our media tour this January, as well.¬† We've credentialed more than 240 members of the media, representing national, regional and local TV and broadcast, print, online outlets from 113 different places.¬† They will all cover the 17 events that will be taking place over the next four days.
It takes thousands of work hours to put this week together and a tremendous amount of cooperation and support from several major stakeholders in our sport, from NASCAR to the race teams, to the manufacturers, to the staff at Charlotte Motor Speedway.¬† We are very grateful for all the hard work that has already taken place and the hard work that will take place this week.
Charlotte Motor Speedway has taken great pride for more than three decades in producing this event for the media so that you can share the news of NASCAR with millions of race fans worldwide.¬† We sincerely look forward to your coverage as we kick off 2015.¬† Again, we'd like to thank everyone that's helped to make this week possible and encourage you, the media, that if you have a question or need assistance with anything, please seek out a speedway staff member this week, and we'll be glad to help you.
And by the way, I'd be remiss if I didn't say now, tickets are on sale for the NASCAR Sprint All‑Star Race and the Coca‑Cola 600 this May at Charlotte Motor Speedway.¬† Had to go ahead and get that in.
In just a few moments Brett Jewkes, senior vice president and chief communications officer from NASCAR will step to the podium and we'll kick off our first formal program.¬† We are very glad to have you here.¬† Thank you.
BRETT JEWKES:¬† Good afternoon.¬† Welcome to NASCAR's annual preseason press conference.¬† We're glad you're here.¬† First I would like to welcome all of our passionate fans joining us today watching on NASCAR.com, MRN.com or listening or Sirius XM radio.¬† We appreciate you being here.¬† We know it's been a long off‑season.¬† You're hungry for some content and certainly going to have plenty of that this weekend.¬† Want to thank all of our media here.¬† Appreciate the big commitment this week.¬† We know it's a challenging schedule.¬† We're glad to have you here, and we think you're going to be well‑served.
Before I go on I just want to acknowledge Steve Byrnes and Holly Cain.¬† We acknowledged them in Homestead everybody knows, and here they're in a tough fight.¬† Normally they'd be here with us.¬† We want them to know that our prayers and thoughts continue to be with them as they fight on.
Depending on how you look at it, this off‑season has either been long or short, but for our fans and certainly myself included, it's been too long since we've seen racing.¬† We're all eager to get back to Daytona in a couple weeks for the Daytona Speedweeks events, culminating obviously with the Daytona 500 live on FOX on February 22nd.
Today is a first stop of many for you on the tour.¬† We'll hear from a number of people today, prior to one of the most anticipated seasons in history.¬† Before I get started on today's program, I want to remind everyone of the capstone of this week, which is the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductions.¬† Certainly one of the most important nights of the year on our calendar.¬† This week we'll welcome five legends of the sport:¬† Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White, and if any of you have talked to Rex White since his induction was announced, that's going to be a treat Friday night to hear from Rex.
That broadcast will be live on NBC Sports Network, which will be their first broadcast under the new rights agreement.¬† It will also be carried on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio as well as MRN.¬† We look forward to seeing everyone there.¬† Let's get today's program started.
Lesa France Kennedy's vision for a reimagined Daytona International Speedway is coming together in an incredible way, and when you're there in a couple of weeks you'll see the incredible progress that's been made with the Daytona Rising project.¬† Certainly very exciting times for the World Center of Racing.
Here today to give us an update on that project from Daytona is Daytona president Joie Chitwood.
JOIE CHITWOOD:¬† Thank you so much, and good afternoon.¬† I want to say thank you to NASCAR for allowing me some time today to talk about some exciting things happening in Daytona.¬† I would echo your comments that it has been a short off‑season for us as we're watching the championship unfold in Miami, realizing that Daytona is just months away from hosting the biggest event on the NASCAR calendar, whether it's putting the finishing touches on the Dale Earnhardt Jr. TV spot promoting this year's events, or over 1,000 workers one day in December working on our project, to planning the Road to Daytona media blitz in which we've taken close to 20 drivers to almost 11 cities across the U.S., whether it's Boston, Washington D.C., New York, or a number of spots in Florida.
We've been hard at work preparing for what's going to be really special about Budweiser Speedweeks, Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500.
