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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 30, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good morning. We are pleased to have joining us John Darby, NASCAR Nextel Cup Series director, and Robin Pemberton, vice president of NASCAR competition, that have taken some time out of their schedule today to come in and provide everyone in here with an update on the Car of Tomorrow.
Obviously last week was our first race, a very exciting weekend for us, and as we said going into Martinsville we thought we'd give you all an update on the latest and where we are, and I'll start out by asking Robin and John to give their assessment of how they thought last weekend's debut weekend went at Bristol Motor Speedway.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I'm sure I'll have less to say than John will, but viewing the race from the tower, I thought the race went off about as well as could be expected. We thought competition was good, we thought probably one of the things that we noticed, as a matter of fact, just talking to Jeff Gordon about it, that the matched-up bumpers seemed to help as far as the race goes, where if you got tagged in the rear or you hit somebody, you didn't -- the lead car didn't get jacked up and loose and come around.
So that's probably something we knew from a safety standpoint would be better. From a competition standpoint, it looked like it probably cut the opportunity for cautions.
You know, I think I was impressed to see that there was more cars that typically aren't in the Top 10 running in the Top 10 in and out of the day. That was nice to see.
And overall, I thought we had a great Sunday afternoon from my standpoint. Now to Mr. Darby.
THE MODERATOR: John, what were your thoughts about last week's race?
JOHN DARBY: We're probably focusing on a whole different side of it, but being in the very fundamental stages of the new car, what myself and a lot of our inspectors are charged with or what our biggest concerns are is making sure that everything that surrounds the new car is raceable. Can we run 500 miles without overheating all the cars? Can we still have brakes left on the cars at the end? Are there failures of shocks or gears or springs? All the components that have now found their way into the new car.
And we came out of Bristol with a list of things to look at. Obviously there was some exhaust system failures. We've talked to the teams that experienced those failures and have addressed them, or the teams have addressed them and are working on the problems, working on the fixes.
As far as the overall performance of the car, from a competition standpoint, my side of it is I don't know if we'll see that until we get to some of the bigger tracks, maybe Darlington specifically, in regards to all of the cars.
What we did get a good opportunity to see was not only the reliability of the car but the durability of the car and the fact that it is very mechanically sound in regards to reacting to spring changes, shock changes, stop changes and all of the things that ultimately determine the lineup.
I look at things like Friday qualifying; three and a half tenths of a second was the difference between sitting on the pole and going on the truck and heading down the highway. So those are our immediate concerns as we roll the car out, and all of that just functioned very well. We're very pleased.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take your questions now.
Q. John, how much detail can you go into for us other than exhaust failures and things like that? There were other complaints, springs, TV crews thought they saw splitters maybe flattening left rear tires and that sort of thing. How much detail can you go into as far as the list to fix sort of item by item?
JOHN DARBY: Robin brought up the rear bumpers. The rear bumpers survived real well. In some cases the rear bumper survived better than the rear clip or the rear frame section of the car. So going forward we're looking to make sure that that's balanced properly, that one component isn't so strong that it transfers too much damage into other components of the car. That's one.
It's obvious the teams use more brakes at Bristol than what they typically do. Part of that is because the CG, or the center of gravity, in the new car being a little higher. Some of it is about the car's overall being weight-biased a little differently than what the current car was. That was expected, and that's something that's relatively easy to take up.
The exhaust failure was the first thing we went to work on because there's so many things that surround a failed exhaust system. It's the additional heat that goes into the cockpit, it's the possibility of carbon monoxide entering the cockpit. If the heat from a failed exhaust system is very close captioned, then it has the potential to affect other components like springs, shocks, doors and things like that.
The exhaust I think is the first thing everybody went to work the hardest on because it was probably -- if you had a list of concerns or failures, there was more exhaust failures than what we know we need to see. So just in a week's time walking through the garage and looking at the cars yesterday, tailpipe configurations and the material that they're constructed out of has changed dramatically in just a week's time. That's most of it.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: The fact that a splitter, it's an item that's been identified on the car as a wing, a splitter, we've seen many tires get cut down due to fenders in close competition, so even though we're saying the splitter cut tires down, it's probably not any more than what the fenders have done in the past.
JOHN DARBY: There's a lot of funny splitter stories in talking to the teams here. I mean, what we know is across the board all the splitters stayed on the car, they functioned like they should, there wasn't any what I'm going to call extraordinary problems created by the splitters.
