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June 16, 2015

Steve O'Donnell

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everyone, for joining us today.  We're joined by Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, who will share some information regarding the upcoming Kentucky race, and with that, I'll turn it over to you, Steve.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Thanks, Kurt, and good afternoon, everybody.  As Kurt said, thanks for joining us.  We wanted to share with everybody this afternoon that NASCAR has delivered to our Sprint Cup Series teams a rules package that we'll be racing at Kentucky Speedway on July 11th.  I know we've said it many times, and certainly want to reinforce it here, that we're committed to putting on the best racing on the track, and I'm certainly pleased that it's been evident from really every conversation we've had with our industry that they feel the same way.
So following what's been really well‑documented and unprecedented communications and collaboration with our OEM partners, the race teams, drivers and Goodyear, we've made the decision to move forward with the package.¬† So I want to take everybody through the changes that will occur for the race at Kentucky.
We'll have a reduced spoiler height.¬† The spoiler height will be 3? inches, and we'll have a 25‑inch wide splitter extension panel, and the splitter will have a 1? inches less overhang than the current splitter.
And then as we look at the tires, the tires for the event that we'll be using will certainly have more grip than in 2014, but they are not specifically built for the package, which as we know is a common goal that we all share with the industry.
As we go into Kentucky, the teams will be afforded extended practice time on the racetrack, and that will occur opening up Wednesday, July 8, for them to tune their race cars.
One thing I want to bring up, we've probably been too steadfast about our rules packages being an annual component to the sport, and that's really not accurate.  If you look at where we've been, we've actually had several different elements of rules for many of our events, whether that's tire combinations, drive train configurations, engines, aerodynamics, you know, look no further than as we head out to Sonoma, Daytona and then Kentucky, you've got a road course, superspeedway rules package, and then we'll head into Kentucky, as well.
I think when you look at the industry as a whole, we feel as though we're as nimble an industry as we've ever been, with the ability to evolve almost in real time, and I think that's great news for the fans.
And in this case, you know, you look at the depth of communication and resulting alignment across the board, and that really provided the validation we needed that we could all move forward for the race in Kentucky.
Why we felt Kentucky was important, we know that our sport includes some of the brightest people working on the race teams, and we know that we've got the best drivers in the world, and that gives all of us a great deal of confidence as an industry to make this successful, and we're excited to go racing at Kentucky.
Finally, I just want to add, this is not an abandonment of any rules package.  There's many positives we've seen out of our current rules that shouldn't be dismissed, but we're constantly working on all areas of competition, and we'll never consider the racing package final, because we've been vocal and will continue to be vocal about our commitment to continuing to improve the racing.
With that said, I'll turn it back over to the operator and open it up for questions.

Q.  Steve, when we talked to you about this before Charlotte Speedweeks, it seemed like you gave the indication that there probably weren't going to be many big changes, if any, to the rules package going into next year, and then things seemed to accelerate, and now we're hearing that it's going to be changed just in a few weeks here.  What changed to sort of accelerate the process or reverse the course that it seemed like was taking place?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, great question.¬† I think it's important probably to look back over the last 18 months and look at what are some of the things we tested on track, and a number of those variables, one of which was really this package that we're talking about here for Kentucky.¬† We feel like we've got a great deal of confidence in this package.¬† During our conversations with a number of race teams, we had initially looked at it as part of the All‑Star Race, and then in essence took a pause and thought, you know, what's the best thing to do going forward, if we were going to implement this type of package, and as we got through those discussions, not only with the drivers but the race teams, Kentucky really seemed to line up for everybody that this would be a great avenue for us to implement it in a race.¬† So that's where we landed on Kentucky.
Again, we'll continue to look at things, where if we can improve the racing with parts that are in essence interchangeable, we're going to do that.

Q.  And then what will you look for at Kentucky to determine whether this is a success or whether it's something you might want to see again in future races?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† I think ultimately that's up to the fans, but certainly we'll look for‑‑ we've been very, very vigilant in talking about tighter racing.¬† I think we've achieved that in terms of 1st to 43rd.¬† You see that those teams are closer than ever, but we certainly want to see more lead changes on the racetrack.¬† We'll evaluate not only that but a number of different factors coming out of Kentucky and see what we can learn and potentially what we can implement down the road.

