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August 14, 2015

Steve O'Donnell

THE MODERATOR: Good evening, everybody. Thanks for staying with us tonight. Appreciate it. Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer wanted to update you guys on some news and also share some information that he just shared with some drivers and the OEMs and the crew chiefs. This evening we had a meeting following today's qualifying and practice which we deemed successful for the Pure Michigan 400.
So thanks for coming in, Steve. Appreciate it. I know it's been a long day, you've been working hard, but thought it would be a good time to share with the group some of the stuff we've got going on.
STEVE O'DONNELL: Sure, thanks, David. As David said, we just left a really good meeting with the industry. The goal of that meeting was to discuss kind of what we've seen so far at Michigan, also talk about where we're going for the future as we come out of Michigan heading into Darlington with that rules package.
But the specific topic we wanted to cover with the industry was regarding the Chase, and our decision to keep the 2015 rules package as it is for the Chase and a lot of discussions we had with the industry, that includes a number of folks: The tracks, the drivers, the race teams, the OEMs, all believe that that was in the best interest of the sport. Excited about the Chase, excited about the package and what's to come in the Chase, especially when you look back to last year.
So that was really the main point we wanted to talk about. Shared some good dialogue back and forth, and then we'll move on and everybody's excited about Sunday's race and tomorrow, of course, with the trucks and then the lead up to the Chase. So with that I would open it up if anybody's got any questions.

Q. When you say we're going back to the 2015 package, that's the original beginning‑of‑the‑season package, correct?
STEVE O'DONNELL: That's correct. We're going to stay with the 2015 package. We've seen some good things with that package. A lot of work has been done by the race teams already leading up to the final ten races and feel like that's the best decision for the sport.

Q. Two questions, first, did you feel like the teams would be spending too much money or too much time trying to adjust to a new rules package; and are you going to still test either of these rule packages looking ahead to 2016 at any of the Goodyear tests coming up?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, I think it's important to go back and look at what our original plan was, and that was Kentucky, Michigan and Darlington. Then we looked at Indianapolis too to try to apply the Michigan package. So our messaging all along was that we had the intention of keeping the Chase where it was with the 2015 rules package. In some of the dialogue, some of the folks wanted to push forward potentially, but when we looked at all the things that have been done, the preparation that's been done, the amount of work our industry has put into these races, which we truly appreciate, we think we're going to have the best racing for the fans with the 2015 package for all ten races.
On the second part, we've still got Sunday's race to look at, and then we'll still look at Darlington as well and continue to analyze it for 2016.

Q. Maybe you can give me some help with information with this aero package. I'm a little bit confused. Number one, is it not easier to launch an aero package which is good for the whole season instead of just for a certain kind of racetrack? Number two, before you introduced this aero package, how do you know that it's working? Did you make some simulation work or maybe in wind tunnel or computers? And number three at last, how does the weather influence this aero package? As far as I know, hot weather has different aerodynamics than cold weather.
STEVE O'DONNELL: That's a lot to digest, let me see if I can hit all three. On the first one, not every racetrack's the same. I think as we looked at the 2015 season and really on back, you heard us consistently say here's the rules package for every racetrack, and that wasn't the case. There are different tires at certain tracks, different gear ratios. So we looked at specific tracks where we thought we could have the biggest influence from a rules package, worked with the industry to select those races, and wanted to see if we can make improvements. We outlined those ahead of time to the race teams and we think that's real world. We can see what the results are, especially coming out of Sunday and as we head into Darlington.
In terms of research, absolutely, there's a ton of sim work that's done. There is a lot of work with Goodyear, lot of conversations with the race industry, particularly OEMs and the race teams to look at approaching, specifically, Michigan. You'll have a new tire for Darlington based on that research.
Then temperatures do play a role, so when we evaluate this race specifically, we'll look at the historical data, what were the temperatures, how did that play into it especially as it relates to engine and engine wear and make decisions based on that.

Q. The Kentucky race, it got a lot of positive feedback initially, so there will be some who say why not do more of that this year? How close was it? How hard was the decision not to just base it off that one race and try to do more of what we saw in Kentucky?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, that's a fair question, but when you look at the Kentucky race, we lost a lot of practice, and we just rolled out and we raced. So absolutely a lot of great things happened during that race. But that was one race, and one that we want to learn from and continue to take that forward and apply what we can to Darlington and do the same thing.
So I would say a ton of positives we saw from Kentucky, but we've got to take the time to dial those things in and make sure that everybody's on the same page. We've got the best package to put forth, especially as we look to '16, so that does have a lot of momentum and lot of positives that we can apply to Darlington and then make some calls post Darlington as well.

