NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 9, 2022
An Interview with:
THE MODERATOR: To talk about how we got here and where we're going, I'd like to introduce NASCAR president, Steve Phelps; executive vice president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway, Jill Gregory; vice president of diversity and inclusion, Brandon Thompson; driver of the No. 45 for the 23XI racing, Kurt Busch; and driver of the No. 99 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing, Daniel Suarez.
Steve, let's start with you. Last time we were here in person, the sport was in a very different place. Walk us through some of the significant changes NASCAR has made the last three years that's led to the momentum we're experiencing right now as we head into this weekend.
STEVE PHELPS: It's a pleasure to be here. I'll reiterate it's always fantastic to get to the Bay Area, Sonoma Raceway, certainly always circled on my calendar.
I want to thank the media as well for coming. You guys are a very important part of the success of this sport. Thank you for all you do getting the story lines of our terrific drivers, all the sights and sounds that make NASCAR such a fantastic sport.
Now I'll answer your question. It's very different for us. I think if you think about 2019, 2019 our attendance was coming back, our ratings had increased, after some retirement of some of our most iconic drivers: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards. Had some popularity of drivers that had retired.
Then you had this incredible group of young drivers coming into the sport, like Danny Suarez, Bubba Wallace, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and others, battling guys like Kurt Busch, who will most likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. That was taking shape, which has been fantastic.
But it's really the events of 2020 that changed where the sport and the trajectory of the sport would go. It really put us on a different plane. It really started with COVID.
When we shut down in mid-March, like every other sport, immediately we started to -- senior members got together, Jill Gregory being one of the four people I consulted with on this, and we started to build a plan for how we were going to be the first sport back to competing, which is what we did 71 days later at Darlington Raceway on May 18th.
That was very important for us, to be the first sport back, to competing. It came with a bit of burden, right? We didn't know whether we could make it work. We did. We did it by coming together as an industry, our race teams, drivers, OEM partners, our racetracks all coming together to figure out how we could get back to racing.
We were the first sport back to racing, competing. Then we were the first sport back to competing in front of race fans, as we did at Talladega Superspeedway.
Those were important parts for our sport. But I think the events of June of 2020 really changed the face of NASCAR forever. That really was the stance we took on social justice, which I think really surprised some people, the banning of the Confederate flag, the show of support our entire industry had for Bubba Wallace around the situation at Talladega Superspeedway when a noose was found in his garage stall.
Watching this whole industry come together, support a member of our community who we all believed was under attack. Turns out he was not. That noose had been there for six months.
With that said, that changed where we are. Brandon is going to talk in a little bit about what happened from a diversity, equity and inclusion standpoint since that time. We've been very vigilant about that.
That was the events of 2020 that led to us getting a full season in, kind of getting back in a COVID world to competing, and then what happened from a social justice standpoint.
Fast forward to 2022, I think one of the most significant things that has happened is a number of new owners that have come into this sport, largely due to our Next Gen car, which I couldn't have dreamed that it would go as well as it has. The racing has been simply extraordinary.
It's been a journey. Our ratings are up, our attendance is up. We have a whole new set of race fans who are coming to the racetrack, watching on television, participating in digital and social. It's working. This is a welcoming environment, and we want different people to come to our racetracks and feel special, feel welcome.
THE MODERATOR: Jill, you played a huge role in a lot of the initiatives and programs that happened, especially in 2020 that Steve just talked about. As a member of the senior executive team at NASCAR at that time, now you're leading the path forward with Sonoma Raceway, can you talk about your experience during your tenure at NASCAR, and the experience you have here, what you're bringing to Sonoma Raceway, to this community now and into the future.
JILL GREGORY: Thanks, Brent and Steve. I echo the "thank you, guys" for being here. It's great to be back with a full crowd this weekend. First time since 2019 at Sonoma Raceway.
It's been an interesting transition on the NASCAR side, now being on the track side. Sonoma Raceway was the track I went to my first NASCAR race at. A bit of a homecoming.
