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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 17, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We will open up our media availabilities for today's, Saturday's, Day 2 of Ford Championship Weekend. We have a very special one we do annually with our three manufacturer partners. Here with us today is Jim Campbell, the Chevrolet U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports; Mark Rushbrook, the Global Director of Ford Performance; and Ed Laukes, the Group Vice President, Marketing, for Toyota Motor North America.
Gentlemen, before we talk about the action on the track, for the third consecutive year, these three competitors collaborated to drive engagement throughout the playoffs by giving fans a chance to win three new custom designed trucks. Congratulations on another great year.
Same question for all three of you: Can you each discuss the 2018 season, what you were most proud of and the excitement around championship weekend? And Jim, maybe we'll start with you, locking up two manufacturer's championships in both the Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, already clinched that last week even though we have one race to go.
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, that definitely was a highlight. We had obviously ‑‑ the manufacturer's championships, obviously two drivers in the Truck Series were going for the championship. Didn't win it last night, but proud they got to the Championship 4. Two today with Hemric and Reddick. Obviously don't have anybody in the Championship 4 for the Cup, so that's disappointing, but I would say that as I take a look at a year in which we introduced a new car, the Camaro ZL1, and we have begun this transition that we all go through at different points where many veteran drivers have started to retire and we're bringing in a young crew of drivers, and we had our young group that got a year of experience. You see Chase Elliott really accelerated his season through the back half with three wins in the last 14 races, and then Larson was very consistent all year long, didn't make the Final Four or all the way through the Chase. But proud of those guys.
And overall, the trajectory of the season, not exactly what we wanted, but definitely heading in a better direction than in the front half of the season. When you bring a new car in and you have change over in drivers, those are big moments for manufacturers. More work to do, but looking forward to the rest of the weekend, the race today, and I know there's a few Chevy drivers that would love to perform great tomorrow in the race, but clearly tomorrow is about the Championship 4. That's it.
THE MODERATOR: Mark, 18 wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Ford, two playoff drivers, and current leader in the manufacturer championship standings in the Cup Series. I believe it's if the top finishing four finishes 15th or better, you guys lock it up. Clearly an outstanding chance to win that. Maybe talk about your 2018 season.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, it's been a great season for us. Really happy to see the performance on track. I think there was a lot of talk this time last year or before the 2018 season started that we were entering the season with the oldest body, with Toyota having a new body last year and Chevy having a new body this year. Our focus has been to give a lot more technical depth and support to our teams, and with such strong competition against Toyota and Chevy, that's been a long process for us. It's really been three years or more in the making to improve our game in every area that's important for the performance on track, with the engine program, the aerodynamics, the body program, simulation, tire modeling, everything, drive line. You've got to have strength in every area to perform on track. It's been a long process for sure.
And even having the oldest body by design, we still were focused on using our advance aerodynamics tools to improve the performance. And I think that is starting to‑‑ that has paid off for this year. With the 18 wins across different teams, different drivers, and showing up here with two Ford drivers in the Championship 4, it certainly means a lot, and definitely the position that we have in the manufacturer's championship, although it's not locked up, is looking pretty good right now, knock on wood.
That means a lot to us and to our company and to our executives and to our employees. Hopefully we can get the manufacturer's championship, and look forward to a good battle on track tomorrow for the driver's championship. It's been a good, competitive season. Definitely enjoyed competing against the other manufacturers on track and what we were able to do with our teams.
THE MODERATOR: And Ed, obviously two Toyota drivers in the Championship 4 tomorrow, and this cool stat of you're the only manufacturer with at least one member in all three Championship 4s for all three national series coming off the truck win last night. Congratulations on that. Maybe talk about that and your 2018 season overall.
ED LAUKES: Sure, so I think last year we did it on Sunday, and if you remember the comments that I made at the very beginning, I'm not going to repeat those comments, but they're on YouTube if you want to rewatch them from last year. Last year I got a laugh. I guess I'm not going to get one this year.
Good morning, everyone. Obviously a huge year for Toyota between Kyle's eight wins, Martin running through to championship coming up on Sunday, Christopher Bell breaking the record of most wins over Kyle with seven wins. Huge for us, and then obviously last night the championship. So that really started a fantastic weekend for us.
I think as the year went on, as Jim mentioned, one of the trials and tribulations you go through with a new car we went through last year at the beginning of the season and struggled and then ended up in pretty decent place obviously at the end of the year with Martin winning. So it's nice to have him back as defending champion.
The win last night was fantastic. You know, you have a single‑truck team, a guy that really has been really trying really hard for many, many years to get to that level, and to watch him win and watch Hattori‑San get up there, it really was a very, very special evening for us, huge.
