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February 15, 2015

Steve O'Donnell


THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by Steve O'Donnell, our chief racing development officer and executive vice president.
Steve, if you could touch on the qualifying today, then we'll open it up for questions.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I wanted to make a few comments on the qualifying session today.  I think as everybody knows, this format was put together by NASCAR with feedback from the industry, but ultimately to be as exciting as possible.
We used it last year in Daytona for the summer race.  We made some adjustments from there.  Going into Talladega, obviously learned throughout that.  Then came into Daytona with some minor adjustments for the Daytona 500, as well.
So if you look at group qualifying as a whole, we felt it worked really well, but certainly there's some challenges on superspeedways.¬† One of the reasons we moved away from single‑car qualifying, I think you've heard from the drivers as well, a lot of things go into it as well, aero packages, different setups, not based on a race setup.¬† You also heard Jeff Gordon talk about putting it back in the drivers' hands more.¬† That's something we like.
We don't want to see wrecks of any kind.  Not lost on us how much work goes into these cars by the teams, the efforts for our biggest race of the year.
I close by saying I believe we've got a really good track record of making adjustments where we need to, so we'll certainly evaluate what took place today, we'll continue to get feedback from the industry, from the drivers as we did to get to where we were today.
Lastly, we just want to say a big congratulations to Jeff Gordon.  His last Daytona 500.  We're excited to see him lead us off on the pole position as we lead into next Sunday's race.
With that, I'm happy to take any questions anybody may have.

Q.  You mentioned you made some minor adjustments after Talladega last October.  There were a lot of complaints there.  What adjustments did you make?  Were there things that happened today that you wish you would have addressed?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  That's a good question.
When we looked at it, some of the things you saw that took place on pit road today we were hoping to avoid.  Then some of the drivers, how they enter a track on a superspeedway, we put in rules in place for today's session to avoid incidents candidly.  Blocking, we were going to monitor.  We said we could look at things to disallow times, but that was more on how you entered the track coming up to speed.  Some of those were put in place, but I think those are areas we need to continue to look at.

Q.  It seems like every driver who didn't make it to the final group hated this format pretty vocally.  How much input have they had in what you do on superspeedways?  Do you have a sense of what they want to do?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Another good question.
We all share the same vision with the drivers.¬† They want to put on the most exciting race possible.¬† So we all knew that single‑car qualifying was a challenge for us. ¬†So there are a lot of different ideas out there.
We do believe this is the more exciting feedback.  But when you hear from Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, that's passion.  This is the biggest race of the year.  They want to make the race.  We understand that.
I think as we look at that, if there are ways we can make adjustments, we will.  Not everyone's going to be happy.  That's part of this.  Cars have always historically gone home from Daytona.  That's tough.  We know how big this race is.
But, yes, we will continue to have conversations with them.

Q.  Steve, Brian has talked about in the past that he's fine with drivers making comments, but don't disparage the product.  Certainly some of the comments that came out today, what is NASCAR's stance on the comments of Clint Bowyer or Tony Stewart?  Are they clear or are they facing any type of penalty for comments made today?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think what Brian said is you can take us on.  We're NASCAR, that's part of our job.  When I look at the comments that Clint made or Tony made, those are based on wanting to see the best racing out there.
So certainly tough to hear.  But those are things we have to have conversations with them on and work with those guys to figure out if there's a better way to do it.  We will do it.  But it's not something we're going to fine the drivers for today.

Q.  Would you say that most of the problems that you heard from participants today about what transpired were teams and drivers gaming the system or the format or the format itself?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think what you saw today was all of the above.  With any format we put together, even the Daytona 500 as a race, there's strategy that goes into it.
I think what you did see today was the driver had more input, more of an impact on what happened in the outcome.  But there are things we can learn from that.
We don't want to see wrecks.  If there's a way to avoid that, a lot of you talked to us about qualifying races.  That could be a result of those as well.
We'll take a look at all of those things and see what we can do to make adjustments.

Q.  When determining whether to make changes to this format, how much of it is driver input and how much of it is fan input?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† I would say we look at input from the entire industry.¬† You're going to take fan feedback.¬† We're going to talk to the drivers, the owners, crew members.¬† That's a little bit of how we got to where we are today, going away from single‑car qualifying, taking input from all of those folks we talked about.
It's a balance for us.  Ultimately it's our job to make a decision.  Not always does everybody agree with that decision, but we've got to make that decision at the end of the day.

Q.¬† When the knock‑out qualifying was announced in 2014, you had it everywhere except at Daytona.¬† They said it was because of the unique qualifying format here, the prestige involved.¬† What went into the decision to implement it for this year?¬† Is there consideration about possibly going back to the old way?
STEVE O'DONNELL:¬† What went into it goes back to what I talked about earlier:¬† Seeing how knock‑out qualifying worked over the past year.¬† We saw some terrific results.¬† We saw some of the qualifying sessions move over from cable to network.¬† Fans said they were really excited about it.¬† We tried some things at super speedways, knew we had to make some adjustments.
You couple that with conversations with a lot of the race teams about how much work and effort went into a single‑car lap, how that didn't really apply to the race, if there were ways we could put that focus on the racecar that was going to compete in the Daytona 500 versus a one‑ or two‑lap qualifying session, that's what really went into it.

Q.  Are you in kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation?  Whoever does well in the system is going to be happy, those that don't don't?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think there are always those that will like the system and those that don't.
If you could put this session in today and tweak what happened on pit road, you don't see an incident that happens, maybe there's a different story.
We have to balance all those things now as we look at it.  Was it more exciting?  Were there more people talking about qualifying?  Hopefully so.  What does that result in at the end of the day?  We'll talk to Joie Chitwood, the folks at FOX, we'll balance that with everybody in the garage to make sure we're doing what's best for the entire sport.
We can't rely on one driver, one owner, the track.  We have to balance that and see what's in the best interest of the entire sport.

Q.  You mentioned sitting on pit road.  That's counterintuitive to auto racing.  Seems like they're going to wait till the very last minute.  How much of a challenge is that going to be?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think that's something we will talk to the industry about.  I've already seen suggestions on Twitter, suggestions from some people in the room.  Can you roll the cars off with the pace car, do some different things.  I think those conversations need to take place.  If there's a way to avoid seeing what we saw on pit road, we're definitely going to do that.

Q.  After the race, Jason Ratcliff said on the radio there were a few seconds added to the clock in the last minute for the final round of qualifying.  Is there any accuracy to that?  Kenseth said his timing was off.  That was the reply the crew chief gave the driver.  Everybody had been sitting there on pit road playing chicken.  He basically said that time was added to the clock.  I don't know how that's possible.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I don't either.  I looked at the clock.  Our timing and scoring system.  In that last session, everybody made it in the time we had on the clock.  There weren't any adjustments made.

Q.  I understand you still want to get feedback from the industry and evaluate things.  As it stands now, was NASCAR happy with how today's session unfolded?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think it's a balance.  Jeff Gordon on the pole, certainly his last Daytona 500, is great.  Seeing the incident that took place is not.  So it's a balance.
We've got to take everything kind of in stride.  We see new things every day, have to make decisions on that.  Overall I think we're happy about the excitement of the qualifying session, but we've got to look at if there's adjustments we can make to continue to improve that, we're going to do that.

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