I've been able to really take all of the experiences, all the relationships that I was able to build at NASCAR and bring that to Sonoma. We really have been trying to make sure that Sonoma Raceway lives up to the billing of Steve circling on his calendar, Daniel and Kurt wanting to be here. It is one of those weekends that we all want to come to, but we want to make sure that the track is doing everything we need to do to make sure we are a premier venue to host an event like this.
I think that's doing a lot of the things that we know fans love. Obviously we're in Sonoma Valley, so the wine tasting, the scenery and all that is accepted and expected.
When you get out there this weekend, I really hope that we see you all there. It's going to be different. It's going to feel fresh and new. We really tried to take a fresh look at everything.
We've listened to the fans, what do they want. We know there's things they love about Sonoma, but what can we add and improve. To Steve's point, we want new fans to come out. Like many of our other tracks, we see an increase in new fans buying tickets for the first time is through the roof. That's because of some of the things we were able to do at NASCAR, us delivering at our end at Sonoma Raceway.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, you finished in the top 10 four of the last five races at Sonoma. What makes the track special for you? What does the track mean to NASCAR and this area of the country now and in the future?
KURT BUSCH: It's one of those fun weekends where we race on the oval circuits so much in NASCAR that when we have road courses, I always treat it like a weekend off, like it's fun to go up and down the hills, shift gears. Of course, it's an important race. Of course, you want to get that trophy.
The whole atmosphere around Sonoma, it's a different vibe. I think it's just Northern California scene, the race fans that are up here. Growing up in Vegas, this was always a fun road trip where we would come up and race the Southwest Tour car on Saturday. In the '90s I won one of the Saturday races. This track will always be special in my heart because I believe it helped springboard my career to the Cup Series.
It's fun coming here and teaching new engineers, new crew members about the road racing scene. I can't wait to see all of Jill's additions to the track.
With the way you're seeing our sport collectively work together, this whole scene after COVID has taught us how to look at our sport from all different angles. We're all doing it together in much more of a detailed way.
Whether it's the tracks, the team owners, the drivers, you're seeing it in a newfound way. It's just fun to be part of the sport right now.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, you're on a new team this year. What is it like to drive for a race team owned by Michael Jordan?
KURT BUSCH: There's this other guy Denny Hamlin, too (laughter).
It's great. Just like with Daniel's situation, new team, new ownership from outside of the normal realm of how an owner would start out, so to speak, whether it's a truck team or an Xfinity team. You're seeing guys now show up at the Cup Series level due to the Next Gen car, the way that Steve Phelps has positioned our sport for success from outsiders to come in and be able to compete.
Yes, you still have to cut your teeth, tear off your rookie ribbon, but you have to work your way up. The Next Gen car has allowed that to happen in a little bit quicker of a transition.
With MJ it's fun. Denny is such an analytical guy. MJ is that spiritual we know that you're the right guy, we know we don't have to question your talent, just go and do it. Denny is on the other end of can you fill out this report, I need this analytical thing.
It's great learning from both and using all the years of experience I have to have fun with this job.
THE MODERATOR: Brandon, Steve touched on NASCAR's efforts, the progress that has been made in the past few years in the diversity and inclusion space. Can you highlight a few of the tangible initiatives NASCAR is undertaking to promote this change?
BRANDON THOMPSON: Absolutely. You're right, Steve did touch on a lot of it.
I think going back to Steve putting his leadership on the table on Front Street in Atlanta and addressing the crowd, the drivers, the industry as a whole.
A, recognizing that we weren't where we needed or wanted to be, where we strove to be. But also that we were in, that we understood the importance of the things that were happening, that we needed to use our platform to be able to move forward in that way.
