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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
January 30, 2014
KRISTI KING:¬† We are joined by our NASCAR Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton, and our NASCAR Managing Director of the Sprint Cup Series, Richard Buck.
Q.¬† The last race is a Shootout from where you finish, a top finisher wins the championship.¬† At first I thought it's different than stick and ball because what if somebody blows a tire.¬† Then I started trying to think through history and how people finished championships all racing for the end.¬† If you're a student of history and you look back at NASCAR, is this no more different, or is it, than what we saw in the past when you didn't force people to go at it like that?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Well, it's hard to look at just the last race.¬† You have to look at the entire Chase and setting the Grid and all of that.¬† It rewards winning.¬† It also gives you an opportunity, if you have a bad race, you're not out of running for the championship.¬† So there will be a lot of pressure on everybody to just up their game.¬† Who knows what strategies will unfold because it's obvious that it will be different strategies moving forward to try to get a win, to try to advance to that next level.¬† When it comes down to the last race, we all want a moment where we have to have head‑to‑head competition.
I think one of the best championships we've had recently has been Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.¬† That was a dog fight.¬† It's what you live for.¬† It's what you want to see.¬† I think this will just allow us to see more of that action when we get to Homestead.
Q.¬† If this leads to more aggressive racing, more contact, how much chance is there that it leads to more wrecks and more injuries?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Well, we'll have to regulate it and work harder from the tower.¬† But these guys are pretty aggressive on their own.¬† It's hard to say what strategies will play out, but there is a lot on the line for the next ten races.
Q.¬† How do you handle, we saw in Richmond last year when a team tried to manipulate a finish to a race to try to get a car in the Chase which cost Jeff Gordon a spot, so you get Jeff Gordon in the championship.¬† Now you come down to the championship with four guys, and multi million dollar teams and they have drivers that can take out another driver; how are you going to decide and how are you going to rule on that where a guy can take another guy out when he probably should have won the championship if teams are willing to pay the fine?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: ¬†We have that today.¬† We've raced around those scenarios all along.¬† I think for the most part you can look back and reflect on that.¬† The competitors are pretty fair and square on things.
Q.¬† How much of a struggle was it to come up with a formula for the rest of the contenders, the 16 that aren't going to be the final four?¬† Mike mentioned Kevin Harvick's idea of racing for the finish?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† We had a lot of different scenarios we've looked at.¬† It's been a number of years.¬† We continued to look and things continued to evolve.¬† It was one of the meetings that we had this week talking to the teams about what happens if you do get knocked out, and that is what brought us to the point where if you do get knocked out and you get reset in a pool of competitors, so at least they'll be racing for fifth through 16th.¬† So that was a change that with working with our teams and this week that came out of these meetings.
Q.¬† Can you talk a little bit‑‑ I want to get Richard to chime in too, but for you, a little about the process.¬† I think it's been four years you announced you were searching for a new Sprint Cup Series director, how you landed that process and eventually landed on Richard?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Well, as you know, Richard has worked with us for three or four years now.¬† Five or six.¬† Time flies when you're having won.¬† We work together.¬† Richard is in charge of the Tours and all that, and he spent the last two years or better part of two years with GRAND‑AM and then the merger with IMSA, so he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Really, Richard and I have known each other for well over 20 years when we worked for Penske 25 years ago.¬† So it was a no‑brainer.¬† It was a time that things were coming together with inspection models and officiating models that needed to be changed up.¬† We worked on those.¬† We've got a good, deep team, and it was an opportunity for us to just reorganize some stuff.
Q.¬† Richard is getting started here in a big time.¬† Tell me a little about getting started and making this transition here with so much going on?
RICHARD BUCK:¬† Well, like Robin said, I've been with the company for six years, so I've obviously been entrenched in many different areas of it along with my background.¬† The last four years being responsible for the K&N Pro Series East and West overall, and Modifieds North and South.¬† I sit on several committees, Drive For Diversity Committee, Rules Committee, and Resume Committee.¬† So very much intertwined throughout the company.¬† So that, coupled with the time I spent at GRAND‑AM and IMSA, and pulling that together with the technology that is out there and allowed to be employed in racing from the Sports Car side of it, I think that gives me a good, solid background, a good solid foundation to feed from.