But in talking to one of Ganassi's guys they're crediting the splitter for saving the nose of the car because Juan got a little too close to the wall at one time and actually hit with his splitter, which slid rearward, which they're designed to do, ultimately saving the nosepiece on the car.
There was another competitor I was talking to that in spinning to avoid a wreck when the car was compressed down to the racetrack, he's actually got a tire mark across the right front corner of his car where another car ran over the top of it, didn't brake, stayed on the car. So there's all kinds of neat stories that follow around the splitter. If you look at what it's for and what it's designed to do, it did that.
Q. Just to make sure these exhaust problems we're seeing (Inaudible).
JOHN DARBY: The design is different but I think it's more specific. If you looked at the materials that were used to construct tailpipes on our old cars, they ranged probably from 83 thousandths in thickness to 120 thousandths in thickness if you really wanted a robust system.
The majority of the tailpipes that failed last week were constructed of either 49 thousandths or 65 thousandths, thin material. So I think that because the tailpipe configuration is smaller and weighs less, a lot of the teams felt like they could probably get by with a thinner overall material, and in fact, when you apply the heat of the exhaust and everything, they did crack and they did fail.
Q. In the rulebook there's a pre-race minimum and maximum for the rear height and then it's a post-race maximum. Is there a post-race minimum? Was there a rule actually infracted with the 16 car? Can you explain that for us, please?
JOHN DARBY: There's obviously not a rule in the rulebook or we would have reacted with a penalty. What we're working on, though, is a procedure that will ultimately encompass a maximum and a minimum height. A lot of you have come out and observed and paid attention to the new inspection process. The biggest visual difference you see in regards to the heights of the cars, there's now four height sticks, two in the front, two in the rear, and the roof pin is absent.
We understand we have to have a minimum going down the road to protect the overall height of the entire car, but where we're at right now is not knowing where the teams need it, not knowing where we need it. We started with a procedure with very, very small minimums and very quickly understand that those need to be expanded to allow the teams to have an operating range they can live with during the race.
Q. John, does that mean there was not really a rule that was applicable in Greg Biffle's case?
JOHN DARBY: That's correct. If you open the NASCAR rulebook, which I'm sure all of you have and have read diligently from cover to cover --
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Very unlike a crew chief.
JOHN DARBY: In regards to post-race height, it basically said that the maximum height of the car as it applies to the downforce tracks, there's a dimension given. The only two tracks currently that there is actually a minimum height prescribed in the rulebook is Daytona and Talladega.
Q. Were you saying that actually down the road there could be an addition of that?
JOHN DARBY: Not could be. There will be, yes.
Q. You've heard all the driver complaints about how these cars don't drive worth a hoot and everything like that. With Juan Pablo Montoya and others making the jump to NASCAR, is it time for you guys to say, "Shut up and race"?
JOHN DARBY: I don't believe that we'll say that because the thing that can't be overlooked is all of the race teams and all of the drivers have been active in one way or another, whether it be big or small, in the development of this new car.
You know, for every driver that you can find that still maybe hasn't adapted to it or likes it, you'll see a driver that does see things that they like and enjoy about it.
Overall, and this comes from the drivers that are still maybe on the negative side as well as the ones on the positive side, the one thing that they all agree on is if that's what's out there on Sunday, then we're going to jump in the thing and race it, whether I like it or not, and we'll make the adjustments to like it.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think in all honesty, most of the drivers we've talked to, they don't particularly like the way it drives compared to what they've been used to for a decade or more with the aero matched templates and all those things.
But at the end of the day, they're coming to us with reasons that this is a good idea. There's some benefits to it, and if making the car a little bit harder to work on and understand early on -- it's just a small thing to have to give up for the benefits of the car itself.
Mostly we've had some really good feedback in the early part of the week, even from guys that were fairly outspoken about how hard they had to work on Sunday.
Q. Last week in Bristol the Busch cars and the Cup cars were very, very close in qualifying. Even Kurt Busch mentioned a concern about having Busch qualify quicker than Cup. How much faster do you expect these cars to become over time? How much time would it take for teams to settle in in your view?
JOHN DARBY: There's so many components of the car that affected that. I think part of the difference we're seeing that we even saw at Bristol is the difference in a two-lap qualifying speed, for example, in what ultimately settles in as the race pace.
Quite frankly the race pace was slow enough last week at Bristol that we had to adjust our minimum speed during the race. They were well into the 17-second laps halfway through a tire run. So that's part of the benefit that we see from it. But the same thing happens with the Busch and the Trucks, also.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Busch race got in the 18-second range probably within 100 laps of the race.