It's also very bittersweet and it will be bittersweet for us tomorrow to be able to say goodbye to Barney Visser. Barney was another guy that started as a single‑car team. He defied the traditional model, as you all know, and was in Denver and started his team in Denver, and operated out of it and ended up winning a championship last year with Martin.
We have one great celebration with a single‑truck team that worked really hard to get there, and then tomorrow we'll say goodbye to Barney, but hopefully we'll be saying goodbye to Barney with a championship.
It's been a great year for us, as I mentioned, and then I think the other big thing that we'll go through next year is with the Supra. So we will introduce our new Supra at the Detroit Auto Show, and it will then debut at Daytona, so we're excited about having the Supra back in the mix.
Q. Mark, you hit on it in your opening there about this time last year, there was the consensus, I think the word was "drubbing" that Ford was going to get with the body. How do you explain what has been the difference this year? I know some drivers have said, well, the inspection process was tightened up and that's kind of evened the playing field, but how do you explain how you go from some people having no confidence at all coming into this year to the domination that we've seen from many of the Ford teams?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, you're right, "drubbing" was the right word that I think was used. And it is a focus that we had. So I'm certain that the inspection process is‑‑ that changes part of it because any time you go through a big change like that, it does affect how the teams prepare the cars and bring the cars to the track.
But I think the biggest part is the advanced tools that we've developed over the last couple years have really matured to the point that they were able to help us, especially in the area of CFD, where we use that advanced computational fluid dynamics tool, the same tool that we use on our road cars and road trucks to make them better. We have turned that and applied it into racing starting two years ago, and it took a little bit of time to adjust those tools, test those tools in this environment to make them even better, and now that is paying off on the performance on the track with the Fusion with what we've seen, hopefully contributing to the Mustang to come strong out of the box at Daytona next year. I know it's a new car and it's going to take some time to fully mature it, and there's some risk with that, but we did apply the tools to the Fusion this year, and I think that's part of what is paying off with the performance.
Q. Ed, to follow up, you mentioned obviously the trucks winning last night. I want to follow up a little bit on that. The difference in the engines, that's been a controversy or comments for the past couple, three weeks now, ongoing before that. Can you elaborate on what that is and what your guys' philosophy is?
ED LAUKES: So as an OEM, I think one of the cornerstones of being involved in NASCAR is having your engine in the vehicle. But let's face it, we all know in this room, we're all around it every day, the Truck Series just financially was in trouble relative to the cost of operating a truck team, and I think NASCAR took a Band‑Aid approach and tried to figure out a way as we evolved maybe in the other series with regard to engines and everything to get a stopgap measure, and I think Mark had one team that was running an OEM engine, and Hattori was running our engine, and the changes that had to happen throughout the year, we had to make a decision to make sure that we had a level playing field when we got to the end of the season. And so we decided to step up and help them with an engine so that across the field they'd be the same engine.
I think it's a learning process that everybody is going through. I think it's a learning process for NASCAR. It's a learning process for us. But something has got to evolve. You've got to be‑‑ the team really has to get to the point where it's sustainable, and the engines obviously are a big part of it.
Q. Have you guys had any issues with that?
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, so we've always had the position that what makes it a Ford on track, the most important parts are the body and the engine. And originally we were not in support of the alternate engine being made available in truck, but after going through the different financial business cases with our teams and with NASCAR, we understood that it makes sense.
That's not the story necessarily that we want whenever we hear a truck race is OEM engine of‑‑ we do want to hear about Toyota versus Ford versus Chevy, but when an alternate engine comes into the discussion as much as it has, that isn't necessarily what we want. But we understand the benefit to the sport of having a lower cost option. I think longer term it may make sense to either go back to OEM engines or across the board, but at this point we're learning, NASCAR is learning, and we'll make together the right decision for the sport, I think.
Q. I have two for Mark. Yesterday Walt and Tony were talking about when they brought SHR into the fold and how that didn't just bolster SHR but all the Ford organizations, including Penske. Would you agree with that? And are you worried about a learning curve with the Mustang next year similar to the Camaro this year?
MARK RUSHBROOK: On the first question, I will say that I agree with that. The way we approach a lot of what we do inside Ford, we're still a family‑owned company, and to work there at Ford Motor Company, it's like working for the Ford family. That means a lot for us as employees of the company, and that's the same way that we approach our partnerships with our teams on the track. We work together directly with Ford on each team, but then there are also certain areas where we will have our teams work together and share and collaborate.