Plus, we just made ourselves stronger.¬† If you think about it, John Darby is going to be back at the R&D center, and he'll continue to work with Gene Stefanyshyn and Robin and myself, so it's just more depth to the competition model.
Q.¬† If you have two teammates that are running in up front and one of them has already won a race and gotten into the 16.¬† They're both running up front, what is to prevent one of them from letting his teammate win?¬† Is that something that will be policed or going to be policed?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Those types of scenarios can happen today.¬† But as we've talked to our teams in our meetings, they run as hard as they can.¬† For most of the event they try to get the best finish they can by the end of the event.¬† How they gauge what they're doing anytime during the race, that is part of their own strategy to get to the end, get the best finish and win the race if they can.¬† We know there are different strategies that will play out and that is part of the excitement of the new format.
Q.¬† The four best drivers are during the final race fighting for the title at Homestead.¬† In principle, all the best four drivers can win the title can retire (Indiscernible).¬† What happens there?
RICHARD BUCK:¬† The last race at Homestead is the four that have made it there, and it is the best of the best.¬† Whoever finishes first, crosses the start/finish line wins the championship.
Q.¬† From the first four?
RICHARD BUCK:¬† From the first four.
Q.¬† In case they retire during the race?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† They would all have to retire the same lap at the same time, and they'd all have to be a dead heat across the start/finish line in the lap they retired.¬† So we know in our world things like that can happen, but this is really very unlikely.
Q.¬† You're taking over at a very volatile time, changing everything.¬† Qualifying on Friday, trying to keep that in check for 25 minutes, how are you going to do that from your standpoint as the race control person or person in charge of racing control up there from that standpoint?
RICHARD BUCK:¬† It's going to be very easy.¬† No, just kidding (laughing).¬† It's a matter of time management.¬† It's better being organized and attention to detail.¬† First of all, I would say it's a very exciting time right now.¬† What we're about to embark upon has got me excited as a fan.¬† I've been a race fan all my life and been immersed in it all my life.¬† I'm excited about this.¬† I'm ready to get going.
We've got a lot of great folks on the competition side of it and on the business side of it.¬† Lot of great minds.¬† We've reached out to the teams.¬† We've reached out to the stake holders.¬† We listen to them.¬† They've had some great input.¬† So there are a lot of people pulling on the rope in the same direction.
With that said, we're going to have to cross the T's and dot the I's, but we'll get it right.
Q.¬† Couple of logistic questions.¬† Why did the field get to 16 instead of 12?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Well, we felt like with the depth of the competition nowadays that we needed to expand the Chase.¬† We looked at the scenarios.¬† We looked at the statistics, and we average like 12.5 winners for that same time period.¬† The most we've had is 15.¬† So we felt that it was a good opportunity for us to expand that and get as many competitors running for the Chase at the end of the year.
Q.¬† Say hypothetically after the first three races after the first six somebody gets on a hot streak, and winds up having more wins than anybody else in this Chase?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† That can happen today.¬† It can happen in any scenario.¬† But what this is about is winning, moving forward, being the best of the best, and coming down to the wire at Homestead.¬† When we looked at a lot of those things, most of the things can happen no matter what scenario you run.
Q.¬† Brian had said that they're only focusing on 2014.¬† Is there hopes that going forward there will be a schedule change or a different season finale?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Yeah, I really don't know the answer to that.¬† We're plugged into the 2014 schedule competition guys.¬† We've got a lot to work on, so that would be a question that the business guys should answer.
Q.¬† Mr.France said that you expect contact in the final races between competitors for the Chase.¬† But is there a line maybe if it's two competitors for the title versus a competitor for the title and a teammate for the competitor of the title, where's the line?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† First off, I think we expect there to be contact throughout the entire season.¬† Any one race more than another, it happens that way.¬† We know that there is an opportunity that we'll have to make a hard call, but we also know that there are good competitors out there.¬† We expect them to behave proper and leave the championship out there on the line for the guys that deserve that.¬† You can never rule everything out.
