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July 7, 2015

Steve O'Donnell

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everyone, for joining us today.  Joined here by Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's executive vice president and chief racing development officer.  Steve, I'll turn it over to you to share an update with the media.
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† All right, thanks, David, and good afternoon, everyone, and thanks again for joining us on‑‑ I know it's late but I appreciate everybody jumping on.
We've been really candid, I believe, with our intentions of looking at our racing development and identifying possible venues where we can field a specific rules package for each track that we feel will enhance the racing, and earlier today we informed our competitors that we've updated the rules packages for four of those upcoming races, specifically Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Darlington Raceway, and also Richmond International Raceway, and the decision by NASCAR to add those four races to the already planned rules update for Kentucky this week is really coming on the heels of the continued dialogue that we've had with the industry that's been terrific.
So I want to kind of highlight the changes for those rules, and so if you look at the Indianapolis and Michigan packages, we'll be implementing a higher drag package, which will include a taller nine‑inch spoiler and a one‑inch wickerbill, and that will also include a two‑inch splitter leading edge and a 43‑inch radiator pan.
The tires at both of these events will be the same.¬† We've already worked with Goodyear so there will be no changes to the tires that we have in place ready for that event.¬† So again, for both of those it will be more of a high‑drag package.
Then when we look at Darlington, the package will be very similar, actually the same as we have in Kentucky, three‑and‑a‑half‑inch spoiler and a quarter‑inch splitter leading edge and a 25‑inch radiator pan.¬† The difference from Kentucky to Darlington, I think we've all known the tire is not specifically built for Kentucky, but in Darlington we're able to take the teams to test and Goodyear has built a specific higher grip tire for Darlington for that race in this package.
And then the last one I touched on was Richmond, where we will use a new tire. ¬†It will be a no‑zone tread right‑side tire.¬† I think all of this shows that we remain committed to putting the best racing on in the world, and each of these, including Kentucky this weekend, I think shows everybody that we've got several components that make up a rules package each week, and they can certainly be adjusted, and we will do that if we can do something that we believe will improve the racing for the fans at each track.
We've worked with the race teams to ensure that they've been afforded extended practice time at each of the events, and we're also finalizing the event schedules that we'll obviously share with all of you beyond Kentucky for these events.  So again, I think it's an example of the industry continuing to be nimble, continuing to be collaborative in an effort to put on the best racing possible for our fans, and we'll continue to have that dialogue as we go forward, but those are the races we wanted to talk about today in terms of what's on the table for NASCAR with those four events.

Q.¬† Steve, I just wanted to‑‑ I think this has been said by somebody previously, but I just wanted to have you touch on it.¬† Is it correct that you are not planning to do any new rules packages for races in the Chase, and if so, why was that decision made?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† A good question, and I think all options for us are still on the table.¬† Obviously we want to see what happens at each of these events.¬† Currently these are just race‑specific rules that we're looking at, but no final decisions have been made on that.

Q.  Steve, I wonder, why move forward with Darlington now before seeing the results of Kentucky?  Why not wait and see what Kentucky looks like before you all commit to Darlington?  And also, you mentioned additional test time for other tracks.  Do you mean additional time within the current schedule, or would we look at something like we are for Kentucky where there's an additional day added?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, on the first question about Darlington, the ideal package for us is matching the tire with lower downforce, and when we looked at the schedule, the most ideal venue for that was Darlington, so we feel like we have the lead time for Goodyear to come in and build that specific tire, so that's why we moved forward on the Darlington package.
And on the second piece, it's around the event.  There won't be earlier test dates.  It'll be built into the race weekend like Kentucky.  Right where you see Wednesday we're going into Kentucky, Michigan you can see us add an hour, hour and a half practice time.  Same thing around Indy.

Q.  You touched on this a little bit.  You're considering adding more time at Indianapolis?  And then speak to the importance of improving the show at Indianapolis.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, we'll add some more practice time, anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, which will include some additional tires for the race teams, so still working through the exact logistics.
For us, Indianapolis is one of the marquee events on the schedule each and every year.  I think you can see how important it is to our drivers, our race teams, our manufacturers to win that event, so anything we can do to potentially improve upon the race product for the fans, we're going to do that, and I think throughout our dialogue with the industry, we believe that we've got a package that's going to do just that.

Q.  So to clarify, this is similar to what's going to be used this weekend at Kentucky or not?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† No, Kentucky is a low‑downforce package.¬† The package that we're implementing in Indy will be a high‑drag package with the higher spoiler, nine‑inch spoiler and wickerbill.

Q.  If you'll permit a question about this past weekend at Daytona, I'm wondering, do you have a time frame or a ballpark estimate maybe on when you think the track and NASCAR might complete the investigation into the fence crash and Austin Dillon's car?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† I don't.¬† It's fluid.¬† I think anything that we can learn that we can implement immediately, we'll do that, but we're going to take the proper time to evaluate every piece of the car, everything we can learn from the track, as well.¬† Those conversations are taking place between ISC and NASCAR.¬† Obviously our folks at the R&D Center are poring through the data from the incident data recorder and looking at what we can learn there.¬† There will be some short‑term things that we can learn, but I think longer term we'll look at how we can continue to look at some of the track‑specific concepts, as well.

