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January 22, 2020

Matt DiBenedetto

Wayne Auton

Indianapolis, Indiana

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Wayne Auton, the NASCAR Xfinity Series managing director, and also Matt DiBenedetto, who drives the Number 21 Ford Mustang for the Wood Brothers in the NASCAR Cup Series, who came to help us today as we start the process here of getting ready for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Road Course Race presented by Pennzoil. We'll start with quick opening comments from Matt and Wayne, and then we'll go to the media for questions.

Matt, tell us about your thoughts as you took a couple laps this morning.

MATT DiBENEDETTO: It's been fun. It was cool getting acclimated with the course, evaluate some of the -- a couple of different layouts, the 12-turn and the 14-turn course. I'm already jealous of these Xfinity guys, just how cool the race is going to be and how good of a show it's going to put on. People know I love road racing myself.

So I'm pretty honored that they asked me to come do this test. It's a pretty neat deal getting to evaluate the different options and circumstances. I'm really excited for those guys. My only regret would be that this negates me from the opportunity to race in the road course race here.

THE MODERATOR: Wayne, talk a little bit about your thoughts. Obviously, you were involved in getting the opportunity to today, but now we've officially taken a couple of laps. Give us your overview.

WAYNE AUTON: I don't know about anybody else, but I didn't sleep hardly a bit last night because this is an exciting time. I mean, you're talking July 4th. You're talking fireworks. I think these guys and ladies, if there's any in the race, will put on some fireworks on the racetrack.

Great to be in Indianapolis on a nice cool, chilly, warm day. The weather is awesome. We were tickled to death that, when we got up this morning, the weather report looked really good.

Thanks to Matt. Unfortunately, we had to tell him, hey, we want you to do this test, but don't even think about coming here running the race. So it's a little bit of a setback for him that he can't come run the race, but it's a big thank you to him and all of the Penske team for coming here.

We're working on a lot, as Matt alluded to, on the 14-turn, the 12-turn course, and we'll take all the data back with us back to the NASCAR R&D center in Concord, North Carolina, and evaluate all of it and then make an announcement here pretty soon on which course we'll run.

But Matt's done us a great job, and I think his heart rate got up a little bit there on the 12 course --


WAYNE AUTON: -- going into one. You can't say enough about Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Roger Penske's idea of getting the NASCAR Xfinity Series cars on the road course, and Doug Boles, what a job his whole staff has done here at Indy to accommodate us here today so we can get great data here for the team.

Q. Matt, for you first, was there a part of the course that felt the raciest, if that makes sense, that felt like it would lend itself to being kind of the part of the area where it's going to favor drivers really going at it?
MATT DiBENEDETTO: Yeah, good question. The part that I like the most about this course is that it actually does have multiple passing opportunities, and that was one of the things we wanted to evaluate is how it's going to race, how technical it is in the passing zone.

So the cool thing is what we love as road racers is heavy braking zones. Clearly, the end of the front straightaway here, you have a very heavy braking zone. You also have another long back straightaway getting into turn seven, which is a heavy braking zone. And then on the 14-turn course, you have another braking zone coming into 12, 13, and 14. When you come up onto the short chute, get on the brakes, get on there.

There's high speed stuff. There's low speed stuff. So it's pretty much everything we could ask for from a competitor's standpoint for raceability. Also, the little chicane back there coming on the back straightaway is really technical. I'm still figuring out my approach to that. There's a lot of different elements to the racetrack that makes it exciting.

Q. Can you compare it to any of the other road courses? I mean, this is a unique setup, obviously each of them are, but does it have some elements that can compare to something that's familiar to you?
MATT DiBENEDETTO: Yeah, so I've made my comparisons already of some. Coming off of that chicane, exiting it, I've made comparisons to Sonoma already. Then some of the low speed stuff, where you're in either first or second gear, I've compared to Mid-Ohio, which is also a really neat course.

And then I guess you could compare it too to maybe a Watkins Glen or something, where you're flying down the front straightaway and then you have a real heavy braking zone, which is perfect, which allows the opportunity to pull out and try and pass people and out brake and all those different things.

So there's different elements in it, and it's neat to have that many passing zones at a track in a place as historic as this that can provide that good a racing.

Q. Do you get a chance to soak it in a little bit when you're dashing down the front stretch here, kind of take it all in on a day like this when you've got the place to yourself?
MATT DiBENEDETTO: This is -- I'll tell you, I'm not just saying it, it really is a huge honor. It's pretty dang cool. And weird -- when we pulled in here in the dark and there's nobody here out on the racetrack, just me, it's pretty cool.

But it really meant a ton to me, when Mr. Penske and the whole team asked me and Wayne and everybody believed in me and trusted me enough to come out here and do this test because this is a big -- I mean, this is a big, cool change for a really neat weekend of -- we're going to have Xfinity cars running on the road course here, then it's Brickyard 400 weekend, and it's the 4th of July and you got the fireworks show, Florida Georgia Line concert. It's a weekend I would definitely want to come to as a spectator. They're going to get a lot of show in one weekend.