JOHN DARBY: It's really hard to look at a qualifying run down and judge the speeds of the cars because those two laps of qualifying are full-blown, pull out every tool in every toolbox drawer and everything else that you can think of throwing at the car to put up the absolute fastest time, that the teams can do for two laps. But they also know that they can't race that way.
So the speeds from qualifying versus what the actual race paces are is night and day difference and we kind of focus more on the race.
Q. This morning Elliott Sadler said the aero push was back at Bristol, and that's unusual, of course, because Bristol being a short track you wouldn't expect to have aerodynamics come into play so much. I wonder if you guys had heard that, and given that word was tossed around with such derision four or five years ago, would that be an unintended consequence?
JOHN DARBY: We can probably take the bodies off the car at Bristol and somebody would still feel like they had an aero push. Basically if a car is tight, it's tight. You can argue all day whether it's tight because the spring and shocks may not be absolutely correct or if it's an aerodynamic issue.
The size of the racetrack at Bristol and the speeds of the cars at Bristol being relatively slow as compared to our mile-and-a-half and two-mile tracks, I would have to believe that aerodynamics doesn't play a huge effect at Bristol.
Q. For either of you, there were some issues, I guess, last week with the energy-absorbing foam in the right side of the car heated up, some concern maybe about that. One thing I heard in the garage, are you guys telling teams not to put that in the car this week? What did you learn or where are you with that?
JOHN DARBY: It goes back to our opening statement. A number of teams had missed the false floor that they needed to put in that supports the foam above the tailpipe area. So you couple that with tailpipe failure, and the heat gets to places that it's not meant to get to.
So there are teams that had the foam in the right place and had the tailpipes that didn't fail and everything worked out according to plan. They have to have it in the car.
Q. How exciting was it after all the planning, all the work, to see those cars finally racing and get a handle on what they're going to do?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I think a race is a race to us. You know, I made this statement a couple of months ago, somebody was asking me, to us when we get in the tower, they're just dots on a screen, and we watch the race and we govern the race.
When it was all said and done, I think on qualifying day, John come in the trailer and got Mike and I, said, "You've got to come to Pit Road and watch this," all the cars lined up, everything looked really cool. To know that there's been so many people that worked on this project for seven years or so, I think it was pretty cool to have the outcome, have the races that we had.
I don't think that any of us will let one or two bad apples spoil what we think was a great achievement for a lot of teams, competitors, our engineers and anybody else that had anything to do with the success of this team in the first outing, or success of the car.
Q. John, at testing in Bristol you mentioned that you expected to kind of hear a course of people clamoring for the COT to go to a full schedule in 2008. Are you starting to hear any of that yet or where does that stand in your mind?
JOHN DARBY: Actually had our first conversations about it at Speed Weeks in February, Daytona, and it's going to be a progressive direction. What we do know is that it's terribly hard and it's very frustrating to run two different programs throughout a year. So for most of the mechanics and the crew members and even a lot of the crew chiefs in the garage, they would prefer just going, just making the decision now.
But for the same reason that the original rollout of the new car was three years -- a three-year period, will be the same reason that ultimately decides whether '09 is gone and we're all in for '08 or not. That reason is the team owners, the guys that are writing the checks to build these things.
If they're comfortable with scaling up and pushing a little harder and eliminating '09 NASCAR, we'd welcome it with open arms, for sure. But we also don't want to force them into that decision. The team owners will have to come and say, look, this deal is working pretty good. They're very easy to build, they're very easy to manage in inventory, so on and so forth, so let's press on with it. We'll cross that bridge when it comes.
Q. I had a question on the rear wing. I understand that NASCAR owns them and leases them out to the teams.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We just give them out, we don't lease them. We just give them out.
Q. Can they be repaired during the race, and if not, will NASCAR give the teams another one?
JOHN DARBY: Yeah, we obviously carry extra wings to the track. We actually talked to the race teams a little bit on Sunday before the Bristol race to help them understand that once we enter the race on Sunday there's not a whole lot that changes. If they need to cut part of the car away to continue racing and beat and bang on a fender or a hood, that's all okay, all of that stays pretty much as we know it today.
The only thing that's required is you have to have the center section of the wing securely attached to the car to be on the racetrack. Could it be damaged and do that, yes. Could it be broken in two and flopping, no.