Two years ago, I stood here and talked about a vision, determination, imagination and desire.¬† That's what it took to build the Daytona International Speedway in 1958, and we are going to walk in those footsteps and reimagine this American icon.¬† One year ago I showed you video from groundbreaking in a time lapse.¬† We talked about concrete and steel.¬† We talked about labor, what it takes to build this mammoth project, $400 million, two and a half years, something that hasn't been done in our sport as we turn this iconic property into a motorsports stadium.
I stand in front of you today to talk about reality.¬† Reality is we have 40,000 new seats open and available for this year's Daytona 500.¬† Wider concourses, better seats, the best sight lines in motorsports, vertical transportation, escalators, elevators.¬† We will give our fans something they've never had before when they attend our events in February.¬† We're so excited about this opportunity to kick off the NASCAR season with the biggest event but also this retransformation of all that's special at Daytona.
Next year I will talk to you about the grand reopening when we put the final pieces in place and this project will truly be done and we can make the claim that we're the first and only motorsports stadium, so for us we're very excited.¬† It's a great opportunity for a sneak preview of what's happening, and I can tell you already the fans' response has been fantastic, whether it's the sight lines, the amenities, or just the overall look and feel.¬† As we get geared up to kick off the NASCAR season, we're proud that the media, our fans, the sponsors, our competitors, are going to be blown away when they come to Daytona this year.¬† A couple weeks away, be ready, whether it's the on‑track excitement with NASCAR and the great competitive product they have, or off track with all the amenities and the way we're going to change the way our fans enjoy our sport, I think the season is going to be fantastic, and I'm just happy that NASCAR and Daytona get to kick it off together with something special.
With that, thank you very much.
BRETT JEWKES:¬† Thank you, Joie.¬† We're excited to get down there.¬† The NASCAR Drive For Diversity program is the leading youth development program in our industry.¬† Through the academy‑style program led but Rev Racing CEO Max Siegel who is here with us today, NASCAR is committed to providing world‑class training, competition, experience and mentoring to the young, diverse and female up‑and‑coming drivers that are out there.¬† The program has been instrumental in launching its participants to the highest levels of competition in NASCAR.¬† We've seen in 2014 the D4D program graduating its third driver to the national series level with Daniel Suarez moving up to the NASCAR XFINITY Series, joining Darrell Wallace Jr. and 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson.¬† Their success has sparked an even greater excitement for the future.¬†
This year we have another strong group of drivers selected out of the largest pool of applicants ever for the program.¬† Nearly 100 drivers representing 14 states, M√©xico, Colombia and Canada applied for an opportunity to try out for a spot with Rev Racing at the annual combine this past October.¬† Now it's my pleasure to introduce the NASCAR Drive For Diversity class of 2015.
First up, he's a 23 year old from Las Vegas, Nevada, who will compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for his second season with Rev Racing.¬† Finishing second on the team and 13th overall in the championship points standings, with two top 5s and five top 10s, please welcome Jay Beasley.
Another 23 year old, this one from Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and also returns to Rev Racing for a second season, earning a spot in the K&N Pro Series East after two full seasons in the Whelen All‑American Series, please welcome Devon Amos.
Next, she's a 17 year old from Eagle Creek, Wisconsin, who joins Rev Racing and NASCAR Drive For Diversity for the first time.¬† She will compete in the NASCAR Whelen All‑American Series after nine feature wins last season while driving limited late and super late models throughout Wisconsin.¬† Please welcome Natalie Decker.
Next, a 22 year old from Randolph, Vermont, who earns a spot with Rev Racing in the NASCAR Whelen All‑American Series after competing in his own late model last year.¬† He ran 15 races and finished 38th in the NASCAR Whelen All‑American series Division I national standings.¬† Please welcome Dylan Smith.
21 year old from Tampa, Florida, joins Rev Racing for the first time after recording the fastest times at two combine tryouts.¬† He will compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East after racing asphalt and dirt sprints since he was 16.¬† Please welcome Collin Cabre.
Finally we welcome 22 year old from El Reno, Oklahoma, to Rev Racing and NASCAR Drive For Diversity.¬† While new to the program, she has competed in two consecutive full‑time seasons in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.¬† In 2014 she finished ninth in points, all while breaking her own series record as the highest finishing driver in series history with a runner‑up finish at Iowa Speedway.¬† Please welcome a member of our NASCAR Next program, Kenzie Ruston.
Now I'd like to invite NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell and Max Siegel to the stage for a photo.
That good‑looking group is the future of NASCAR.¬† We're excited about them.¬† Ladies and gentlemen, the 2015 NASCAR Drive For Diversity class.