It really spurred, to Steve's point, a lot of different conversations, committees being set up, Jill being a part of that. So one of those I'll speak about is the Employee Diversity Council, which was formed actually after -- really sometime around April after Kyle Larson had his incident earlier that year. But really just as a forum for employees from diverse backgrounds, from all different verticals of the company to be able to come to speak to Jill and Steve and other executives at the time about how some of those things affected the employee base. It was from that that we really started to form the strategy in the space of working from the inside-out.
The first thing we had to do was make sure NASCAR, Inc., so to speak, was a desirable place to work, that the employees felt accepted for who they are and felt like they could show up.
The other thing that we knew we had to do from that point was to start to get the industry on board. One of the things, again, that both Steve and Jill tasked us with was forming an Industry Diversity Council, which is literally inclusive of every stakeholder in the sport, be that broadcast, drivers, Daniel is on that council as well, really making sure if there was anything we could do to make sure the industry was completely involved and that we could start to work the different connections that Jill spoke about, the different sponsor relationships and all those types of things to really galvanize the industry.
Finally it was around how do we get fans on board, but what type of partnerships can help us drive forward in this space. Kurt spoke about this, the success of the Next Gen car. We're really good at racing cars, but we're not a social justice organization, but we know that social justice is important. We know diversity, equity and inclusion is important.
Whether it's working with The Trevor Project or the Urban League Young Professionals in Charlotte, or the Carolinas LGBTQ Chamber, the list goes on and on about different partners we can partner with to make sure our voices were heard and we were doing the right thing with the platform we were given.
THE MODERATOR: Daniel, like Kurt, also drive for a new set of owners in Justin Marks and Pitbull and Trackhouse Racing. As a new team, Trackhouse Racing is revolutionizing the model through initiatives such as Project 91, which is designed to expand the organization's international reach. Can you talk about the importance of those efforts, what it means to inclusion efforts in the sport?
DANIEL SUAREZ: First of all, thank you, everyone, for being here.
I think it's important that without the Next Gen car, we wouldn't be talking about Trackhouse Racing, probably most likely we wouldn't be talking about 23XI.
The Next Gen car has brought a lot of opportunities to current new teams. I'm sure it's going to continue to do that in the near future. I think that has been extremely, extremely important factor. Justin Marks has mentioned this to me several times.
From the first time we sat together to talk about partnering together, he said this project is around the Next Gen car. I feel like that's an incredible idea that NASCAR and everyone in this group was able to put together to make it happen.
Project 91, it's been a journey. I've been talking to Justin about this, Pitbull, for months. I have never felt this way with Trackhouse. I just feel like it's my home. It's that place where I enjoy so much to go work and push hard. Pitbull and I, we have known each other for eight, ten years. But we never got the relationship we have today. Right now we talk every single week.
He's super competitive. He loves to bring people together. He tells me this all the time, Man, music, doesn't matter if you speak Spanish, English, Portuguese, music is one language. In racing, he says, I'm seeing that, I'm seeing everyone is together. That was his goal since the very beginning. He loved racing, but he wanted to make one.
I'm very, very proud to be partnered with him.
Project 91, I was talking to Justin about this, it's going to be very exciting for me to have a front row seat on this project because for the last 10 years I have felt that I came to the sport with a different background, with a different education, without speaking English, trying to understand the sport, trying to understand the culture. It's been a process. It hasn't been easy.
Obviously thanks to a lot of people in the sport, they have made me feel like home, and they have made me make that progress easier.
Every single member that comes to this Project 91 most likely is going to go through the process that I had to go through in the last 10 years. I think it's going to be very exciting for me to be on the front row of this project and try to help as much as I can.
THE MODERATOR: Steve, we've heard a lot from the group, how we got here today. NASCAR is experiencing momentum like never before. What's next as NASCAR continues to grow and evolve?
STEVE PHELPS: Two words, we're going to be bold and innovative. I think we've done that, whether you're talking about scheduling innovation, think about going to the L.A. Coliseum and running an exhibition race. The Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. We never would have done that, right?