Q. Wayne, you guys take a ton of data away from a day like this. Is there a most important part of this that you'll go back and look at to try to figure out what this is going to turn into?
WAYNE AUTON: The one thing with the engineers that are here and Matt's input inside the race car is we look at the gearing to make sure that we aren't too slow with RPMs, when you get into the slower turns that you have here, or you're not hitting the chip going down this long front straightaway or the long back straightaway that it upsets the engine. So there's a lot of data we'll look to the team for.

Matt's input inside the race car is just valuable. He gave us already a lot of information today with the couple runs that we've already done that will be very valuable for us to take back to our engineers at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, and we'll evaluate it and see how we do.

The biggest thing is Goodyear is here, brought a couple different setups. We brought a set of tires from Road America and Mid-Ohio, and we also brought a setup of Goodyear tires from the ROVAL, road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Matt's been on the tires from Charlotte Motor Speedway originally, and we're getting ready to make another run with those, long run, and then we'll swap over to the Mid-Ohio Road America tires and get Matt's input, and Goodyear will make their recommendation for its tire.

It's not just that NASCAR is getting a lot of data. Goodyear is getting a lot of data with Matt's feel inside the race car. And going down into this long straightaway and into that real slow turn one area, as alluded to a while ago, Matt's done us a great job, and we're getting a lot of input. We'll do some really maybe ten-lap runs here this afternoon and see what we find out from that and take that back, and then we'll decide on which course we're going to run.

Matt's input, I want to say it again, has just been so valuable already today, what little bit of runs we've already done. And that's why we were really hyped up that he volunteered to come up here and get in the car. Plus he wanted to get in the car to say he got to be the first NASCAR car on this road course.

MATT DiBENEDETTO: That's right.

WAYNE AUTON: We live pretty close to each other, so we're always busting on each other what's going on in our hometown. I know he's from California, but we got him as a good old Hickoryite now from Hickory, North Carolina.

MATT DiBENEDETTO: Oh, yeah, most of my life.

WAYNE AUTON: But he's done us a great job, and the input we're going to get from him today will help the whole garage area. We have a GoPro camera inside his car that we'll let the other drivers see. We'll also share some of the data from Penske team to give the other teams so that, when they get here, they have a lot of data that they can institute into their cars whenever they get here.

I can tell you what, it is going to be one heck of a race.

Q. When it comes down to deciding between the 12-turn or the 14-turn setup, will there be kind of an ultimate deciding factor in that that you think will make the difference and what it comes down to?
WAYNE AUTON: The main thing we want to do with the NASCAR Xfinity Series when we come here where names are made, we want to make a new name here. I'm one of these guys -- and I think that's what Matt alluded to earlier -- he's a little jealous he doesn't get to run a race to hoist that trophy for the first NASCAR Xfinity Series road course race here at Indy.

We'll look at all of it. We want to put on the best show that we can for the fans. We want to put on the best show for NBC, which this race will be on, and definitely we want to make sure that the NASCAR Xfinity Series shines here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Wow, what a place to come to, and as Matt alluded to there, you get to see a road course on one day and an oval race on the next day. There's no other racetrack we've ever done that at.

It's going to be a challenge for all of us with the garage area, with the racetrack, being able to swap the racetrack from a road course to an oval for the NASCAR Cup Series to come in, but we're just excited. We're going to try to put on the best show -- no, I won't say we're going to try. We are going to put on the best show here at Indy that the fans will really like.

Q. Is that more what it's about then, not just necessarily turning the fastest laps that you can, but finding out what will make for the best race here?
WAYNE AUTON: Absolutely. As Matt said, there's a lot of passing zones here. Technicality of the driver inside the race car is going to make a huge difference. Whether you can get through five or six and out brake somebody getting into seven, or either get off of 12, 13, 14 and get down the front stretch and out brake somebody going into one. That's probably, from what we've seen so far with Matt's input, that will be two areas that really you'll see a lot of passing at.

Now I can tell you, these boys manning these NASCAR Xfinitys, they don't mind rubbing a little bit. We'll see how they hold up here at Indy.

Q. Matt, touch a little bit more on that. You guys get a chance to make contact in these cars on the road courses. There's a lot of opportunity to do that on a track like this. Would you agree it could turn into a very physical race for these cars here, maybe last man standing at the end of it?
MATT DiBENEDETTO: Yeah, there's no doubt. The good part is there is no doubt going to be some pretty physical racing because there's a lot of areas not only to try and out brake and pass, but actually set up in the prior corner, to set up for those passing zones and things like that. There's some low speed stuff where people might just use their bumper and knock them out of the way, whatever. So there's opportunities for all of that.

But the good part is that they can actually do all of that, race very physically like we see in Xfinity Series a lot, safely is the most important part because the track is F1 certified. It's really a super, super safe course. That was something we paid attention to with running both the courses was evaluating -- that's really what we're here to do is evaluate the course, any concerns, questions we have, which has been really good. And the safety is also awesome because there's plenty of runoff area if anything happens or somebody blows a corner or people get into each other, which is undoubtedly going to happen. So it's neat that all that is allowed.