They need to race against each other. Ultimately they can't share everything, but there are some efficiencies from that. For sure there's strength, more strength across all the Ford teams because of having Stewart‑Haas there with Penske, with Wood Brothers and Roush Fenway and Front Row. We all work together to deliver that.
As far as your second question, we've definitely seen what's going on with the Chevrolet this year, and as Jim said, bringing anything new to the track is always a difficult challenge, whether it's a new body or a new block for the engine or cylinder head or even a chassis component. So there's no guarantees. We realize that it's going to be a learning curve, and again, using our advanced CFD tools, hopefully we've gone through and got the best body that we can through the homologation process, the approval process, and since gaining that approval, we've been focused and it's been the difficult challenge, right, to keep our tools and our people focused on delivering wins and a championship this year with the Fusion to send it out the right way, but also hopefully enough focus being paid to the new Mustang so that we can hit the track fast when we get on in Daytona in February.
Q. Mark, no manufacturer's title since '02, but you're in great position to claim that tonight, and the last driver's title was '04. Is that kind of a drought as a manufacturer for you guys? Is that frustrating, or when you look at the gains you've made and the position you put yourself in now, is it one of those where if you can cap it off tonight, it makes it more worth it for what you've had to fight through to get back to this point?
MARK RUSHBROOK: I think for sure it's a drought. Everybody will see that from the time ‑‑ Mr.Ford sitting to your left will tell you that, as well, as well as everybody at Ford Motor Company. It's a huge pride point for us as an automotive company, as with Chevy and Toyota, but especially with our roots and Mr.Ford's family's roots in terms of what racing did to create the company and part of who we are today.
For sure it's a drought, and it's been a very motivational point that we definitely want to get that manufacturer's championship. Since '02, that's a long time, and a driver's championship since '04. That's what motivates us every day and our teams and why we're here today.
Q. Kind of following on from that, obviously you alluded at the start to this hasn't necessarily been the season that you wanted, but is it a motivating factor for you guys to come back that much stronger next year? And then how do you gauge kind of the growth that you guys have seen from the start of the year to now with the Camaro?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, I mean, we're in‑‑ Chevrolet is in five different series. We've got Holden in a series, Cadillac in a series, previously when we owned Opel, Opel was in a series. So we gauge our performance in those series on I call it a trajectory, are you on the right trajectory. It's tough to win every race, right, it's difficult, but are you on the right trajectory.
So I would say that when you bring a new car into the sport, at one point that could be a point of advantage, right. But you go through the homologation process and they put you in a box of downforce, drag and sideforce so that they're reasonably aero matched. But with 750, mid‑700 horsepower on mile, mile‑and‑a‑half tracks, two‑mile tracks, every pound of downforce translates to speed even though you're increasing drag. So when you have a brand new car, you don't have that months and months or years and years of fine tuning within the rule set to optimize downforce. So that's what our teams have been doing, and not only in the tunnel. We also have tools like CFD and simulation, so we basically have been doing that with our teams and in our simulation environment.
And so over the course of the season within the rule set, we've been able to fine tune it and get a better trajectory. Chase is probably our best example. Larson has been pretty consistent through the year. But all the teams we've seen an improvement.
What I would say is a moment where you bring a new car in and then combine with a lot of veteran drivers, guys like Gordon, Tony Stewart at one point was with our team, Dale Jr., moving on, we're replacing with these really young, exciting drivers. And so those are two things that happened at the same time, and it becomes‑‑ it's a big lift.
But I'm really excited about what that means for us for next year. Consistency in a body, we're further down the development curve, and then by the way, there's a new aero package coming next year, and at the mile, mile‑and‑a‑half, two‑mile tracks we're bringing the horsepower down into the 550 range, so now every pound of downforce comes with drag, but you only have about mid‑500 horsepower. So you don't have as much horsepower to overcome the drag.
So what that means for us next year is we've got to make sure when we add downforce it's really efficient, it comes with the least amount of drag because you only have about mid‑500 horsepower to pull, to overcome the drag. They usually travel together. Downforce and drag travel together, and sideforce.
Bottom line is I'm excited about where we're going and also our young drivers. Some of them are rookies. Some of them are 20 years old. These guys have another year under their belt, so they're going to be more experienced going into in next year, and I also am very proud of the fact that William Byron and Bubba Wallace finished one‑two in the rookie standings, so there you go, guys. I'm proud of those guys. They did a great job. But that's what I have to say.
ED LAUKES: And by the way, you're welcome for William Byron.
MARK RUSHBROOK: And Bubba.
ED LAUKES: Exactly. I'm happy to be the farm team for Chevrolet over at Toyota. (Laughter.)