First time any of us heard that, they brought it to me, I'm like, Can we do that? It was important. So we're going to be bold. We're going to be innovative. We're going to keep mashing the gas, if you will. That's been the success of NASCAR over the last two and a half years, is doing things that are unexpected, going to places that are unexpected.
We want to get to a point where people are actually saying, Well, that's actually what I would expect from NASCAR, as opposed to just sitting back and, Hey, we're running a race here, it's great.
When you consider that these two race teams, Trackhouse and 23XI Racing, since last October, they've won two races apiece, right? Also, Danny hasn't won a race yet in the Cup Series. He's an Xfinity Series champion and has led a ton of laps. Danny's time is coming. We're real excited about that because he's a breath of fresh air. His personality is infectious. Kurt is just a tremendous ambassador for the sport overall.
We're really excited what the future holds. I think more schedule innovation is in our future. What that looks like, I don't know. Certainly no announcements today. But we're poised to be able to continue the success we've had for our media partners, our sponsors, and most importantly from our fans.
The winners in all of this, frankly, have been the fans. It's really just this terrific racing that these guys are putting on with the Next Gen car.
THE MODERATOR: Jill, what's next in your vision for Sonoma Raceway?
JILL GREGORY: Well, if we're talking about schedule, maybe a second date in Sonoma. Anyone? I hear some cheers back there (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: One of your employees (laughter).
JILL GREGORY: He's smart.
No, I think that we want to do the same thing. To take Steve's word, innovate. You don't really see that maybe at the forefront of a track because what we need to do is operate and put on the best race on our weekend, or the other weekends of the year, 51 other weekends a year, we're jam-packed and entertaining race fans.
We need to do our part from a venue standpoint. We are the home teams. We're looking at getting the Giants getting ready to take the field, we are the home team in the Bay Area for NASCAR. We need to reflect that. We need to innovate. We need to make sure that we are the best place the fans want to come, not just because we're in Sonoma Valley, so we already have a leg up on that, but does the facility look good, are we listening to the fans, giving them the experiences they want, working with the drivers, because that's what fans come to see.
I think what you're going to see the most excitement around this weekend is that our fans haven't had that access. Back when we raced last year is when Kurt and Daniel were just walking up to the car, getting in and racing. That was kind of the last weekend. You missed that interaction, that kind of vibe that you get.
We're going to keep doing that. We're going to make sure we're the best venue. I do tend to lean on a lot of my old relationships with some of the other speakers here, Steve and Brandon. We want to be the poster child for a track that is at the forefront of diversity and inclusion. We're starting that effort already. I'm happily working with all of my former coworkers to make that happen. I think it's our responsibility not just as NASCAR but as a track in this marketplace to make sure we are at the forefront.
Then, when we're not racing NASCAR, we're doing a ton the technological advancements at the track. We're testing green vehicles, electric vehicles, alternative fuels. We have autonomous vehicles running around the track. Given our location, I think we've got a chance to be a leader in just racing technology, and we're going to continue to do that also.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much.
We'll open it up for questions from the media.
Q. Jill, the trucks coming here and racing at Sonoma, is that part of your innovation?
JILL GREGORY: Yes. Saturday was always a great day in our race weekend, but it didn't have all of the content that we wanted our fans to have. There's practice and qualifying, I think Happy Hour at one point was Saturday. Kurt mentioned the Southwest Tour, Winston West, that was the focal point of Saturday, so that was always great.
Think about what the fans are going to get on Saturday, starting with the ARCA race, then Cup practice and qualifying, which they haven't seen since 2019, and then you're going to have a Camping World Truck Series race with drivers that have not seen our facility before.
We've ordered lots of extra decals for some of the turns because we think Saturday is going to be pretty crazy.
But it was, yes, how do we give the fans more content on Saturday, and that is part of our innovation.
Q. (No microphone.)
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I feel like there's multiple ways to have a successful weekend, whether it's stage wins or executing with a car that isn't handling well or whether it's capitalizing on a car's handling like we had at Kansas where the car was so fast, you're almost nervous because you don't want to mess things up. You want to have clean, smooth pit stops, make sure the day goes well.