Q.¬† (Indiscernible) the last race at Daytona, the last weekend.¬† Who is taking over your job duties?
RICHARD BUCK:¬† Yes, I was responsible for the IMSA competition side.¬† We have some very capable folks down there.¬† In the merger, we were able to strengthen our competition side.¬† Scott Elkins will be taking over most of those responsibilities and will also be more involved here at the NASCAR side.¬† Steve O'Donnell, Robin Pemberton, and Gene Stefanyshyn and myself will all be involved on a regular basis to help them move their competition model along.
Q.¬† (Indiscernible) already a foundation for a future corporation with the ACO?
RICHARD BUCK:¬† We have a partnership with the ACO and we work very closely with them.¬† In fact, Pierre Fillon waved the green flag at the 24 Hours at Daytona, and Jim France this year waved the starting flag at the 24 Hour Le Mans.
Q.¬† Whenever a lot of sports make changes to the way they're crowning champions, they'll start at a lower level and kind of test things out to see how things work.¬† When NASCAR does it, it seems they start at the top and kind of work back.¬† What was the thought process as far as even when the Chase came online say ten years ago, to start at the top and kind of maybe work its way down as far as rewarding the championship process?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Well, we're fortunate that we do have different levels of our series all around the country.¬† Modifieds and K&N East and West, Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series.¬† But a lot of these events and these series have their own meaning, they have their own life.¬† We concentrate on the Chase format, and we've concentrated on it for strictly the Sprint Cup Series.
It's a lot of times we're able to react a little bit quicker because of the depth of the teams and the sponsors and things like that.¬† So that is why we work with mainly the Sprint Cup Series.
RICHARD BUCK:¬† I think Robin covered it.
Q.¬† Explain to me what happens so that like the first group that falls out is still battling for fifth how do they work the points so that they occur?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† The question is how does the point system work in the Chase?
The question is about the point system and how it works moving forward when you get eliminated.¬† We start with 16.¬† We run three races.¬† All your winners move forward and then you fill with points to bring us to 12.¬† So now you have 4 that do not make the next level.¬† You race your three races.¬† You take the winners and then you fill up to eight positions.¬† The four that you leave behind go back and are in the group with the original four that got eliminated.¬† So now you're 8‑8.¬† You race three more races, right, and you get to Phoenix.¬† You take your three winners in points.
So you've got four guys going into Phoenix.¬† The four that are eliminated are going back.¬† So now you have 12 teams that are racing, and they maintain working for points throughout that whole season.¬† They work for 15th through‑‑ 5th through 16th.
Q.¬† Only one race they're battling for that position?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† The whole time.¬† It only counts at the end of the season.
Q.¬† So I'm trying to figure out do the points change as the teams progress at each set?¬† So after the first three races you've got 12 teams that move forward, four that lay back.¬† Do the points change?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† We take the four that don't make it to the next level and we throw them back in the pond with the first four and their points will be reset.¬† Okay?¬† So essentially we'll have a 17 through whatever running for points.¬† At the end of the season it will be 16 through fifth and 4th through 1.
I tell you, we have to do the same thing.¬† It's always easier.
Q.¬† Dustin said this is going to be like the wild, wild west on Twitter?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Who said this?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Dustin Long.
Q.¬† How do you police this?¬† Dustin is pretty laid back, so that was kind of‑‑ how do you police this going forward?¬† How will you keep an eye on and how will we prevent this from being (Indiscernible)?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† We're going to regulate just like we have.¬† It's going to be more work on us.¬† We understand that.¬† But in 2013 and before, those same opportunities existed then.¬† This just gives more opportunity to win races and to advance at a high level.¬† We get to do it three times.¬† So we'll have to regulate it when we see fit.