It's now my pleasure to welcome to the podium for some competition updates, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell.¬† Steve?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Thanks, Brett, and good afternoon, everybody, and once again, I want to acknowledge the fantastic class we have as part of our Drive For Diversity program.¬† We look for continued incredible success from this group, success we've seen from our recent graduates Kyle Larson, no pressure, had a pretty good race this weekend down at Daytona, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez are all examples of where we want this program to go.¬† NASCAR and Rev Racing are committed to growing the Drive For Diversity program, and we're going to continue to build upon our success every day as a sport, a company, and most importantly, I think as an industry.
I want to especially thank Max and Coach Phil who are here today for outstanding work, a great partnership, and looking forward to many more years to come.¬† Really appreciate it.
Turning our attention back for a minute to 2014, and I think we'd all agree it was one of the most thrilling seasons we've had in recent memory, and when you look at it, the unmatched racing excitement, culminating in an historic Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, we join all of our fans in anticipation of what's to come for 2015.
The revamped Chase was certainly a bold initiative, led to some of the most compelling on‑track racing action we've seen ever in the sport.¬† From a technology standpoint, NASCAR, guided by our chairman Brian France, who you'll hear from in a minute, is committed to innovation in all aspects of the sport, and our fans have certainly seen a number of examples of innovation in the past, and in the years to come we're really enthused about the continued progress we see as we introduce new technology to the sport.
Not unlike other seasons, 2014 dealt us with a few weather challenges, particularly here with Joie.¬† However, I think unlike past seasons, the fan experience was not always marred by the long delays and many postponements, due in no small part to the Air Titan certainly doing its job and playing a key role in keeping the race schedule intact during the opening stretch of last season.
Just a quick reminder, too, let's not forget as we head to the road courses for next year, the weather will become even less of a factor as the teams are fully prepared to tackle the course in the rain if we need to do so.
So in 2014, we updated the Air Titan system.¬† We gave it a revolutionary technology, a newer, greener, more effective look, thanks to great partners at Toyota that you see here.¬† All of this I think it's important to note was developed just 17 miles from here at NASCAR's Research and Development Center, and we've certainly got some innovation in store for the sport in 2015.¬† Joie got up and talked about the Daytona 500 and it's certainly known for its history‑making moments, and before a single lap is turned, as we said into Daytona, we already know that 2015 and the addition of the Great American Race will forever have a chapter in the sports history.¬† It will be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event to utilize our new pit road technology, and if you haven't heard of the innovation, you soon will.
At the heart of this, its purpose is the ability to provide an extraordinary experience to our broadcast partners, the race teams, and ultimately our fans.¬† We're going to do this by way of statistics, video, and data during a NASCAR event.
And with this technology, we know that we're going to be safer, we'll be more exact, and we'll realize a fairer and more balanced playing field.¬† Let's take a look at a video of what it's all about.
Really excited about the technology, and in the video you saw that Gene touched on a part of this technology that we're really the most excited about.¬† While we know it's going to provide many benefits to the race teams, the ability for us to have a significant amount of data delivered to our broadcast partners, the race teams as you saw on pit road, but most importantly our fans, we think is a real game changer for the sport.
To touch on the rules, and I want to just say a quick thanks in large part to the unmatched collaboration we've had really across the industry from our OEM partners, the race teams and Goodyear as we were able to deliver the 2015 rules packages in September, which is earlier than we ever have before.
Those rules were delivered for the first time digitally through our simplified rule book, which is used to really increase the objectivity and replace many of the written rules that you've seen with computer‑aided drawings.
We anticipate September of this year‑‑ I'm sorry, of 2015, beating that marker in 2016, and we'll look to bring the rules package to the teams as early as we can with a target date of looking around the All‑Star Race for this year.
This only happens thanks to the continued support and the working relationships as I said earlier we have across the industry.¬† We're truly honored to work in a sport that remains cohesive in its march to deliver fans what we believe to be the best racing in the world, while we look to increase the efficiencies and certainly decrease costs where we can, delivering the best racing.
A moment ago I talked about fair and balanced competition, and we're pleased that 2015 will be the first full season where our officials, who we believe and we know are the best in the world, will use tablets to digitally log inspection data, both at the track and at the research and development center, all to enable them to better understand trends and assist with the rule development as we go forward.¬† It will also be the first season with our new parts approval process.¬† This enhanced initiative really formalizes our submission process and approval process and helps develop an electronic database where we can store all of our parts.