At St. Louis last weekend, it's the first time for our Cup cars to race there. I saw an opportunity to win a stage. I overrode the crew chief, and it turned out where we were able to win the stage. The side effect of that is now I'm going to be restarting 28th, 30th. These are moments where if you have a good car, you have to really feel that, to find that for the crew chief. That way then the responsibility is more so on me.
Last year Road America, I was with Ganassi, we finished I think seventh, fifth and third in the race at the end of the day. We kept staying out to get those stage points because we needed stage points at that time.
Now we're all just racing for stage wins. It's just part of the strategy. We'll see how things play out. Our first practice is Saturday. I haven't been to the track in a couple years. The simulation models are getting better as well as the actual simulator and driving the car.
But it's just still learn as you go and apply it during the race conditions on what your strategy's going to be.
Q. (Question about diversity programs and its impact.)
BRANDON THOMPSON: Appreciate you bringing that up.
This is the tie for the largest class in program history with 36 interns. Very excited about the work that's being done around that program.
Yeah, our recruitment efforts, Jordan Leatherman, who leads that program for us, has done a really good job of establishing a network with a lot of college career planning and placement professionals and just building a network.
Also from interns over the years, right? Every time you get kind of like a normal collegiate athletic in the pipeline, get someone from a particular school, that's an additional notch in your network.
Just being able to continue to spread the word of the program has been really good, but in terms of what their future is like, we continue to bring in students full-time. I happen to be a product of that, having started in an internship program as well.
Every year there's at least a couple who end up hanging around NASCAR. That's in addition to folks who may hang around in the industry at-large. It's a huge recruitment platform for us, what we do. We're excited to have some pretty big-name colleges. We have Dartmouth this year. We got Howard University. We have Clark Atlanta University. I have to mention that seeing as how I went there.
We're excited about the classes, this class, this year and some of the schools they're coming from. Their future, I can tell you from spending time with them over the 600 weekend, they're a pretty good group. I imagine a lot of them are going to hang out for a bit.
Q. (Question about simulation models for the new car.)
KURT BUSCH: Again, the Next Gen car and its design, it might look the same on the outside to some casual lookers, but yet, the core fans, some of the new fans, Wow, this car is different. The sound, the suspension, the look, the feel, the trans axle, sequential gearbox, our digital dash, big 18-inch wheels with a single lug for the pit stops. Tons of things are different.
At the end of the day, I finally had to go, Kurt, it's still a stockcar. Billy, my crew chief, still a heavy stockcar that chews up tires and has a ton of horsepower.
You have some of the same old sequences, but also there's new technology all around us that we have to continue to evolve with. As soon as you get complacent or you're not staying liquid enough to find the right flow, then you're getting behind.
The sims, I would say they're about 75% type of accuracy. We're still missing a little bit on tire wear, air pressure builds, some of the asphalt changes throughout the race. But in general you use it as a tool and you continue to develop it to make it better.
That's one of my main jobs at 23XI is to build this foundation up for this No. 45 car and leave it in a spot where a young kid can come in and race and have an advantage over some of the other younger kids.
STEVE PHELPS: I would say on the car itself, it's more stock than it's been in 20 years. The dirty secret is the car that we raced last year wasn't stock at all, right? It was a manufactured car by five different organizations that race in NASCAR, which is why you need to have an affiliation. Trackhouse Racing, Trackhouse Racing needed to have an affiliation with Richard Childress Racing. They don't need to have that affiliation other than what they get from an engine perspective.
But the rest of the car has all been RFPed. There's 47 different components to the car that the race teams then put together. To me, the car is just so important both from a business model standpoint as it relates to the teams, but also the relevance that the OEMs get, then the styling is just fantastic.
To Kurt's point, it's a throaty beast from a sound standpoint. You have exhaust out both sides, which last year's car obviously did not have that.