But it's a contact sport.¬† Brian said it over and over and over.¬† You know, guys will compete at a high level and some will be more aggressive than others, and we understand that.¬† That's acceptable.
Q.¬† Will the aggressive guy win?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† You'll have to ask them when they get done.¬† I have no idea.¬† That's about strategies in my opinion.¬† We have aggressive guys that are aggressive and don't finish races, so you have to put that in context.
Q.¬† The fact that a driver could miss a race for a necessary injury reason and perhaps keep his championship hopes alive, that is a major change?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Yes, it is a major change.¬† But when we are in this with this new format and in light of everything else that we've done, we felt compelled that if we have a medical reason, we can excuse a driver for a period of time based on the medical reason.
Now they still have to get in.¬† They still have to compete and all of those things.¬† But this is different than the way we've looked at things in the past.
Q.¬† Did something specific prompt that or has that always been a part of this?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† It's a new day.¬† It's a new time, and we make changes for a lot of different reasons.¬† As you see, whether it's a medical reason, whether we're changing qualifying or we have the Chase, it was time to look at some of those things.
Q.¬† If I'm taking an example of a team that's a part‑time team that maybe can't run the first couple of races.¬† They come in and run for it and they manage to wrangle a win.¬† They then go out and get sponsorship and run the rest of the races up to the Chase, if they get in the top 30 they're still prevented from running because they didn't make all the attempts?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† That's correct.
Q.¬† I guess my angle on that is if you're able to race into the top 30 I would think you'd make the cutoff and be worth it.¬† But I guess I understand if somebody's locked in with three races to go, you don't want them taking off and going and testing?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† That's right.
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Yep.
Q.¬† I understand you don't want somebody that is in it to take off Richmond or whatever and to go rest their team.¬† But it would be nice to see if you could reward a part‑time team?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† It's important to reward a full‑time team that's been able to support the series for the whole time too.¬† It's a balance.
Q.¬† Who was the driving force behind this at the executive level?¬† It seemed that Brian was the one saying last year we need to be willing to do some radical things.¬† Was he the guy that said we're going to open the door to something crazy or that might sound crazy at first?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† It's hard to say.¬† We have a really close‑knit bunch that works together on this for long periods of time.¬† You and I have had this conversation before.¬† When something hits the street and we make a call on it, it's not a knee‑jerk reaction by any means.¬† It's something that's got months or years behind it.¬† Research, in‑depth research, quite frankly.
So we take our lead from Brian and Mike, and they guide us in directions and say go get 'em.¬† We do the best we can to support what they see their vision of the sport in the future, and we've got a good group of people here working very, very hard at it.¬† It takes a lot to make it all go round.
Q.¬† How long ago did you have an idea that this was the direction you were going to go?¬† I guess maybe when that first appeared, you thought, wow, this is going to be a big shift, huh?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† It's years, actually.¬† It's been years.¬† There are times when I was the biggest traditionalist in the entire room, which you can only imagine.¬† When you can separate yourself from your history and look at where you are and where you need to get to, it's easy to make calls like this.¬† It's easy to move forward.¬† So that's the way it is.
Q.¬† There was discussion over there about this being different from what racing is all about, but it seems to me that racing in its essence is who finishes best?¬† It's kind of degenerated into something else.¬† So if you're a traditionalist, this might be something that is right?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Yeah, in a lot of ways you have to look back at the history of the sport.¬† We've had so many different point systems over the years.¬† I can't even recall some of them.¬† Based on trying to attract competitors to run every race that they could.¬† For the most part maybe only 25 years ago only half of your competitors were full‑time, maybe two‑thirds.¬† So you did things to programs and point systems to encourage full fields.
There were times we only ran 32 cars at a short track when we were running 38 or 39 on a Super Speedway.¬† So as the content grew, as the competitors', good, supported, sponsored competitors grew, we had to make changes then to allow more competitors to run week‑in and week‑out.
So times change, and you have to be able to change with them.¬† Right now with the Chase, it was a bold move.¬† Now the pressure to compete by teams on a high level is out there.¬† We have a lot of really great teams that are out there, so this just opens it up for 16.
Q.¬† Expanding to 16 cars, did you hear feedback from corporate partners saying that they wanted to be more involved in the Chase, figuring being out of the Chase they lose attention or something?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Absolutely.¬† We heard from the sponsors, but they weren't to the point where we just need to be in.¬† I think it goes back to the competitive landscape that we have here.¬† We are deeper and stronger competitors than we've ever been.¬† It only makes sense that we allow more of those guys to get on a run late in the year and potentially get a championship.
Q.¬† What has been the feedback about the system?¬† Brian talked about fans, but how do the biggest partners?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† The OEMs that have been talked to, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota, are just over the moon with it.¬† The sponsors that we have talked to, TV partners that we have talked to, everybody is just fully engaged and fully on board.
Q.¬† What do you have to consider in terms of officiating as we get to the end of the race?¬† Because obviously in years past winning was always important, I get that.¬† Now there is this emphasis on winning, so in theory that should create more of a hunger for a win.¬† Do you understand how you guys are going to have to officiate and where that line is?¬† Obviously, this is a contact sport, but where there is too much contact?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† We will not officiate differently.¬† We know that the game will be elevated by the competitors.¬† We know they'll be more aggressive.¬† We'll have to officiate just like we did.¬† It's just going to be more work for us.
Q.¬† With so much emphasis on the winning now, if somebody fails inspection or something happens on the last lap, I know what Jim was asking earlier, but the sports history for the most part is not to change who the winner is.¬† I think back in Vegas Carl won and you said that win is not going to count towards the Chase.¬† Is it going to come to a point where you'd take the win away and give it to the second place car because in essence the second place car has gone through the same post race inspection or is it going to be a vacant winner?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† That's a good question.¬† But as we see it right now it will remain the same.¬† We won't count the wins if somebody cheats or whatever.¬† We won't count those towards the bonus.
As you can imagine, there is always discussion about what you take away and what you leave.¬† There will just continue to be discussions at this point.
Q.¬† Why not change it?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† As a group we've decided to not change that right now.¬† There is a lot of change in itself.¬† We've just decided it's not a good time for that.
Q.¬† So you just take the win away and it would essentially be like it was, the win wouldn't go to the second place guy?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Right, it would just be points.
Q.¬† I know that the GRAND‑AM situation is different, but just because it came up and there was the change and I wasn't down there so I don't know all the things that went on.¬† But if you had a situation like that, obviously GRAND‑AM reversed the decision, is that something we could see or how would that process work?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† We take a lot of time.¬† If there is something that happens late in the race, say it's on the racetrack between the green and the checkered, we'd take a lot of time to not make that mistake.¬† Or if it's post race, setting the order or whatever freeze the field is or an accident of sorts.¬† We a lot of times at the finish of a race, it could take two hours when we're done by the time we get looking and timing and video and things of that nature.
So it's just right now it's time to sit still on some of these things.¬† Work on some of the things that we've announced over the past week or so, and we'll go back and look and address other things for later on.
Q.¬† I know you talked about all the time you spent, and you talked about it could be hours, but if you have a situation where it's a last lap, and if I'm getting too hypothetical, let me know.¬† But if it's a last lap, does that mean you'll take more time or are willing to delay who goes to Victory Lane?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Absolutely.
Q.¬† If it's 20 or 30 minutes?
ROBIN PEMBERTON:¬† Absolutely.¬† I mean, we've done that.¬† If you remember, we have done that.¬† We have had cars that went to pull into Victory Lane, and we've stopped and had to look at video and timing.¬† We've had incidents where you're coming to‑‑ the yellow comes out on the last lap of a race, and literally those situations can take hours to get it right.
What we've tried to do and where it may not go noticed is the fact that we start from the top of the run down and work our way down.¬† So you'll get the first five, and everybody will be, okay, you'll get the next five.¬† Then they think that we're done.¬† But when you go back through the field and get it to the last car, that does take a lot of time.
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