JIM CAMPBELL: Jimmie Johnson?
ED LAUKES: Jimmie Johnson, yes.
Q. Ed, what Shige and Brett Moffitt were able to do this year is unparalleled, from them being a standalone team, Shige an owner from Japan, fighting to get sponsors, getting to the racetrack, et cetera, et cetera. Will Toyota do anything to make sure that that team remains intact for 2019, meaning Brett and Shige, and contend for another championship?
ED LAUKES: Yeah, that's a very good question. I can't tell you how proud we are of that team. I think if you go back into the history of NASCAR and watch guys that have grown through the sport and come through the sport and had their ups and downs and fought, he's really a prime example of that. And Moffitt obviously did a great job of driving throughout the season.
Even with the engine changes back and forth, we really are so proud of them. The question that you're asking is where they stand financially for next year and if we're going to step in in order to help them. There's a lot of discussion around that, and the odds are probably that you'll see them back here at the racetrack next year, but obviously there's no guarantee. We can't fund every single team, and he's got to build his own sponsorship model, but we'd love to see him back. I think NASCAR would love to see him back. Those guys that are growing through the sport are few and far between, and we have to build, as far as NASCAR, not only in the Truck Series, Xfinity, etcetera, Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske, Rick Hendrick, these guys are not going to live forever, so we've got to be able to develop and bring these guys through and bring new owners into the team. So we're going to try to do everything we can to try to support them.
Q. I know this is a really basic question, but I really am looking for the answer. What does winning a championship mean to a manufacturer, and what does not competing in the championship mean for the manufacturers, for selling cars, for the attention you get, for what it means for all of you?
JIM CAMPBELL: Listen, over the past 15 years, Chevy had a chance to win 13 manufacturer's championships, so we have really had a lot of pride around that, but it's a team effort. Takes all the teams to really be putting points on the board every week.
Obviously Xfinity and truck we'll have that opportunity this year, and then in our other series that we compete in. That is one of our goals every year is basically manufacture and driver championships amongst some other things. Some of the big marquee races is also important.
And what we find is that racing, obviously you get the tech transfer benefits, you can develop engineers, but when you win championships, whether it's manufacturer, driver, we find that you see a lift in brand opinion, and when you see a lift in brand opinion, it does link to people putting on their shopping list more quickly. That's what our data shows. And also the image ratings, too. We look at about 22 image ratings for Chevrolet every month, and we look at amongst the NASCAR fans and other fan bases in motorsports and how that compares to general market, and we see a significant lift on many of the image ratings. So it's important. It does link.
And what I love about motorsports ‑ we're involved in all these series ‑ when you win, it's a moment of celebration, but you can't rest a minute. You've got to figure out how to keep momentum going. When you don't win, it is entirely about how you respond with your partners, and so that's obviously in the Truck Series, we've had two guys in the championship and the manufacturers, Xfinity, two drivers in the championship, a manufacturer's championship, and obviously in the Cup it wasn't our best year.
But I'm looking at trajectory of the program, so that's how we respond.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, just a lot of what Jim talked about is very similar to Ford, and obviously in NASCAR at the Cup level, we've had the experience in the last 14 years of not knowing what it's like to have a Cup driver's championship, in 16 years to not have a Cup manufacturer's championship. But it is very motivational. I've been in motorsports now, this is my fifth year with the motorsports team, so I've gone through coming here before with drivers in contention or not, as we had two years ago or three years ago. But it is how you respond, so it's just when we didn't win it, we just went back and dug deeper and sharpened our tools and approached with our teams to come back so that this year hopefully we're in the position and with two drivers certainly not guaranteed but going to look forward to the race tomorrow.
But in other series, as well, so we were able to last month secure the manufacturer's championship in the IMSA GTLM, which means a lot to us as a company, as Jim says, to connect with our customers, our fans, with our employees. It means a lot to them to come in on Monday morning and to see that we've won a race or won a championship.
And on a global basis, as well, so the WRC, World Rally Championship, is going on in Australia, and we've got a driver, Seb Ogier, in contention for a championship against Toyota, actually. I think Tšnak is leading the event with one day to go, but Seb Ogier is in position to hopefully secure the championship. It means a lot on a global basis, as well, to compete in these different series and show what we can do with our technical tools and point of employee pride.
ED LAUKES: Yeah, just a real quick follow‑up to what Jim and Mark said. We're 100 percent aligned. We measure everything, but really since we started Cup racing, as a car company, people that love cars, 2007 we went Cup racing, winning races, winning championships, and especially winning big races like we've only won the Daytona 500 once, a couple times at Indy. Those are really rallying cries for the company, so it really is‑‑ all these things the other guys talked about, but I really think the emotional lift you get as an organization around cars when you win is you get a real rallying cry internally within the company.