Q.¬† Longer term are you looking at any potential, like next‑generation catch fence solutions?¬† Is that like on the horizon at all?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, I think the catch fence, first and foremost, is there to obviously keep the car from going through, and I think it did that.  I think the next iteration that we would look at, it may not be a fence make, but what are the new technologies that are out there, and I think this is an area for all sports to look at, with anything either flying away from a playing field or a racing surface.  If we can lead in that area, we want to do just that.
I wouldn't make it specific to a fence.  There could be a lot of new technologies that we could look at collectively with the tracks to make some improvements in that area.

Q.  Can you tell us anything that you have kind of figured out from Dillon's car at all, and are there going to be any recommendations or rule changes to teams this weekend as far as anything that you've learned?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  No, it's still too early to tell.  The car just got back to the R&D Center yesterday.  Obviously that race ended very late, and travel time up to the R&D Center.  That will take some time to implement, but as I say, anything that we do find and we believe would be in the best interest of safety, we'll move swiftly to do that.

Q.  Looking at the rules packages for Kentucky and then going forward to Indy, can you talk to me about kind of what wind tunnel tests you've done on these rules packages and specifically liftoff speeds.  When you look at going to Indy, they certainly wouldn't want a repeat of what they saw in the IndyCar race or during the IndyCar weeks in May.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, we've done a number of different simulations and I can assure you that all of that has been taken into consideration when we look at speeds and how that package plays out.  You know, that's where we're at on that.  We've looked through all that through our computer simulation.

Q.  If you decide that you're going to make changes for the Chase, and you said all options are open, how much notice are the teams going to have, and how much turnaround will it require for them do you think?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, I think you're hitting exactly on it.  If this isn't something that we feel collectively as an industry we can do, we're not going to do that.  Let's not forget that the rules package we currently have in place is working on a number of fronts, and we're happy with that.  We've seen a number of different winners.  It would have to be something that we all felt we have enough lead time, we could implement and it was the right thing to do across the board for the sport, and if that was the case, we'd go ahead, and I'd say in that case, it would have to be something that we believe made sense for 2016 for those venues, as well, so we wouldn't kind of change something for the Chase and then change it again for those venues for '16.  That's kind of the conversations that are ongoing now with the race teams.

Q.  To follow up with the Daytona fencing, just wondering what the procedure would have been if a crash like that had happened throughout the course of the race as opposed to at the finish where there was ample time to repair the fence.  At that point kind of what would the replacement mode would have been for that?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, I can't speculate on exactly how long that would have taken or what‑‑ but I can tell you that we have fence repair personnel at every race just as we have SAFER barrier and foam backup.¬† Each incident is different, so it's tough to tell about going down and reenacting and saying, hey, we've got to have this repaired in the next X amount of time.¬† That certainly wasn't the case with this incident, so that's tough to answer.

Q.  And then back to the lower downforce package, since you don't have different tires for the race this weekend, the tires that you had hoped to have for that package, will Darlington and Richmond kind of be almost like validations of the lower package with the correct tire?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Good question.¬† I think I might have misspoke a little bit.¬† So the tire is a little bit softer for Kentucky.¬† It's just not kind of that ideal match that we'd like to have with purpose‑built tires.¬† We'll still see some of the lower corner speeds that we were looking for in Kentucky, but the real true kind of test of that concept or that package for Darlington, I guess, would be the tires that are brought there.
Richmond will be our current rules, just with a different tire.

Q.¬† Steve, can you talk about how the rules package would help in terms of passing, particularly at Indianapolis?¬† That's one of the more challenging places, and my second question is you now have‑‑ you've made some changes with the Richmond tire, the changes at Darlington.¬† Those are the last two races before the Chase.¬† Was there a consideration or discussion about not altering some of that because of what's at stake leading into the Chase?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, on the second one there was, but we go back to every race is equally as important going into the Chase, and if we as an industry believe we've hit on something that we think can improve the racing, we're going to do that.  We've got the smartest folks in the world working on the race cars and the best drivers in the world, so through those conversations, everybody lines up and says, yeah, we can do this, and obviously you've got to have enough lead time to do it, but we did in these cases and felt like we could pull it off, and again, put the best events on possible for those races.
What was the first part?

Q.  About Indianapolis.  That's a very difficult place to pass.  How does this package potentially help that or how is it going to change things at Indianapolis because it's still a narrow track.  It's still tough for these cars.
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† It is.¬† When you look at a lot of the data, and obviously you see it play out on the racetrack, but the belief is that the second‑place car, if they're lined up maybe two, three, four, five, could have a five‑mile‑an‑hour difference between the leader.¬† As an example, if you came out of Turn 2 and you had a four‑car‑length lead, it's the belief that second and third, if they hooked up, could head into Turn 3 up on the bumper of the leader and potentially have kind of that‑‑ more that slingshot that you used to see and the ability to pass.¬† A lot of that we've got to see in the real world once we're out there at Indy, but that's the effect we believe it'll have.