Q. Do you have an early preference of the two courses, 12 versus the 14?
MATT DiBENEDETTO: Yeah, we luckily got to run both of them, which was good. Both would put on great racing, that's the cool part about it. The 14-turn course was really good in the aspect of probably allowing another braking zone and a little bit of another technical section and a good pit in, good at pit entry from that area and things like that. So it was good to run both and be able to evaluate both and get my heart rate up when doing both for different reasons.

The 14-turn course, you're coming up on that short chute, and it's right on edge, and you get to brake right next to the wall there, which is pretty cool, and it's just really unique. I can't compare that to anything actually. So that's a cool technical passing zone opportunity.

Then on the 12-turn course, it spiked the old heart rate pretty good coming through backwards through oval turn one. That's weird. That was very weird.

So it was cool to be able to run both and evaluate both and neat to know that, no matter what, we're going to put on a really good show.

WAYNE AUTON: We've just got to make sure that, when they come out of gasoline alley and go on the track, they're turning right, not left.

MATT DiBENEDETTO: Yeah, that was weird in itself.

Q. Matt, safe to say, is this going to be one of the challenging tracks? The lane is set up right. Obviously, you have to launch straights. You've got braking zones you need to set up. Probably going to be tight in some areas, breaking loose in others. This one, do you feel like a driver and crew chief are really going to stand out here compared to some other places you guys go to?
MATT DiBENEDETTO: 100 percent. This is going to be a tough road course, tougher than I thought. There's more technical zones and heavy braking zones and all the stuff that we love as road racers. So I think it's going to be where a driver and crew chief and stuff can really shine a lot here based on driving ability, things like that.

It's a tough little road course. It's not just, course-wards, you're just kind of flowing around easy. It's got all the things we ask for as road racers as far as technical stuff, heavy braking stuff, and it's going to put on a good race.

Q. I know it's early, but some of the IndyCar guys, when they run this out here, they talk about how you have to compromise between straightaway speed and cornering speed on the infield. If you were running this race, which one would you kind of err on? Would you rather have more straightaway speed or have your car dialed in more for the infield?
MATT DiBENEDETTO: Yeah, stock cars around road courses are so unique, and that's what makes me love doing it. I love it more than anything I've ever done in my whole life is racing a stock car on a road course because it's just -- it's a lot different than maybe what an open wheel car or IndyCar or something would be around here. So stock cars, you're really going to need some -- it's unique because you have some fast parts and sections, but then you also have low speed stuff where you're like, man, I just need some grip, get some rear grip in this thing and whatever.

I don't know what you would prefer. We're more so evaluating the track layout and all the safety things and any questions and things that are going to come up for the race weekend more so than paying attention to -- we're not here to tune on the car and things like that. Tires, safety, track layout -- those are really the things that we're just focusing on so we can make sure that, by the time they get here, Brickyard, that weekend, July 4th weekend, that all those things are knocked out and they're ready to roll and put on a good show.

Q. Obviously, the Truck Series has Eldora. Could this be the Xfinity Series Eldora? Would you rather see just Xfinity on the road course and leave the Cup on the oval?
WAYNE AUTON: We're concentrating on NASCAR Xfinity Series today so that we can put on the best race we can when we get here. We already run Mid-Ohio, Road America, Charlotte, Watkins Glen, and now we've added Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the schedule this year. This has been a talk for a while that, when Mr. Penske took over the racetrack, it ramped up in a hurry.

We are going to come here in the Series, as our motto says, where names are made, somebody's name is going to get made. If you ask me who's going to win this race, I'll tell you what, I don't know if I'd want to be in first place on that last lap because I know, as the old cliche goes, the chrome bumper being behind me might get used a little bit, as Matt alluded to there.

I'll tell you, when you've got a racetrack that is as wide as this road course is, as technical as this road course is, one little mistake, and you'll probably go to 8, 9, 10 spot, even if you're leading. So it's going to take every lap that we decide on that the race distance will be here. It's going to be interesting, but definitely it's a very technical racetrack from what we already saw today. We're going to put on a great race that we know we can here at Indy.

Q. Matt, this is your first like public action as a member of the Wood Brothers Racing, Team Penske family. Can you just describe what your mindset has been like approaching this? And what surprised you the most about what those two teams are like?
MATT DiBENEDETTO: Yeah, it's been really neat. Obviously, this test was an honor that Team Penske and Mr. Penske and Doug Boles, that whole group, and Wayne and everyone in NASCAR all asked me to do that. So this test is with the Penske -- the Team Penske folks. But as far as me personally, it's been a lot of change in a short time, and it's been a whirlwind. So I don't even know how to answer that of just how cool my life has been in the past handful of months really, since not long after Bristol last year.

So a lot's changed for me personally in my family, and I couldn't have possibly dreamt up all the big things and the little things, and I'd consider this one of the big things. Opportunities like this are things I'll never forget for the rest of my life. I'll be able to say forever, hey, I got asked by Mr. Penske himself, that whole team, by NASCAR, folks at IMS, everyone, to come and be the first ever to run the road course and test it out for the NASCAR Xfinity gang. So there's a lot of amazing things for me personally that have been happening that I'll never forget and always appreciate.

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