Q.  A couple of quick things:  I didn't hear you address whether or not the package will be used beyond Kentucky, or is that going to be the only race where it's in place this season?  And also, how much of a risk is putting that package on the track without extensive testing?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, on your first question, this is a Kentucky package only, but any options are on the table coming out of Kentucky.  But for now, that's been the dialogue with the industry.
And as for your second question, I'd go back to we've had an extensive testing plan with the industry over the last 18 months.  The teams have some data on this package, so we feel confident, and we wouldn't implement this if we didn't feel confident as an industry to implement it at Kentucky.
And then you also look at some of the things, even in a test, there's only so much you can learn, and then you validate it ultimately at a race, and we feel like that's the direction we're headed.

Q.  A couple of things in perspective that I'd like from you is there will be a lot of debate about the smaller teams, how big of a change this is for the teams, how much they will be able to adapt, getting to the wind tunnel, parts and pieces, especially for the smaller teams, and of course if you're not an engineer or a mechanic, there will be a lot of debate from people who don't have that in perspective.  I would like for you to put that in perspective, if you will.  How much of a change will this be for the teams to do at this stage of the game?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, the way we look at it ‑ great question ‑ is that these are in essence bolt‑on parts and pieces that most of the teams have.¬† So when we say we've talked to the race teams, that is all of the race teams.¬† They've all been included in this dialogue.¬† We kept all of that in perspective prior to announcing that we were going to go forward in Kentucky with the feeling that everyone would have a great shot at being ready to go for the race.¬† That's why we're also opening up on a Wednesday.
And candidly, it's also a little bit of a reason that you see this isn't an announcement eight months in advance.  We don't want 55 wind tunnel testing done on this package.  That's part of this is we look at it as a little bit of an equalizer, as well, with the timing, and the teams seem to feel that way, also.

Q.¬† And can you also talk about testing‑‑ the concept in our sport of testing during a race, they'll have Wednesday, but it's like some people have said, the off‑season should be longer so that maybe this testing could be done then, but obviously you need all the cars on the track in order to test this fully.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, let me be clear.  This is not a test; this is a race.  This is the Kentucky package, and we have tested this over the last 18 months.  There's been a number of tests done.  There's been a number of simulations done.  The OEMs are involved.  I want to be very clear that this is the Kentucky race package and not at all a test for us.

Q.  What would it take to use these rules or a similar package for a Chase race, or is that out of the equation at this point, because I know typically NASCAR prefers not to change the rules for the Chase races.  How would this look toward the Chase race?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, I think it's still‑‑ that's still premature on that one in terms of we want to get through Kentucky, really analyze what we saw at that race, have some conversations with the industry and go from there, just as we would on the next race coming up at Michigan or wherever we are.

Q.¬† And I know at one point the hope or talk was of trying to introduce some different rules package for the sprint All‑Star Race.¬† That didn't work out.¬† What makes Kentucky the right track, the right time, as opposed to an All‑Star Race where it's a non‑points event?¬† Now you're maybe in somebody's terms messing with the points race.¬† Why does it work now where it didn't work a month ago, trying something like this?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, I think the key there is having everything fully vetted, the sim work done, the communication with the industry, and everybody fully aligned.¬† And candidly, at the All‑Star Race, it was an aggressive plan and we just weren't there at that time, but we are there now.¬† We feel like this is the best package we can put forth as an industry for the race in Kentucky and feel confident in it.

Q.  If you were to make a change for any Chase races, do you have a target date of when you would want to have those changes announced?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, good question.  I think if you look at the dialogue we had around the Kentucky race, leading up to this, and the announcement today, I think you can get a good gauge of the time we look at in terms of being fair to the entire industry of implementing anything for a race.  This is probably a good model in terms of timing.

Q.¬† And going back to what you said earlier about the tire, you haven't really tested the tire at Kentucky for this particular package.¬† How much‑‑ do you feel like you're rolling the dice at all in bringing a tire that's not tested with this package, and will you add any tire tests kind of for this package after it seemed like you kind of wiped out all the 2016 tire tests a month ago?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, so Goodyear has done the sim work with this package and the current tire that we'll use, so we are confident in what the results will be.¬† I think we feel like there's certainly more grip that could potentially be garnered through a purpose‑built tire, so that will be part of Wednesday, also.
We may bring a different tire configuration to try some things, to see what that may result in for a future race, but Goodyear has run this tire with this package through simulation.¬† We feel pretty good about where we'll land, and then obviously post‑race we'll be able to evaluate it some more.

Q.  And again, do you plan to add any sort of tire tests or anything for future looks at this package?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Still looking at that.