This brings me to a much‑discussed topic from last season, the side skirts.¬† As many of you know we deliberately decided against any changes near the end of last season, so in 2015, teams manipulating the fenders or flares during a race will be asked to come back down pit road, and we will use any means possible to police that; particularly, though, our new pit road officiating system.¬† Again, we'll look at that through video and any means possible during the race season.
I think one important note there is we worked a lot with the race teams to talk about what was the best way to do that, and this is where we landed heading into the 2015 season.
So we continue to work towards the goal of fair, tight competition, offering our fans, again, the best racing in the world, and all of our expectations for competition heading into the Daytona 500 are that it'll be even better this year.¬† We're not going to rest for 2015, '16 or '17, but we look forward to continued progress towards that best racing.¬† I thank you and look forward to seeing you all in Daytona and appreciate what you all do for the sport.¬† Thanks.
BRETT JEWKES:¬† Want to let you know Steve and Gene will be available for media breakouts in the room right behind you after the program is over today.¬† Before I bring up our chairman, I want to let you know that Brian is going to make a couple remarks from the podium, and from there he will move to an open Q & A.¬† With that I'll bring up NASCAR chairman and CEO, Brian France.
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Good afternoon, and welcome to the season kickoff here in the media tour, and this is always an exciting time for us because, number one, we're meeting with the teams this week and the owners; start with that.¬† It's also a time when everybody is coming off of, in this case, an amazingly strong year, and as Steve said a minute ago, perhaps our greatest Chase certainly in recent memory.¬† A lot of excitement and a lot of momentum, and it's also a time when all the teams have a clean slate, and they all‑‑ some of them are with new teams, some of them have new crew chiefs, new personnel, and there's a sense of optimism and excitement that only this time of the year happens.¬† It's great to be here in January.
I want to talk a little bit about the Chase because it's overwhelmingly popular with the most important stakeholder:¬† Our fans.¬† The research and data that we've got in over the winter not only suggests that, it determines that loud and clear.¬† They like the fact that it tightened up competition.¬† They liked the drama down the stretch.¬† They liked the emphasis on winning.¬† And one of the things they told us that they really liked is the idea that we weren't going to change anything, and they strongly suggested that we didn't, and we're not going to.
It's not because there aren't a tweak or two here that we didn't get good suggestions on, but one of the magical parts of this Chase, and we want to make sure we keep it this way, is the simplicity of it:¬† Win and you get in; be in the top eight, top four, whatever it may be, and move on; coming down the stretch, beat the other three drivers and you win the championship.
So whatever we would do into the future, we want to make sure that simplicity is right there.
The other thing I think you can expect to see are the strategies next year by the teams, because they're undoubtedly going to be looking at how things went, some of the strategies they used to get in the Chase.¬† I think winning obviously, no question about that, I think you're going to see teams trying to win earlier.¬† I think the strategies coming in and out of those transfer events are going to change, and that's going to make it that much more exciting as the teams and the drivers get a better feel for this format.
I want to take a moment, though, to welcome back NBC and Comcast and XFINITY and the 10‑year relationship that we launched this year.¬† They're very excited that this is a central part of what happens at NBC Sports within the Comcast companies.¬† To mention XFINITY is replacing Nationwide, we're really pleased about that, as well.¬† But their enthusiasm, their lineup of talent, their integration of all of their promotional assets, and just the way that they're going to partner with us to present the sport because of how important it is for them and for us, I'm pretty‑‑ we're very excited about that for sure.
Steve mentioned a moment ago about the technology advancements, pit road and otherwise, and you know, I've said over the last four or five years, we are going to be on a‑‑ I call it a steady march towards innovation.¬† We are going to balance that with the cost and the benefits to the individual teams and to the sport, but given that the car manufacturers in particular and everybody else has innovation on their minds as part of their DNA, NASCAR needed to follow suit with that.¬† We also want to be in a place that if you bring some of the greatest technology companies into our sport to look around, I want them to look around and see that we're a relevant place for them to market their technologies, their own innovation.¬† They're going to feel comfortable here.
Maybe that hasn't always been the case, but it will be now and into the future.¬† It's very important for us.
The other thing that I have frequently outlined are our green initiatives, and I know from time to time I've gotten a lot of long looks, like really, at NASCAR you're burning fossil fuel and how can you guys lead in an area.¬† Well, it's kind of innovation, number one.¬† It's not kind of; it is innovation.¬† But it's also for all the right reasons a way for NASCAR to take the lead in something so important to millenial fans, to ourselves, and to our stakeholders, which is reserving our environment in a way that is better off than when we started out, so I'm pleased to say that all of our green initiatives are building momentum, all of our stakeholders within the ecosystem, that our drivers, teams and tracks are participating, and it's improving things on and off the track.
I want to make mention, too, and I'll say I'm sure this will come up in the Q&A, is our relationships and our communications with our drivers, teams and tracks, in particular our drivers and our owners, and I've got to tell you, it's never been stronger, and I don't just say that because it's convenient to say.¬† I say that because of all the input, all the meetings that some of you folks see, some you don't, that happen all the time.¬† It happened in different places that are going on.¬† I chair a lot of them, and I think when you talk to the teams and the drivers, there's an unprecedented amount of cooperation and input as we look at rules packages now and into the future, where is the sport going, where do they fit in, what are their concerns.¬† That's going to continue, and frankly, it's one of the key reasons I made sure that our two senior people were based right here in Charlotte to be as close as possible with our drivers and our teams:¬† That's Steve O'Donnell and Steve Phelps, and that's serving us well.¬† So those were no small thing on our part to make sure that we're plugged in with those key stakeholders.
The other key stakeholder that we're joining at the hip closer and closer are the car manufacturers.¬† Last week we met in Detroit around the auto show, their busiest time I might tell you, and all three manufacturers were highly representative and greatly appreciated the time that we got to spend time, and so did we, because we shared our plans for now and into the future, how they fit in, how central they are to that, and they shared theirs.¬† So that relationship with the car manufacturers, never been more important and never been running better.
Lastly, I want to close on one thing, and that is the recent announcement with Jeff Gordon.¬† Jeff is a friend of ours, a friend of mine personally, and certainly I don't have to tell you what he's done for the sport.¬† I don't have to tell you the amazing accomplishments on and off the track.¬† And I just wanted to, from everybody at NASCAR, wish him a strong final season.¬† He came real close to competing and trying to win another championship, and I know he's going to try to accomplish that certainly on his final year, but we'll wish him well.¬† I know he's not going to go too far from the sport one way or the other, but I did want to recognize Jeff's amazing career with NASCAR.¬† So with that I'm going to take some questions.
Q.¬† Brian, what do you think the single biggest challenge facing NASCAR this coming season is and how you plan to deal with it?¬† Lots of things we can talk about, but pick one big one.
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, I don't think we have a glaring weakness per se, but I think our biggest challenge is our biggest opportunity, and that's getting the rules packages exactly where we want them.¬† We're making a lot of progress on that.¬† The drivers have been, as you know, participating in a lot of tests with us.¬† These are more targeted tests.¬† They're more focused on what works properly for us and into the future.
We said we're going to be earlier than ever at getting the rules packages to the teams.¬† That's helpful in a lot of ways for them to get comfortable with what we're doing.¬† From a cost standpoint they're able to phase in, phase out the old packages with the new.¬† We're targeting sometime in the spring, which would be an historic thing for NASCAR to do that early, with the '16 rules package.¬† But that's clearly the hardest thing we do, by the way, because we're balancing safety, we're balancing costs, we're balancing a whole bunch of different ideas and agendas and opinions, and so our‑‑ but at the end of the day, that's what makes NASCAR safe, unbelievably tight competition, and we can do all the format things that we want to do and that we should do, but nothing takes the place of rules that are relatively inexpensive.¬† I say relatively, and most importantly creating safe, exciting competition.
Q.¬† A personal question not related to racing itself:¬† You were very young when your grandfather was running the show, and you grew up basically as your father ran the show.¬† Did you learn anything from your grandfather that you now apply, and what did you learn from your father that you now use?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, I'm often asked that in very different styles.¬† My grandfather was more of a‑‑ sort of a bold leader, a consensus builder, and my father was more of a guy that just hands‑on, make it happen every day.¬† So you try to learn things from both if you're me and apply them to the approach that‑‑ and how I am, how I operate.
But what's really clear is things are very, very different today.¬† They're much more complex.¬† And the amount of people that we have, experts in individual disciplines, it used to be we had to have marketing discipline, and of course we still do, and now it's digital medial and now on the rules package and getting that right, and now we have all these other initiatives like diversity which we have to have a good plan for, green initiatives and all the rest.¬† It takes a lot of smart, talented people in this industry.¬† My job is to communicate with them and make sure that we keep hitting our goals.