Q. For all you guys, as the automotive industry is changing, we talk about SUVs selling and stuff, one of the things that I'm curious about is the proliferation of hybrids in the market. They're coming, and that will be a time when most of the vehicles we drive with hybrids. Do you ever envision a time in NASCAR when we're going to use like, ŗla Formula1, where we're going to have hybrid‑style race engines?
MARK RUSHBROOK: I'll say yes. But the question is when, right, because our‑‑ all of us, our road car cycle plans are all changing, both in the body shapes, the styles, and definitely the power trains, and the relevance always has to be there, whatever series that we're competing in.
So those are always active discussions when we have OEM council meetings as partners, so we compete on the track, but we have to work together as partners off the track with NASCAR and our track partners. And that is something that we always talk about is when is the right time to change the car and to change the power train, and there are‑‑ there's definitely some potential for hybrid in the sport, not necessarily at a track like Daytona 500 where you're wide open throttle for the entire time. The hybrid just doesn't work. It doesn't make any sense for that. But certainly for short tracks and road courses, there may be some potential there in the future. The question is when.
ED LAUKES: Yeah, I would agree, 100 percent. I think most people agree that the Prius really set the tone for hybrid technology and the evolution has been growing in very, very different forms relative to the different vehicles that are out there. But this really is a story, as Mark mentioned, about the OEM council and the work, the collaboration that we do with NASCAR in order to improve the sport. The short answer is yes. I would never rule it out. The long answer is we don't know when right now.
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, I would say we have hybrids around our portfolio around the world, not only with Chevrolet but our sister divisions, all the way through center‑range electrics, where we have electric battery for a certain amount of range and then we have an on‑board generator for additional range, range extender, and then we have all the way battery electrics, like the Bolt, which gives you 238 miles of nominal range.
When you think about all that going on in the auto industry here in the U.S., North America and around the world, that is a discussion point around when do we bring these kind of advanced propulsion technologies into the mix, and that's really‑‑ the one thing that applaud NASCAR for doing is they used a technique we use in our dealer world where we have these dealer councils, and they're really valuable, because in our automobile business, you're able to talk to dealers to get feedback on product, marketing programs, go‑to‑market initiatives, and we make better decisions as a result, and about, I don't know, what was it, four years ago or so, NASCAR put in an OEM council for the first time, a formal council. They would always talk to us informally, but now we have a formal way to communicate. So those are the places where we have a chance with NASCAR to collaborate on that.
Other than that, we want to beat each other on the track and in the showroom. But that is the moment NASCAR brings us together to talk about what could be, because we have to think forward. You have to advance plan. We're a long‑lead business, an automobile business; when it comes to racing it's long‑lead, as well. You've got to make decisions well in advance when you're going to implement. It's possible when it happens, we'll have to determine that, and we'll do that through OEM council.
Q. For each of you and since you brought this up and the OEM council, we've talked here about other OEMs wanting to come into the sport, things of that nature. I don't expect you to tell me who or what, but are you all still open to that, and are there still active discussions with other OEMs wanting to be in NASCAR?
JIM CAMPBELL: Yeah, I would say in the five series we compete in, NASCAR is one of them, there's four others that we compete in, more OEM participation is better. First of all, it's who we compete against in the showroom, and so it's meaningful when you win on the track, either a race or a championship or a marquee race. So yes, we want that.
The other benefit is it takes kind of the fixed costs and you divide them up amongst more manufacturers because as technology advances, the cost of development and the implementation can go up, it just depends on the rule set for a series. So having more OEMs accomplishes two goals: Compete with them on the track and in the showroom, and also spread the fixed costs of what it costs to operate these kind of programs. So we're open to it. The details of what's going to happen here, I don't know, but in every series we're open to it.
MARK RUSHBROOK: Yeah, I can just mirror that exactly the same, that the more OEMs the better for us because that's what we want. We want to compete against the best in the world and demonstrate our performance on the track.
ED LAUKES: Yeah, same.
Q. Ed, just looking ahead to next year, bringing LFR into the group and thoughts on Matt DiBenedetto returning to the Toyota camp?
ED LAUKES: So obviously pretty excited about having them, especially with, as I mentioned earlier, with losing Barney Visser going away. Matt is a proven driver, and having him under the Toyota umbrella, again, is good for us. We're really excited about the team. The folks over there are great people, and we think it's going to be great for the company.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports