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August 1, 2016

Steve O'Donnell

Long Pond, Pennsylvania

THE MODERATOR: We'll continue post‑race interviews today. We're joined by Steve O'Donnell, senior vice president and chief racing development officer. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.

Q. Can you kind of go through, first, the decision, why run so many laps under caution before the red flag, why you red flagged it, and then why you waited the length of time you did before calling it?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Sure. First, you know, I want to congratulate Chris Buescher. Tremendous win, and hope that that'll be a big story coming out of here, a race team in Front Row Motorsports, and what Bob Jenkins and Jerry Freeze have continued to do and keep working hard and potentially get in the Chase I think is a tremendous story.
What we worked through was really unprecedented in terms of the fog you had rolling in. The reason you kept cars out on the track under caution was to see if the fog was going to roll through, and if you red flagged the race and the fog had lifted, we've got a long delay to get back, and we didn't have that many laps to go. So that's why we kept cars out originally under caution.
Your second question on the red flag is we never lost the track, so in this case, I think most NASCAR fans want to see a complete race. We've always stated that we will make every effort to get a complete race in, and in this case since we hadn't lost the track, we wanted to wait.
Unfortunately we had a lightning warning come in, and once the track had to evacuate the grandstands and we could get all the cars confiscated, we made the decision then to unplug it and announce that Chris had been declared the winner of the race.

Q. Steve, if you didn't have that lightning storm, were you guys prepared to wait as long as possible to see if that lifted or were you going to have a timetable to decide, this thing ain't getting out of here, let's pull the plug?
STEVE O'DONNELL: It's a good question, if it was just fog. At some point it becomes too much of an issue. We kept looking behind race control and seeing if it would lift. At times you would see a bit of a window. First and foremost, safety matters. We've got to be able for our spotters. That was the original reason we stopped the race or went under caution was the spotters were not able to see the cars going into Turn 1. So we needed a racetrack where we could see everything.
Unfortunately that never happened. Candidly that was part of the decision. Lightning obviously forced that, but I would have anticipated shortly thereafter we probably would have had to make the call because we did not see any end in sight to the fog at that point.

Q. You kind of answered my question, but have you guys‑‑ can you recall having to deal with situations like this in the past? Maybe not so much the rain but something like fog or something like that that you couldn't control?
STEVE O'DONNELL: The only one I remember personally was Michigan where we raced on a Tuesday. We went through this Monday, we had some fog issues Tuesday, but I've never seen where we had to throw the caution because we physically could not see from the tower, nor could the spotters, and then the fog just come in and just sit on top of you.
The difference is that normally you have some rain, so it's easy to make a call to end the race. You've lost the track, it's three hours to dry, we move down the road. The fans and media understand. In this case the track was still dry, so we tried everything we could to wait as long as we could, but once the lightning warnings came in and we looked at the weather forecast as it seemed, that made the decision easy to call it at that point.

Q. What do you guys learn from an incident like this when it comes to weather? Is everything different or do you learn something for the next time something like this happens?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I think we probably learn something each and every race. I think the folks in this room would agree with that. But sure, I think each race we'll go back and evaluate what happened during that race. If there's any changes we could have made, we'll certainly put those in place. First and foremost, we're about the fans in the grandstands and the safety and the safety of our competitors. That evaluation process will start immediately when we get back to the R&D Center tomorrow.

Q. This weekend we had issues with weepers. I know that's been an issue at times with this track, but also there hadn't been as much rain, so it wasn't like a Kentucky situation last year where it was a saturation. What do you learn from this, and how do you go forward now that you've got essentially 10 months until coming back here so that situation can potentially be alleviated?
STEVE O'DONNELL: Yeah, and unfortunate, in talking to Brandon, we've never seen two races at the same track move to an alternative date, which is unfortunate because we had a terrific crowd turn out for both events. Love the fact that people came back out today.
The track staff worked all night long with over 30 cuts that were put in the track to help the rain. As Brandon has told us, we've had almost zero rain coming in here until the weekend, so it unfortunately just saturates the track and sits on top of you, and that becomes an issue.
We wouldn't anticipate that issue coming back here. We'll certainly monitor it, but we have resources and procedures in place where if you do get rain and you do get weepers to cut the track and alleviate a lot of that pressure. We did that last night and this morning and saw that worked for us to be able to get to the green flag this morning.

Q. And 30 is probably more than you've ever done or‑‑
STEVE O'DONNELL: I don't know exactly. I would assume here, yeah. Kentucky would be the only other track I can recall having to do a number. But normally it's not something we do at Pocono.

Q. I'm just curious, the decision about whether to keep the drivers in the cars during red flag versus telling them they can get out and cool down, I assume the balance on that is if you get a sudden window you don't want to add time, the amount of time to actually get back out there?
STEVE O'DONNELL: It's a great question. Dale Jr. texted me immediately and said, Let the drivers out, what are you guys doing, I hate being in the car. And what we explained is that that's exactly it. We candidly were hoping it was going to be five minutes and that the fog would lift and we could get back going. Once the drivers get out, we know we kind of lose them. It's a five‑ to ten‑minute process putting the safety harnesses and the seatbelts back on, so that was the whole‑‑ once we got to about the ten‑minute mark we knew that we had to let the drivers out and then go back to our normal procedures to restart the race.

Q. In addition to the normal protocol with you guys taking cars back to the R&D Center, are you all taking any other cars back this week, and if so, what are you looking for?
STEVE O'DONNELL: We are. Actually that's a great question. For those of you who didn't notice, post‑race we have impounded six cars, and what we're doing is it's really a mid‑season evaluation for us, and if you look at kind of where the mid‑season falls, typically you're at Daytona, superspeedway race, then we're at Kentucky with the new rules package. Pocono presented the best opportunity for us to really evaluate where we are from both an aero and engine standpoint.
We've taken the time to impound six cars, the 11, the 18, the 5, the 2‑‑ let me just make sure in my notes here, 11, 18, 4, 5, 16 and 2, so six cars, two from each OEM. We will take those cars back to Conover and then we will have them go through the wind tunnel and we'll also evaluate the engines, as well. It was something we took the initiative to do, where NASCAR historically‑‑ we did this at the All‑Star Race, but the All‑Star Race is obviously a shorter race. This was our first chance to really take a look mid‑season, get the cars exactly as they were on the racetrack, take them from here, and then perform the analysis post‑race.

Q. There's been a lot of story lines in the sport lately. How big of a story line is this for Chris Buescher and Front Row Motorsports to get not only in victory lane but get into the Chase especially since front row wasn't a part of the Chase the first time around?
STEVE O'DONNELL: I think when you guys have an opportunity, and you all know Chris, tremendous guy, and I think a terrific opportunity for someone who has really busted his butt in racing. Awesome to see. I don't think you usually see other drivers tweeting, hey, let's just call the race because they applaud what he's done and the effort he's put in as well as Front Row. Really happy to see that, happy to see the number of different winners. Certainly puts pressure on some of the folks who are looking to maybe be in on points. But for us, that's what the sport is all about.
I thought candidly this is one of the best races I've seen at Pocono all day long. Certainly the rain played into that at halfway, but you had passing going on throughout the field, top 5 very close for most of the event. I thought it was a great win for that team and something that's really good for the sport.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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