Q.¬† In your eyes, what criteria will you use to judge the new rules package?¬† Will you consider in‑season tweaks to it, and when do you think is a fair time to judge it?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, we try not to do too many in‑season tweaks to any rules package unless there's a safety concern because of cost.¬† We judge it quite simply by lead changes, how close race winning is, how many different winners, how each car manufacturer is able to have a fair shot at competing, and there's plenty of data to help us with that.¬† And then there's just watching what we watch about what makes up good racing.¬† But it's close, tight competition, hopefully lots of lead changes, hopefully lots of excitement down the stretch, close finishes.
Q.¬† My question is it seems as of late anyway that we have a new rules package.¬† It's kind of a foregone conclusion starting each season.¬† Is that necessarily always going to be the case?¬† And is there some final point that you're working on, or is the quest for, quote, better racing something that will really‑‑ there isn't really a final tight spot?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† There's no final.¬† It'll always evolve, and the reason for that is the teams are always trying to gain an advantage, and that's what they do, right, they go out‑‑ whatever we package, we present, and they try to lead every lap and they try to have an advantage, and so our job is to make sure that the playing field is level and that more teams have a good shot at competing at a high level, and given that it always changes, we have to change, too, and circumstances change.¬† Tires change, tracks wear down differently.¬† We change tracks from time to time.¬† So there are other variables outside of what even the teams do that will always keep us looking ahead.
Q.¬† In the last couple weeks we've seen some dramatic headlines regarding Kurt Busch.¬† I'm wondering about the negative publicity generated by that, and do you second‑guess or reconsider in the future how you handle those situations given the media reports sort of said the NFL should have been more proactive in their issue?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, I think you're referring to domestic violence.¬† I've said that I think every sport is taking a more than hard look.¬† They're doing what they should be doing.¬† I've also said I think society is kind of good that way, as a way of evolving important issues for individual sports leagues to conform and make sure that we get it right, and so I think you're going to see us‑‑ I'm sure most other leagues, as well, when there are those clear circumstances, have a much more severe reaction to how you deal with those things, and that will be no different with NASCAR.
The only thing we want to do is, and this is important, we've got to let the facts come in.¬† There would be no reason for me or NASCAR or anybody else to get ahead of those facts given that they may change.¬† Let's let the facts come in, and if there's something for us to react to, you can appreciate that we will be very careful and very aware of what the circumstances are.
Q.¬† You specifically mentioned Jeff Gordon, and I think that you've used this forum before to say how important it is for guys like Jeff specifically and Dale Jr. to make the Chase and to be competitive.¬† As he's getting ready to move on and other drivers like Dale and Tony are in their 40s and very few drivers have the ability to reach beyond sports fans, how does NASCAR create stars to fill those voids?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† You're looking at some potentials right here who could take us to a different audience, too, which is the beauty of our diversity program when I announced it well over 10 years ago.¬† But we've got other drivers.¬† Chase Elliott coming on, very talented, lots of credentials, cache back to the past with his father being in the Hall of Fame of course here Friday night, and other talented drivers that are young and aggressive and bring their own style to NASCAR.
You know, the changing of the guard, that's always part of sports, part of NASCAR, and that's what you count on to have great farm system of aspiring talent, hopefully of a diverse background, to let their talents and their abilities land with the Sprint Cup Series.
Q.¬† You were asked earlier about what the biggest challenge facing NASCAR is.¬† With so much of the landscape changing in recent years, what's your biggest upside or biggest opportunity?¬† Is it new drivers coming in, new track amenities like you're doing with Daytona, new things on broadcast?¬† Where do you see the upside?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, you know, I think the upside is balanced against that we have a hugely competitive sports landscape.¬† We know that, and that's very obvious.¬† But the upside is getting the racing better and better.¬† We saw big gains in our research with how our casual and avid fans equally, almost equally liked the Chase format, and the drama and excitement that that brought to them.
You know, we've got a lot of initiatives and different lanes going that are responsible, smart things that we're doing for our stakeholders who count on us to make a lot of good decisions and try to be as forward‑thinking on these things as we possibly can, and we do that in a context, and I always say this, and it's often easy to go by, there's nowhere in the world that has the plethora of sports that this country offers almost every day, every evening, 12 months a year, and we're very fortunate that NASCAR fits in in a prominent way, and we just want to keep that alive and build on that.