Q.  How many packages do you ultimately see?  Might we see a short track package or several short track packages and several intermediate packages by the time you're finished?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Still a little early to answer that.  There's a balance for us in terms of we don't want to have potentially 25 different packages out there, but if you looked at the entry blank, it does get lost sometimes that there's different gear rules or different tires really for any particular racetrack.
But I think that is something we're looking at, maybe one or two more than we currently have.  Kentucky will certainly go a long way in evaluating that, and then as I said earlier, all options are on the table as we look ahead to see what we might be able to implement.

Q.  I wanted to ask you whether or not the drivers' council, that coming to fruition right now, what kind of an input did that have?  And just the competitors in general as far as wanting something that was closer to what they were asking for, how much did that come into play with y'all's decision?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, good question.¬† I think it certainly‑‑ we've certainly talked to the drivers.¬† That's no secret.¬† And the drivers' council, the rules that we run at any racetrack is an important topic we cover.¬† There are some drivers who are very vocal on wanting to pursue this angle.¬† There are some who actually like a very different rules package, so it varies.¬† But I would say all are aligned in terms of the package that we're heading into for Kentucky, and then from there you also‑‑ there's a lot of the owners, the engineers, the competition folks, so all that dialogue took place in looking at this decision to go forward in Kentucky.¬† Everybody being aligned, let's put this together, we believe we can deliver a race at Kentucky that the industry will all be proud of, and so once we had all that alignment, the decision was made to go forward.

Q.  And did you look at some of the wind tunnel data that came out from last week before you made your decision, or was the decision already made by the time the teams took the cars into the wind tunnel?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  No, we certainly factored that in, and candidly there's still some more work that's being done.  The work won't stop with this announcement.  We've got some things that we're running still with some simulation to see what, if any, additional tweaks we may be able to make heading into Kentucky.  As I said, the drivers and teams are really aligned to make this the best race possible, so you'll continue to see some work done to see if there's any additional learning prior to opening it up on Wednesday.

Q.  We all have to relate this for the fans; when you talk about the simulation and testing, what have you seen come out of that that translates to what's going to happen on the track and what you expect to see what we get to Kentucky and beyond the test like what you see?  How can we relate that so that the fans buy into what the overall goal is here?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, I think the biggest thing we look at is the feel the drivers may have in the corners; that could result in more off‑throttle time.¬† You could also be looking at different corner speeds, slower corner speeds.¬† I think that's really the impact that we see as drivers head into the corner; what does the car do and how do they feel and the differences between maybe a previous year in Kentucky in the corners versus what you'll see coming up in July.

Q.  Did you see any of those simulations that equated to that?  And also I think one of the cars ran this, just trying it out; did you notice any of those things at that time?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, that's actually what I'm talking about is the simulation data.  Obviously you've got to get cars on track, as well, but the simulation data put us at exactly that in terms of the corners and the corner speeds.

Q.  What about passing?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Again, you're going to have to see what happens on the racetrack.  You've got to have 43 drivers out there putting it all on the line for a race, and I'd say that for any race.  I can't simulate any one of our 36 races to the exact number of lead changes.  We'll see what happens when we go out there, but we certainly expect a great race.

Q.  Worst case scenario, if Kentucky is an abnormal race, if there are an abnormal number of cautions, if it's rain delayed, rain interrupted, if it doesn't go full distance, if drivers don't really ever get a chance to run a significant number of green flag laps, is there any chance y'all will just throw out that result and say, okay, we can't use this as a template, we'll try again somewhere else, or are you all in based on Kentucky, period?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  No, that's a good question.  Let me back up on a couple things.  So we're opening up on Wednesday.  Number one, you want to look at any feedback you get from the industry, safety, anything, we want to make sure that the package meets anything that we've seen in simulation, so we've built in time for that.
We've built in time if it does rain and we lost Wednesday, we've got a plan in place with the industry of getting practice time in.
And then from there if you get to the race, I would say this is still a specific Kentucky race package, so I wouldn't say we're building our entire rules package by any means on one race, and it goes back to what I've said earlier, and this has been on me in terms of describing the 2015 rules package in its totality, and if you go to Las Vegas and the race maybe wasn't as good as we all had hoped, is that an indictment on the entire year's package, and it shouldn't be, because it's specific to that race, and that's more where we want to go in terms of having that rules package, more specific to the race, to put on the best race possible as we head into each track that weekend.

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