Q. (No microphone.)
JILL GREGORY: Yeah, I think having Sonoma Raceway deliver on our responsibility to be inclusive, it's hugely important for us to participate in Pride. I've been working with Brandon and his team for a couple months now on what we can be doing as the visible piece of NASCAR in this marketplace.
Sonoma Raceway for the first time last weekend participated in the Sonoma County Pride Parade in downtown Santa Rosa. A lot of our employees came out, were thrilled we were doing that. We'll be doing something similar here in San Francisco.
I think that we are kind of that front line representative of the NASCAR industry. If we want NASCAR to be welcomed to all, then making sure that the LGBTQ community is part of that is crucial. We're going to make sure we're at the forefront of that effort.
Q. You only had one road course race with this new car. COTA and Sonoma have similar aspects. Is there anything you can learn that weekend in Austin that you might be able to apply this weekend?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Yeah, I mean, if you think about it, most of the races that we have had this year with the Next Gen car, we have been for the first time ever in these places.
It's been a process and it's been a challenge. But I feel that as we get more races under our belt, teams are just getting smarter. The circle of the gap between the fastest car and the mid-pack car is getting smaller and smaller.
Sometimes you are in the front and you go, for what reason, in the middle of the pack, it's difficult to get back to the front because the speed is very similar.
I think overall it's going to be fun. We have had several tests at Charlotte in the Roval, which was very, very helpful and very productive, as well as the race at COTA. Completely different race than Sonoma, but I think we already have a good notebook for road course with this race car, which honestly is a blast to drive, not just in ovals, but in road courses.
Really, really excited for that. I just wanted to add very quick to the previous question, I wanted to thank NASCAR, Jill, Brandon because this weekend actually we're going to have for the first time Daniel's Amigos here in Sonoma. Without them, it wouldn't be possible. It takes a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of effort. We're going to have a few hundred Daniel's Amigos out there. Most of them Hispanic. We're going to have a nice event on Sunday morning. Looking forward to that.
It wouldn't be possible, like I said, without NASCAR, without the racetrack, Jill, a great group of people that helps put this together. And of course Coca-Cola, because without them it wouldn't be possible.
Q. Daniel and Kurt, qualifying position, how will that affect your pit stop strategies and selections, how you approach the race weekend?
KURT BUSCH: I think qualifying with this Next Gen car and the stages, everything becomes that much more important on that qualifying effort.
Again, pit box selection, if you're up in the top 10, you want to stay out to get those stage points. You don't want to have to yield the track position. So it just depends on how the car and the day is going.
Trackhouse had an incredible COTA road course race earlier this year, and we struggled big-time at 23XI. Call it a sister track, somewhat similar to your question on how will Sonoma play out. We know we need to do a much better job on the road courses. This weekend is a big turning point for us on how we can capitalize as a team, but also utilize all the stages to get the right points.
Q. Is there a backwards approach?
KURT BUSCH: When I won here in 2011, the tires would go the full 30 laps, which is about the same on fuel. Now the tires wear out much quicker and it seems like your strategy is split in half. Really, you're only going 15 laps now because of how gooey and gummy and sticky the tires are, but then how much they drop off. You're not necessarily racing the race backwards like we used to on pit as soon as you could make it on fuel. There might be some teams that choose that, go with that direction.
We'll learn in the quick 20 minutes that NASCAR gives us on Saturday's practice (smiling).
Q. Steve, there's been a few issues getting used to some things, single lug nut... The car put on phenomenal shows. What are some of the nuances that you would like to see tweaked or what are some of the things you have tweaked along the way to get it to where people are really starting to say, Hey, we need to pay attention to this?
STEVE PHELPS: As I said before, with the exception of maybe one race, which I won't actually say which race that is, I think the Next Gen car and the racing that it's put on is arguably the best racing NASCAR has ever had. I don't think there's any hyperbole in that at all.