Q.¬† You mentioned that you were considering some tweaks to the Chase and then ultimately because of the fan feedback and the success of the Chase you decided not to go with those.¬† What were some things you were considering and could we see those in future years if the Chase doesn't necessarily go as well as this one did this last year?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, I won't give you any specifics other than to say the normal things that you would think of, the drivers who fell out or teams that fell out for one reason or another in the Chase, would have liked to have seen a different points system within a points system or some of those ideas that would have possibly helped them in this particular year.¬† But where we get back to is how do we keep it simple.¬† We made it as simple as we possibly could.¬† That was goal number one.¬† Any change that we would make, even if it were helpful and reasonably easy to understand, it would still be something different, and our view is let's keep it exactly how we have it now.
It's going to take a fair amount of time for‑‑ even our affidavit fan base to really‑‑ to really sort out the strategies necessary to compete, and as I said early in my remarks, advance from one round to the next.
Why is a transfer race really that important?¬† Well, you saw it at each transfer race, right?¬† You saw Talladega come up and all the drama that that presented, and you saw a strategy that I think Kyle Busch had, which he was comfortably in so he ran in the back and it didn't work out very well.¬† So fans are like everybody else; they're keeping up with this, but it's not without its own interesting twists, turns and complexities, and we want to make sure that's fully digesting before we do anything in the future.
Q.¬† You sat here last year and told us it was ultimately your decision to implement the Chase format.¬† For the sport's credibility, how important is it that it worked out how it did?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† You know, I don't know how to answer that.¬† I guess it was really important.¬† It was an important step, had some risks, like anything that is controversial would have, and anything that fools around with tradition will have a big thing.¬† But we wouldn't do something, and I certainly wouldn't, if we didn't have a high degree of certainty it was the right step for us.¬† I think it was important, but we'll never know because it did work out, and thankfully it did.
Q.¬† The hunt for a new title sponsor, the last time you needed one, you brokered a deal in which RJR was replaced by Nextel and four years left on Nextel's deal.¬† Sprint's deal ends in 2016.¬† As you search for a replacement, is there a chance that Sprint could exit next season if a new sponsor is found, and as far as the length of that next title sponsor deal, are you looking for 10 years again or is a shorter term deal possible?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, I don't anticipate anybody being in a position to leave early, but we'll get out into the marketplace and see.¬† The longer, generally speaking, that these agreements can last, the better, because they're building their brand in the most important area of NASCAR.¬† I think the longer the better.¬† It's the most coveted position in sports because of the positioning of it, so we'll get out and see where we're at.
Q.¬† Brian, have you had any productive discussions with Rob Kauffman in his role as the leader of the Race Team Alliance, and has your opinion of RTA changed at all since his announcement?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† We have conversations frequently with Rob and all the owners.¬† We're going to be meeting with them later on this week, so that's all going‑‑ I think our position is we hope that they achieve their stated goals, and I think they're working on them, and we don't have a lot to do with that.¬† That's kind of their‑‑ they're on their own timeline with all that, and we're doing what we normally do, which is get input from everybody so that we can make really good decisions, and that's the way it was and that's the way it will be.
Q.¬† Brian, you talked at Daytona in July about the barrier to entry for car owners.¬† You talked about it was slow, that there was progress needing to be made there.¬† Six months later where are you in regards to that, or are you looking at the idea of allowing the current car owners to expand from the current car limit to five or more?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, we're not looking to expand from the current four.¬† But it's true, I think we would like to see the barrier to entry be lower rather than higher.¬† This is an open sport, and it's open to teams and drivers who fit the specifications and can compete at a high level, but it's also an expensive undertaking to go racing at the highest level, and by the way, that's as it should be, because there's a lot to come in and compete against for anybody to look at this.
But that's one of the missions that Steve O'Donnell and his team are always taking into consideration, and that goes to our business model for our teams.¬† It goes to the rules packages, and are we making things easier, are we lowering things, are we making it easy for new teams to look at coming in and competing with NASCAR, or do you need all this institutional knowledge and all this expertise and technology that only a few can have.¬† We think that's not where we want to be.¬† We want to have an open sport where if you've got the will to compete, we're going to make it as easy as reasonably possible for us to compete in this sport.