If in the event that a car was damaged severely enough that it did destroy the wing to where it could no longer stay on the deck lid of the car, we have an ample supply and they'll be reissued another one before the car is ready to go back on the track.
Q. John, I guess three questions, really. The sails, you kind of mentioned just now that the sails are not mandated, that if they lose one during the race they don't have to replace the sail.
JOHN DARBY: What do you mean the sail?
Q. The side pieces on the wing.
JOHN DARBY: End caps, whatever you want to call them? I don't remember calling them sails, but the end plates of the wings belong to the teams. They're not required to be on the car. In pre-race, yes, but if you damage one on the racetrack you can continue on.
Q. Could you quantify why Biffle's car was low? Was it damage that caused it, or was it physically something the team engineered it to do?
JOHN DARBY: The biggest part of it is what I think it takes to endure 500 miles at Bristol and the constant pounding of springs and shocks and adjusting things during the race, whether it be simple tire pressures or rounds of wedge and all of those combined.
The 16 car was out of our preliminary range we were looking for to try to see if it was reasonable and workable. The winner of the race, for example, was probably a breadth away of being in the same position the 16 car was.
Talking to the teams, very minimal adjustments were made to the car, so that's why to be fair to the teams and to be fair to us and to settle you all down a little bit, you need to understand that there will be a rule someday once we understand what the teams need as a working range, no different than the period of time that we took to establish what was too high because ultimately the teams have got to have enough room to move to be able to race the cars.
Q. And finally, in case I'm out of the loop, there's an addendum. You're moving 50 more pounds to the right side of the car. What is the purpose?
JOHN DARBY: We haven't increased the weight of the car. We've adjusted the weight bias between the right side and the left side.
The old cars, for example, were offset. That means that the right side tires were further away from the center line of the car than the left. The new car is not, so that naturally attracts more weight to the right side.
The second difference between the new car is that the left side wheels, front and rear, were both moved over or out an additional inch, which, again, moves the weight bias more towards the right side of the car.
What all that means is Sunday morning at Bristol for pre-race inspection, 39 out of 43 cars were in excess of 1,700 pounds on the right side of the car. So again, to help the teams -- there's two things you can do at that point. You can say, well, throw your hands up in the air and say they'll work on it, get it back down to where it was, which is NASCAR encouraging everybody to go start lightening parts and drilling holes where they're not supposed to drill them and searching for exotic materials that are very expensive. Or you simply adjust the rule to encompass 39 out of 43 cars and everybody is a little more comfortable that way.
Q. This is not a reporter's question, this is anticipating editors' questions to take care of all of us in here. If each of you could give the Car of Tomorrow a grade for its debut race, Robin, could you grade it from up in the tower, and John, you from down in the garage, the technical minutiae that you saw?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: I would have to be like an A- on it. I thought from the tower viewing, everything that went on during the race, you know, you have to take into consideration where we are at, and Bristol historically has great races anyways.
But to see the different mix of competitors up there, to see the closeness of the field qualifying, you know, I would have to say an A-, and the only reason there's a minus in there is potentially a couple of the problems with just the parts and pieces, whether it's tailpipes or things of that nature. But that's where I'll put it.
JOHN DARBY: See, my instant reaction would be to go I've got to grade all the different categories. But if I try to convince them, I'd go with a good, solid B. I'm going with a B because I want to incorporate into that whole process the garage operations, the inspection process and what we expected it to do and anticipated and how the end result was, you know, everything that surrounds the entire weekend more than just the race.
Q. Are there like three categories or something you could grade it?
JOHN DARBY: Yeah, I would give -- I would probably give a better score than Robin did for the race itself. I would give probably our operations a C+, not that that's a bad score, but just for out-of-the-box and understanding and learning about the car, a good, solid C+, and its overall performance, and again, that's where I get to my B.
The neat thing, or what makes me smile, is in one week's time, that C+ for the operations process is already going to be up in the high B category. We shaved almost a full four hours off of the inspection process, for example, from Bristol to Martinsville.
Q. You're talking about both sides of the (Inaudible).
JOHN DARBY: No, from both sides. What we know ultimately is the teams will be the driving force in bringing inspection back to five hours, and they have done a great, great job. They did at Bristol, and I'm even more amazed at the reaction here.
For an out-of-the-box score, I think that's where I'd settle in, knowing that we've already improved just in a week's time.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your time. Good information shared here today, and we'll have this teleconference or press conference up on the website and also hand out transcripts shortly. Thank you very much.
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