Q. Steve, how much was the drivers' council involved in this decision? And looking to the '16 schedule, are you close to that, and might the Chase races change there?
STEVE O'DONNELL: So on the first question, the drivers' council was certainly one of the groups we talked to. But as you all know the tracks are involved, our OEM partners are involved, the team owners were involved, crew chiefs were involved, so a lot of different opinions as to where we should go.
Not everybody agrees. There are some folks, I'm sure you can imagine that would want to race certain packages for the Daytona 500. It always varies. But it's our job to make the decision on what we believe is best for the sport, and will put on the best Chase possible and that's what we did.
In terms of the schedule, probably about three to four weeks away. Do not anticipate major changes. Really liked what we saw with the West Coast swing. Seeing some really good positives coming out of Pocono, Watkins Glen with attendance being at an all‑time high. Coming here to Michigan, talking to Roger Curtis, again, attendance way up. So really liking where it falls in and trying to establish some consistent dates too as we go forward.

Q. So with the handful of race weekend trials that you'll have as you've honed this package, is that bringing you now to the point where you're confident that you'll have enough research and data to make a determination for 2016 or do you foresee the need for some testing throughout the Chase or off‑season?
STEVE O'DONNELL: That's a good question. I think the intent would be that we see what happens during the race here Sunday, talk to all of our partners, do the same in Darlington, and then take that information, have a direction, which we feel pretty good about where we may head based on what we'll see on the racetrack, and then go in and do some sim work with all of our partners directionally on those packages to see if we can fine‑tune that.
But I don't anticipate additional races coming from there. I think we'll have enough data directionally to show us which way we'll want to go, and really go to work with Goodyear and all of our partners on sim work to dial that in and make a call quickly for '16 so everybody can go to work on it.

Q. What did you guys learn throughout this entire process in the back and forth with the drivers and the manufacturers and the owners and everything? Kind of piggybacking off of Mike's question about the driver's council, what was the biggest thing you learned from that back and forth?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I think there's a lot of positives in terms of being able to‑‑ we always say the hauler is always open, but I think we're all running so fast, including everybody in this room, and to have some time just to sit down and really talk not just about today but where we want to go in the future. I think directionally, talking to a number of the drivers, seeing, first of all, their passion for the sport which is great and taking the time to come in and tell us here's directionally where we'd like to go, I think that's been a huge positive. Same thing with the team crews, same thing with the OEMs, it's been really great feedback.
It's been our job to talk and really balance all of those opinions. No secret that certain drivers or certain teams have packages that they feel better about. It's our job to put the most competitive racing on and the most fair racing that we can and balance competition as much as possible. So that's the ultimate goal, but the dialogue has been terrific with everyone.

Q. Any changes to the Talladega rules, especially in light of anything you've learned from the Austin Dillon crash?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, good question. There probably will be. We're still having some discussion with the industry heading into Talladega. Have not settled on anything yet, but I think you can anticipate something.

Q. Are you going to slow the cars down?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Again, we're still in dialogue.

Q. Just kind of wondering, there's been talk that perhaps we might see restrictor plates at California, at Michigan. Obviously, you're going to want to wait to see what happens this weekend, but is that something you might consider?
STEVE O'DONNELL: We have not had dialogue in terms of the industry, in terms of what that might look like, so our focus right now is on rules package here at Michigan, what do we see, positive, negative? Can we build upon it? Go into Darlington and do the same thing.
I think when you look at the racetracks and how we've grouped them, certainly California and Michigan share some same characteristics. The racing in California has been terrific lately, so we'll kind of take all of that into consideration and see what we learn Sunday and go from there.

Q. There could be individualized styled packages per track, could there not, going forward?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I think it's a balance. Because when you look at ‑‑ there is only so much race teams can do and they're already pretty taxed. So having an individual rules package at every single race that varies is a big challenge. But I think what you'll see us do is more of a grouping of tracks where they share some of the same characteristics. If we could look at some balances there, that's what we'd do.

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