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October 14, 2015

Steve O'Donnell

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining us on this Wednesday afternoon. We have a special 2016 rules announcement, and with that, let's go ahead and turn it over to NASCAR's Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell. Go ahead, Steve.
STEVE O'DONNELL: Thanks, and good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining the call this afternoon. We wanted to take some time to walk everybody through the 2016 rules for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The teams are aware of the changes. I'm pretty confident that a number of them are probably already putting them to use in preparation for next season, and this call will obviously be about the changes for '16, and then we'll pivot quickly and get back to our focus on the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
What I'll talk about today is what we're referring to as our base rules package. We're continuing to work with the industry on developing the appropriate elements of the rules for each track, and by that I mean what are the tires that would match up or the gears, as an example, the core goal for us continues to remain the same, and that's deliver the best and safest racing possible for the fans, and it's a goal that the entire industry shares, and it's a great thing in terms of working together with the industry, this year especially. It's never been stronger. We're confident it's going to continue to deliver great racing for the fans.
With that said, the base package for 2016 will include the following: Three‑and‑a‑half inch spoiler on the cars, a quarter‑inch leading splitter edge, and a 33‑inch wide radiator pan. And so to put that in comparison, the aero package that we're going ahead with for 2016 is similar to the one used at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway, and it will provide lower downforce on the cars. It's also going to allow us to work with Goodyear for multiple tire combinations at specific tracks and give us the opportunity to develop specific elements for each race that will provide optimal racing.
On the superspeedways, the package for the superspeedways for 2016 will remain very consistent. We're going to move to roller lifters in the superspeedway engines. By doing that, that's going to require us to make an adjustment on the restrictor plate size, and that's in order to accommodate the additional horsepower that the roller lifters will provide, so still working with the engine builders on that.
And finally, certainly last but not least, as you know, we're always pushing to evolve safety, and we'll also be making a few safety‑related enhancements. Those will include the routing of the fire suppression system cables. We talked about cooling this year, so we're moving to a mandatory right‑hand side NACA ducts for cooling drivers at tracks where the side windows are used and we're also making it mandatory for all seatbelt restraint systems to meet the SFI 16.6 specifications. Last the digital dash, we've had some great development there working with the race teams. We've seen it deployed this year on a number of occasions. That will be mandatory for all cars as we head into the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
With that, I will open it up for any questions.

Q. There was talk earlier this year of maybe having separate packages for the short tracks and some of the other facilities. How much of that is still in the works?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, good question. I think as we looked at it and we ran the four races this year, looked at some different packages, that's really why we're referring to this as our base package. It'll be a low downforce everywhere except the superspeedways, but what we'll be able to do in each of those occasions is look at different gear ratios and match up the tires differently than you've seen in the past, so I think it's important to note that a race at Atlanta is going to be different than a race in Kansas based on what tire combos we go and the different gear ratios we deploy, which is something different from years past.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the tire pressure monitoring systems. Gene had mentioned earlier in the season that they were working on them. I know several cars at the test in Phoenix have them. They were also tried out at Kentucky and Martinsville. Can you give us a little background on the development of those with McLaren?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, I think development is the key word there. We're still in that process. It's important for us to make sure we've got everything right before deploying those out to each race team for the entire season. There's some things we have to work through, especially on the short tracks when it comes to the high heat and making sure that they can withstand that, and we're in that process right now.
Still in somewhat of a developmental phase with the race teams, but ultimately want to go to that for sure.

Q. Do you anticipate that we will have those as part of the digital dash for 2016?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I am confident in the digital dash for 2016. Tire pressure monitor, still some work to do.

Q. Why the change in the radiator pan and size from Kentucky and Darlington, and is it still pretty much a reduction downforce of about 25 percent for the whole package?
STEVE O'DONNELL: It is. It's a good question. I think as we've worked with the teams, you know, you go with a direction you think will work best and then you get the results from that race. And a lot of things had to do with the balance of the race car. So as we worked with the teams, we wanted to make sure we had the balance set up as correctly as possible with the teams, and that was one of the adjustments that was made.
And those are the things that in really working together with the industry we're able to come up with what's the ideal low downforce package and then continue to work on that through our efforts with Goodyear, as well.

Q. And back in January you said you had hoped to have the 2016 rules package by the All‑Star Race. It's a little bit later than that, but back in January it seemed you were kind of on a reduce downforce path. What made this so difficult that you needed all this extra time, and how close are you to the package now that you originally thought you would have for 2016 when you were talking to us back in January?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, I think what we've said was we wanted to try and run that at the All‑Star Race, not announce a rules package at the All‑Star Race. Through a lot of dialogue that went on with the industry, we took a pause and we were having a number of different ownership conversations, a number of conversations with the drivers and Goodyear, and decided that we wanted to take a step back and really look at what was the best route to go to get to the rules package that we got to for 2016, and felt like the industry had come together, we could go out and run these in specific race environments, which we did, learned a lot during those occasions, specifically at Kentucky and Darlington, and were able to dial it in for '16.
I think, yes, it took longer, but what you're seeing is an industry that's really aligned in the direction we're headed in for 2016 still. There will always be work to do. It's always going to evolve. But I think we'll really have a good base package to continue to work from.

Q. Is this close to what you were thinking of, though, kind of back in January, that this was kind of where you would end up and you just got all the confirmation you needed?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Oh, I think in January, as you saw, we ran a number of variations this year. There was low, there was high drag, so, you know, I think the ability for us to go out and run all those packages and see what the results were helped land us on 2016.

Q. I know a lot of research went into the lower horsepower package coming into this year, so when we started seeing the results, did that kind of take you by surprise, the on‑track results of it, just how aero dependent everything became?
STEVE O'DONNELL: No, I think that was one step. One of the things when you even go to this low downforce package, you've got to look at the speeds, and if we were to keep the horsepower where it was, not make any changes to the tires and deploy a low downforce package, the speeds you could potentially run at Michigan could be 220 and up. That was a non‑starter for us. So I think it's the combination of everything together, the engine package, the aero package, the tires all coming together and feel like that's where we're landed for '16. Certainly had to learn some things along the way of how certain things react, which we did this year, and it led us to what we believe is going to be a really strong package heading into '16.

Q. The release says that each track will continue to feature specific rules including tire combinations and drivetrain configurations. Do you expect that there will be like a different tweak at every racetrack then based off of that? Will every track have a different sort of mini‑package, or will some of the tires and drivetrain stuff carry over track to track?
STEVE O'DONNELL: That's a good question. I think a lot of that will carry over. I think one of the things we learned last year is we referred to it just as a 2014 or 2015 package, and some of the elements that were unique for each one of those racetracks, we could have had a different gear ratio, a different tire. When we talk about that, I think we just want to spotlight a little bit more what may go into a Michigan package that's low downforce from a tire perspective or a gear versus what may go into the race at Kansas.
Not drastic differences by any means, but just different tweaks that for the most part have been done, but just spotlight those a little bit more and see if we can't dial those in even further.

Q. And finally, I know you said there's no possibility of changing the rules for this season, but how would you evaluate the race at Charlotte and how does NASCAR feel about the racing so far during the Chase?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I think the drama from the Chase has been terrific. I think there's a lot on the line certainly each and every race. I think the racing action at Charlotte, we're always going to try and improve, and that's why we're announcing what we are today. I think it took us some time to get there in terms of really making sure we were all aligned and making sure we put the right things in place for '16. So I'd look at Charlotte as a racetrack that we've got to improve upon, and we will do that.
I think Marcus Smith and his crew know that we're all aligned as we go forward and head into the May race for 2016, but I would also say that there's a lot on the line each and every weekend, and confident that the Chase will deliver going forward to Miami.

Q. And just to be clear, it's still staying status quo the rest of 2015?

Q. I'm just wondering, was there any consideration to still try to stick with the high drag at Michigan and Indy or places like that, or was it once those races happened, you guys were like, we're just going to go away from that? What was the decision like to go for low downforce for all of next year?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, good question. I think we still looked at not necessarily a high drag, but you look at some different models from everything from a restrictor plate package to low downforce, and one of the things we've got to look at is there's also costs involved that we've got to manage with the teams and how many different packages, but ultimately what do we think is going to put on the best race, and what we kept coming back to was looking at the low downforce package, and what steered us away initially was the speeds that we would potentially be running at Michigan. But in sitting down with Goodyear and the industry, I think we've really hit on the ability to match that tire with the configuration we have now and feel really good with an upcoming test about the direction we're going for all those tracks outside of superspeedways to deploy the low downforce package.

Q. Just following up to Ryan's question about the downforce package that was used at Darlington and Kentucky that the drivers and the fans liked so much, we've been told there were some serious discussions about using that for the rest of the season, and I was wondering if that was‑‑ if there were deep discussions about that and what eventually led NASCAR to stick with what they had.
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, and we had covered that. There were certainly discussions about the timing and when to deploy a low downforce package, but through all those discussions with the industry, a number of tests had already been conducted for the final 10 races, a lot of investments had been made, and as we went around and talked to the industry, not all drivers agreed certainly, but the owners and a lot of the industry, the decision was made let's stick with what we have for 2015. That's the known. That's what we've put all our resources towards, and that's what we believe is really going to drive us through the championship in Miami.
Ultimately that's our decision to make, but we made that with collecting the data, and that's where we are.

Q. Are there any plans to take a similar approach with changing the aero packages for the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series in the near future?
STEVE O'DONNELL: It's a good question. I think at this point we want to see what we can learn on the Cup side with full confidence that what we're going to see will be really positive. We'll look at how that impacts the season, and that could be something you could see down the road from an XFINITY and truck perspective.
Obviously some different things we've got to look at for each of those series, but that is something down the road we could take a look at for sure.

Q. What are you hoping to accomplish at the Michigan test, especially since you only have three cars there?
STEVE O'DONNELL: What we're hoping to accomplish is, first of all, looking at the tire and getting the tire right, and the speeds in the corners, everything that we've looked at from a low downforce perspective. The goal is reduce the speeds in the corner, bring a tire that has more grip and more wear. We think we'll deliver both of those, which ultimately produces great racing. So that's what we expect to see in Michigan, and that's the data we want to collect as we go out there for the test.

Q. Just kind of in general terms, would you say just what you saw at Kentucky and Darlington was kind of almost like too good to pass up?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I would say directionally it's where we want to go. I think you can read in terms of where we're going for our 2016 package. We feel like it's going to be a definite step in the right direction, but it's never going to stop there. You want to take those and have 36 of those next year and continue to evolve through '17.

Q. Did you ever consider adding back any horsepower?
STEVE O'DONNELL: We did not. I mean, we had discussions, but that was never a direction we wanted to head in.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. A reminder that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be at Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 this Sunday. That event will air live at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

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