The teams do an amazing job of adapting to new things. They just do. They're adapted to 18-inch tires, very different than the 15-inch tires. The car itself, Danny talked about how fun it is to drive this car, particularly on a road course. It's going to be fantastic.
There are a couple things that obviously we're looking at. Are there things that we could do to the sidewall? The teams get aggressive on camber and air pressure, we've had some blowouts. The teams are going to continue to push the envelope because low air pressure, finding that right spot from the camber standpoint makes the car go faster.
We'll just keep working with the teams and the OEMs to make sure whatever needs to happen that puts on even better racing, hard-pressed to get to, but we'll always endeavor to do better.
I'm excited about what the future holds for this car. If there's one wish that I would have, it would be the dreaded supply chain issues, inflation. We're trying to keep the costs down. When you have shortages...
The teams have made it work. It's been extraordinary. So shout-out to the teams.
Q. Have you driven it at all?
STEVE PHELPS: I'd be going up into turn one at Sonoma, and I'd lose it at the top of the hill. So, no, I've not. I leave that to the professionals. I have been in a car, certainly driven by a professional. That scared the crap out of me, too, frankly (smiling).
Q. (No microphone.)
BRANDON THOMPSON: Appreciate that question very much because I was kicking myself earlier when I didn't mention that program.
You mean how do we find more Daniel Suarezs. Specifically it's the fact -- all of those drivers you named at some point in their career were a part of the Drive for Diversity program we've had since the year 2004.
That program, certainly we would love for it to have produced more fruit, if you will. But we think it's got some pretty good fruit when you look at an Xfinity Series champion, Cup winners and a Cup champion, along with Hailie Deegan competing at a high level in the Truck Series. Rajah Caruth, who had a great finish last season, currently in their program, leading the ARCA points. Nick Sanchez second in points, already has two wins this year. When you look at the top five drivers in ARCA, they're all diverse in some way, with the exception of third place.
In terms of a pipeline, which is what I hear you asking, we're certainly building that. We're looking to continue to expand that pipeline certainly through the efforts with Max Siegel over at Rev Racing. I think we've got the right things and the right people in place and the right structure in place to be able to continue to do that.
Another driver I'd call out is Lavar Scott who was also in the Drive for Diversity program, he has a late model win early in his career.
We're excited about the future. We'd like to expand the pipeline. Actively working with Steve and the drivers to be able to do that. We feel like we've certainly got a good crop now and want more.
Q. (No microphone.)
BRANDON THOMPSON: No, there's not. Right, they drive the same car number. Drives that in honor of Wendell, but not quite. I wish.
Q. (No microphone.)
JILL GREGORY: The question was about returning to the chute from the carrousel configuration.
The good news for us is we have two opportunities. We can change it anytime we want to. But number one is fan feedback. I learned that early in my tenure at NASCAR that the fans, that's who we're here for, and we listen to them a lot. We ran the carrousel, which was great. We had a great race last year. We're really happy with how that came about.
We were running it for the 50th anniversary of Sonoma Raceway. But immediately after the race drivers and fans were calling and saying, Hey, can we bring the chute back? Overwhelmingly the fans wanted to see the chute back.
For us, more laps means more turns, means more turn 11, up turn one, turn seven. I think it's just going to allow more opportunities for these guys to show off what the Next Gen car can do. Seeing the Next Gen car on our track at Sonoma Raceway I think is going to be one of the highlights. We have a ton of elevation, a ton of unexpected turns that I think the car is really going to perform well.
We will stick with the chute for now. But the fans and the drivers were all overwhelmingly in favor of doing that.
KURT BUSCH: I think it's the right move, more passing opportunities. To me the infield section where the carrousel was seemed like it was more follow the leader. The statistics showed there was less passing going into turn seven.
Again, more laps around the track. The sight lines, everything is much simpler when you're going straight from turn four to seven. As a driver, when you have that confidence, you can the confidence to make more passes.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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