Q.  First, there's been a lot of rumblings over whether any drivers would be penalized privately or publicly for their comments, specifically Ryan Newman.  Of course he was very much full of emotions and speaking his mind, which happened after a very long night.  Safe to say we're just moving forward on that?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  We're moving forward, other than to say that I disagree with Ryan's comments.  We've got people up at the R&D Center who that's all they do is work on safety each and every day, 24 hours a day, and I'm proud of the work that they do.  But no, there won't be any fines forthcoming or anything for the drivers.

Q.  And your comment on this announcement, obviously there's a lot of specifics and a lot of technical items and writing them all down and remembering them and that kind of thing, so the broad range for the fans, you mentioned nimble, dialogue within the industry.  You had a drivers' meeting this past weekend; did this come out of the conversation with the industry, or was it doing it a result of having the quick access with everyone to be able to pass it around, and how unprecedented is it so we frame it right that these changes will be made and maybe we wouldn't know all the changes NASCAR was making during the midst of a season.  Do you understand what I'm saying?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I do, and I think it's a great question.  If you look at where we were as an industry, specifically NASCAR, I think there's two schools of thought of low downforce or high drag, and so you're going to see both of those play out.  The good news for us is that we can certainly come forth with certain solutions, but as we talked to the drivers, the competitors, the team engineers, the race team owners, the racetracks, all of those have a voice in this, and when we talk about their views on maybe a lower downforce package, we can work together on what that means.  Same thing with a higher drag package, and really get to the best solutions where we feel like for each individual race we'll be putting on the best race possible and a collaborative effort.  That's where we are today, which is I think unprecedented in the amount of collaboration we have as an industry.
There's still certainly some challenges.  Not everyone is going to agree on what makes the best racing, and that's okay.  It's also a sport, and everyone is out there trying to gain an advantage, and we understand that, but ultimately it's our job to look at what we believe is in the best interest of the fans, and so the great news for our fans is that the industry all agrees on that and has been working together to put the best race possible on.

Q.  Knowing it's early in the investigation, is there any thought that any sort of rules changes can be made, should be made before the series gets to Talladega?  Do you think that is necessary?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† I think we will have ongoing dialogue with the industry.¬† That's already started.¬† It really started at 5:00 in the morning post‑race, and we'll continue that.¬† Anything that we can do to continue to make the racing as safe as possible and have the fans in as safe an environment as possible, we will do that heading into Talladega.

Q.  I'm based out of Louisville, Kentucky, and there's some weather in the area now and might be tomorrow.  I'm just wondering with the new package being tested tomorrow what you guys do in case rain does wipe out some of that time.
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, good question, and that's unfortunate to hear.¬† But we do have a backup plan if we did lose‑‑ first of all, we could move things up tomorrow, but if we did lose all of tomorrow, we can extend practice on Thursday, and we had a call today with the race teams to discuss just that and work through logistics, so our backup plan would be Thursday, and we'd continue to go into Friday if we had to.

Q.  The track itself there and the reputation it has for all the bumps, as a series, what is y'all's take on that?  Would you ever encourage them to repave it?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  We've certainly had some of those discussions, but I think each track is unique and it provides some challenges with tire wear, that sort of thing.  I think it's a characteristic that's unique to Kentucky, and certainly for this year we're comfortable heading in with the race package we have.

Q.  My first question is why was Michigan International Speedway designated for the package update, and what was the feedback on this change from drivers, competitors, from the team owners and from the track regarding MIS?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, good question.¬† So when we look at where we could potentially implement a high drag package and you look at the calendar, certainly Michigan for us stood out as a track where you've got two races on the calendar, enabled us to take a look at something, provided everything we needed to implement a high‑drag package.¬† You had a track who was eager to talk to us about the potential for this, as well, so I think everything lined up in terms of the lead time we needed originally to be able to put a rules package like this in place, and then in talking to the industry, validating that lead time, as well, to be able to do just that.

Q.¬† Wondering if you guys did decide to implement a new rules package for Chicagoland, what is the drop‑dead date that the teams need to get the new rules?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Great question.  I think part of it is what, if any, testing has been done there, what's in place from the race teams.  Certainly I can tell you that Indy for us was a challenge from a timeline.  That's something we're very appreciative of the industry working with us on.  I think we'd rather have a little bit more lead time than what we had on that race.
I'd say Chicago, a minimum of‑‑ kind of looking at almost a month ahead of time being able to implement something, and those conversations are taking place now with the industry.¬† As I said, I believe, to Jim, our position today is that these are the race packages and this is kind of where we're at for '15, but as those conversations take place over the next couple weeks, that could change.

Q.¬† I don't know if you mentioned this earlier when the question was asked about Indy, but I know you guys have probably run models on the high‑drag package, but do you guys have any idea of how that's going to impact speed?¬† I think Gordon holds the track record, qualifying record at Michigan at like 206.¬† How much of a dropoff will we see with a change like that?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† Yeah, you'll see some significant mile‑per‑hour differences.¬† That'll change depending on single car and the draft, but I think we're looking at over 200 before and kind of the 191 range that we'd be looking at now.¬† I can get you the specifics, but it was a pretty significant difference in speeds with the package.

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