Q.¬† You were talking about the general sports landscape.¬† Going into 2015, where do you see NASCAR fitting into that conversation, and could you address the delicate balance of how you grow the sport, attract new fans but keep the core fans happy, as well?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, you know, the last part of your question first, that's always‑‑ I get that question a lot:¬† How do you manage attracting new fans, because you have to do some new initiatives and things that are appealing to millenial fans may not be appealing to some of the traditional fans.¬† But at the end of the day, our traditional fans love‑‑ they love one thing.¬† They love safe, exciting, real tight racing, and if the packages and the formats give that to them, then they're generally pretty happy.
Millenial fans and other new fans, well, they may have different time constraints, they may have different things that excite them, and different ways to consume our sport or any sport, and so we're working on that, too.¬† The good thing is that none of it really competes with one another.¬† It's really complementary.
If we go after the millenial fan on one end and make sure we're giving our core fans exactly what they want, they usually go together at the end of the day.
Q.¬† Looking at declining attendance, declining TV ratings over the last 10 years, even declining video game sales, how do you tackle all that and keep your sport alive?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Wow, okay.¬† Well, I'll give you an optimistic answer because it's true, and that is that we've had some good gains in certain situations with our attendance.¬† We know that the economy, fuel prices and all that are helping, finally coming down, finally getting a little bit better.¬† It's taken a long time to get through that.¬† We were hardest hit as you well know because of the length of miles and the long stays our fans make when they go to events, hotel rooms and whatever else and fuel prices and so on are a lot different than going to a football or basketball game in their hometown, so that's changed things for us in that respect, and I will tell you that every sport has some challenge in one capacity with their live gate because of the economy and because of our great television is, to watch those sports on television.¬† So everybody has some thing that they're trying to make the live experience even better, and we're no different.
On television, we've got great partners.¬† We still, even if we're off of our highs, we're still one or two almost every weekend coming in and out of every weekend from February to September, with millions and millions of fans, and they're digesting it different.¬† You look at our digital numbers, a billion downloads and millions of people every week, unique users on our site.¬† So when you judge it all, we're pretty comfortable that this is not only the most dominant motor sport in North America by a wide margin, but we're competing nicely with, as I said in the beginning, with the most competitive sports landscape in the world, no question about that.
So we feel good about things, but I mean, that doesn't mean they're easy, it doesn't mean we take anything for granted or that we're not working all the time to make improvements.
Q.¬† Piggybacking off of that, with the fact that some of your more popular tracks are repurposing seating areas, does it end with the fact that the Chase was different in terms of your standard racing format?¬† Does it give you a reason to consider changing other formats with your events, maybe not next year or two years but maybe five or ten years down the road?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† We don't really want to do that, and the reason that we don't, we want to have the Sprint Cup Series be very unique.¬† It's unique to all motorsports for obvious reasons, and if we change our other series to be‑‑ to complement that, it would lose some of that uniqueness, and some of them don't even lend themselves in how long the events are, their season is rather, and so on.
Our preference would be to reserve some of the unique formats at other all‑star events, etcetera, for the Sprint Cup Series.
Q.¬† When you look at the challenges today versus the challenges of the '60s and '70s or the '50s even, when you look at the challenges of your grandfather and your father, do you think of anything they said to you, that even though the challenges are different, still help you beat the challenges, meet them and exceed?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† You know, the one theme that they always had and our family has, too, for that matter, is everybody at the end of the day has to win, has to have the right outcomes for themselves, and all of our stakeholders do.¬† I will tell you that was impressed upon me, still is, that whatever decisions we make, they can't be just good for a few people.¬† They have to be good for our whole industry.¬† Sometimes when you're talking to one stakeholder or another, it's easy to miss that, right, because they're focused on what's important right in front of them.
So I take that with me.
The other thing I would tell you, while the complexities are much greater, stakes are much higher than back in the '50s, '60s, '70s or at any time, so is the opportunity and so are the people within‑‑ not only within NASCAR that help me manage every day, but within the industry, so we've got more talent, more smart people trying to figure out these difficult problems, more help in those areas than my father or grandfather or some of the early pioneers of the sport ever had to manage.¬† That includes those of the teams.¬† Drivers are arguably a harder time winning today with more competitive teams, but they also have a lot of help, a lot of teammates to get them where they need to go, and I've got a lot of teammates that help me get where we need to go, and that's what keeps us going.
Thank you, all.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports