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NASCAR 2012 Preview Q & A

At NASCAR Hall of Fame
Friday, January 27, 2012

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KERRY THARP:  Good afternoon, and welcome to the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the annual NASCAR preseason press conference as part of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.  My name is Kerry Tharp.  I'm senior director of communications for NASCAR competition.  We are excited about the 2012 NASCAR racing season.  Our thanks to the fine folks here at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for their outstanding hospitality and hosting us here today.

I'll tell you, each one of you all are invited to tour the Hall of Fame sometime this afternoon.  If you haven't been through it, I encourage you to take some time and visit the Hall of Fame.

Certainly the 2011 NASCAR racing season was one for the ages, culminated by a classic championship battle during the Chase, and then highlighted by a walk-off victory by Tony Stewart at Homestead Miami Speedway that gave Smoke his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Before we get the program started, let's take a quick look back at 2011, certainly a season to remember, and then we'll fast forward to 2012.

(Video shown.)

KERRY THARP:  We are just 31 days until the 54th running of the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, and here to talk about that spectacular event, along with the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which gets underway this weekend, please welcome the president of Daytona International Speedway, Joie Chitwood.

JOIE CHITWOOD:  Thank you, Kerry.  I appreciate that.  It's hard to believe that we're only 31 days away.

Last year when I spoke, I talked about polymer modified asphalt cement with an elevated softening point.  For those of you who don't remember, in layman's terms, I called that no-pothole asphalt.  So I'm proud to tell you, after a huge project we had such a successful season of not even mentioning that word, so it's nice to talk to you about that guarantee coming to fruition.

But more importantly, that new pave job represented two fantastic races for us, the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 with two first-time winners in victory lane.  So not only did we live up to our guarantee of fixing our challenge but produced some of the best racing that we've seen.

Before I talk about the Daytona 500, it is important right now that we're in the midst of our 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24, America's most premier sports car endurance challenge, and for the 50 years we have some great things that we've planned.  47 former winners will be in attendance, over 30 of the former winning cars will be there, but more importantly, GRAND-AM is experiencing a resurgence in manufacturer support with Ferrari choosing to put a factory ride in this year's effort.  We expect the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 to be the biggest ever, and I promise you come Sunday after that race I'll be making that announcement, as well.

When I think about the Daytona 500, it's tough to not think about what just happened this past year.  We all go about our business and try to provide the proper stage for NASCAR to put on a great race, and I think sometimes we get caught up in the logistics of doing that, but for anyone who was in victory lane, when Trevor Bayne lifted that trophy over his head, you can't help be caught up in that infectious enthusiasm that he has for the sport.

I think about the magnitude of that day and what really happened.  We're all in the sports business, but to think that this one day changed this young man's life, he's no longer Trevor Bayne, he is Trevor Bayne, Daytona 500 champion, for the rest of his life.  It's amazing to think that that one day in sport has now propelled his career into a different stratosphere.

There's so many things that we are excited about, but probably more important than anything is that we kicked off the season with some energy and enthusiasm and more importantly momentum that carried through the entire season all the way to one of the best championship races I have ever seen.  And so that is our goal for this year as we look to what we do to improve the experience for our customer and make sure that we grab that baton from Miami and produce that kind of event again.

We always look at how we invest in the customer experience, whether it's socially or at the racetrack itself.  I'm proud to tell you that we have the largest social following of any racetrack out there with over an 800 percent increase this past year, year after year.  We've invested millions of dollars in our racetrack as it relates to camping areas that our fans enjoy as well as producing a multimedia app that fans can use to navigate the Daytona International Speedway and other technology enhancements that we do around the property.

So I tell you with 30 days to go, our team is ready for the challenge as we prepare the property for what I consider to be one of the best events there is, the Daytona 500, but more importantly, to maintain that momentum and generate excitement for our sport in NASCAR.

Thank you very much.

KERRY THARP:  Thank you, Joie.  The competition on our racetracks has never been better in our sport, and here to provide an overview of what's in store on the competition front in 2012, please welcome NASCAR vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton.

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  Thanks, Kerry.  Before we fast forward to the 2012 season, I want to take an opportunity to look back on the 2011 season for just a minute.  I'd like to thank all the teams, the competitors, the fans, the tracks and sponsors for all they did to help make last year the most exciting NASCAR season that I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of.

Now, like I say, thanks to the media for all their coverage and reporting and how you helped tell the story to all of our fans, so thank you.  I appreciate it, and I know coming from me, it should mean a lot because I don't often compliment you guys on what you've done.

So let's take a look ahead to this season.  For 2012, one of the big initiatives that will be implemented in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is electronic fuel injection.  That project is several years in the making, and we worked with engine builders and manufacturers to be able to associate ourselves with world class technology, partners like Freescale and McLaren for our fuel injection system.  This is a major initiative to us in our sport and helps make our cars more relevant and our engines more efficient.

You'll be excited to know, I know I'll be excited, that this winner of the Daytona 500 will be the first time that they'll win with electronic fuel injection.

We've had just a few minor tweaks to the rules this year.  There's been a lot of conversation surrounding the driver-to-driver radio communication, particularly at the superspeedway events.  Several of the drivers and the teams came to us late last season and they asked us to do away with the driver-to-driver radio chatter.  So starting this season, we have eliminated the driver-to-driver radio communication.  Team-to-team communication, that will still continue as we've known it in the past.

Our Daytona rules package, we've made a sizable effort to scale back on the amount of tandem style drafting we've seen at the superspeedways over the past few years.  We've been to the wind tunnel on numerous occasions, we've had tests at Talladega and Daytona last season, and we've had a great test this month at Daytona.

We know that the fans want to see more of the traditional style pack drafting, and so do we.  We won't be able to totally eliminate the two-car push.  It will be a valuable tool that the teams will be able to use from time to time.  However, we do believe that we've come up with a rules package that will help it be the exception rather than the norm.

We've had a good test at Daytona a couple weeks ago, received great feedback from the teams, and it was unprecedented, it really was.  The communication was second to none.

We're going to Daytona with the following package:  A larger restrictor plate at 29/32, smaller spoiler, softer springs.  All of these combinations will help the qualifying be more exciting.  We moved the radiator inlet up to the center of the bumper area; that's two and a half by 20 inches.  Pressure relief valve will start out at 25 pounds.  Another aero change, the rear bumper dimensions were moved downward an additional two inches.

The changes we made in the cooling system and the aero package we believe will aid in getting back to the more traditional style pack drafting that we've come to expect at Daytona and Talladega.  We're also implementing some of the similar adjustments to the Nationwide and the Camping World Truck Series.

The testing policy that we adopted in 2008 or after the 2008 season remains intact for 2012.  Three of our tracks will get a new surface this season.  >Michigan finished up their repave last fall before the holidays; Pocono is nearly complete, they will complete it in the spring; and >Kansas will repave in between the two races this summer.  We'll schedule tests at each of those tracks before the events there either a few weeks out or the day before we sign in.

Throughout the 2012 season, you will be seeing and hearing a lot more about our 2013 car.  The manufacturers will begin revealing their models, as we saw the new Ford unveiled earlier this week.  There will be testing in mid to late summer.  We should be in a good position to release our cars and have a good rule package for the 2013 season.  It's certainly a milestone in our sport, and we've worked very hard and closely with the manufacturers on the new car and the four new models that are simply outstanding, and I think everybody will be impressed with them.

I think the fans are going to love them.  It's going to be such a positive step in helping our race cars be more and more relevant to our fans, past, present and future.

And speaking of our test policy, while we may have done away with private fines, we do plan on having some private tests.  The first will be next month for our four manufacturers with their new race cars.  We will be having additional tests throughout the course of the season that will be open; however, the OEMs felt it was important for them to have this initial test in a closed environment, and we appreciate everybody's understanding and respect of that.

In closing, we're excited about building upon a great season that we had last year.  We're working very hard to make competition better, putting on the best possible racing week in and week out for our fans.  We look forward to seeing each and every one of you in the coming weeks at Daytona.

Thank you.

KERRY THARP:  Thank you very much, Robin.  Marcus Jadotte is NASCAR's vice president of public affairs and multicultural development.  He comes today to share a few highlights from last season's Drive For Diversity success and introduce the new D For D class, which is primed to continue its growth and momentum heading into the 2012 season.  Come on up here, Marcus, and let's meet the new class.

MARCUS JADOTTE:  Thank you, Kerry, and thank you all for being here today and for playing the important role you do in the success of this great sport.  I'm pleased to be here again today and to have this opportunity to introduce the NASCAR Drive For Diversity class for the upcoming season.  But first I'd like to take a look back at the program's unprecedented success, as Kerry indicated, last season.

NASCAR Drive For Diversity drivers left an indelible mark on the K&N Pro Series last season.  Drivers tallied six wins in 12 races and scored 10 top 5s and 23 top 10 finishes.  The program placed two drivers in the top 5 final points standings and a third in the top 10.  It was truly a landmark year.

And clearly the academy approach that we put into place two seasons ago is adding value to the development of Drive For Diversity drivers.  Specific to that development, we'd like to acknowledge the contribution of several drivers who are embarking on the next step in their NASCAR racing career.

Darrell Wallace, Jr., and Sergio Peña, who each scored a series leading three wins in the K&N Pro Series East last year are slated to take the next step in their careers in 2012.  Darrell will make his debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Sergio is signed with Hattori Racing Enterprises.

In addition to that great news, Paulie Harraka, the 2010 NASCAR K&N West series Rookie of the Year and the first member of the Drive For Diversity program to win a track championship back in 2008 will run in the NASCAR Camping World series in 2012.

We're all excited obviously about the success that these young men have achieved.  We're also excited about the legacy that they have created in the Drive For Diversity program and looking forward to the drivers who will follow in their footsteps.  That really is what the NASCAR Drive For Diversity program is all about, creating a platform for young drivers of diverse backgrounds to develop and demonstrate their talent and really connect that talent to future growth in the sport.

On-track success has paid off for those young men, and it's also paying off for Rev Racing, creating fertile ground for sponsors like Toyota, Goodyear and Sprint.  We're grateful for their continued sport.

In an effort to continue the upward trend and results for Rev Racing, we're constantly evaluating the NASCAR Drive For Diversity program, looking for ways to enhance that success.  Much like we did when we made the decision to bring all the drivers in house around the academy training model, this year we've decided to concentrate the majority of our resources on the K&N East series.  We believe that in the end we'll get greater results and develop promise on a faster time schedule by doing so.

In short, Revolution Racing and the Drive For Diversity drivers achieved a high level of excellence in 2011, and we look forward to building on that momentum in the current season.

So now it's my pleasure to introduce the class of 2012, beginning with Jorge Arteaga, originally from Aguascalientes, Mexico, now residing here in Charlotte.  He'll compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.  Jorge compiled an impressive résumé in the NASCAR Mexico series before moving up, and he also was voted twice driver of the year, most popular driver in that series.

Mackena Bell of Carson, Nevada, will also return to the Drive For Diversity program.  She will compete in the NASCAR Whelen All-American series for Rev Racing.

Next up is Trey Gibson, who will compete in a second season for Rev Racing in 2012, also in the Whelen All-American series.  The Easley, >South Carolina, native earned five top 5 finishes and ten top 10 finishes in 18 late model starts last year.  He finished seventh in the NASCAR Whelen All-American series >South Carolina points standings.

Next up is Ryan Gifford, who will compete in his third season for Revolution Racing.  In 2011 Ryan finished 10th in points and collected two top 5 finishes and four top 10 finishes in the K&N East series.  In 2010, you may recall, Ryan made history, becoming the first African American to win a pole in the K&N East series and also scored top 10 finishes in the series that year.

Next up is Bryan Ortiz from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.  Brian began driving for revolution racing in 2011, where he competed in the NASCAR Whelen All-American series.  In 2012 he'll compete in the K&N East series and also race in select GRAND-AM Continental Tire series events, including this weekend at Daytona.  Looking forward to that.

Our final 2012 Drive For Diversity team member, Kyle Larson, is unable to be with us today because of a previous racing commitment.  However, we couldn't conclude this introduction without celebrating his accomplishments and welcoming him to the team.  2012 will mark Kyle Larson's first season with Rev Racing and also his first season in the K&N Pro Series East.  But to put it mildly, Kyle is no stranger to racing.  Kyle opened the 2012 calendar year with a podium finish at the Chili Bowl, finishing third out of 260 entrants, and in 2011 he took American open wheel racing by storm in his first season competing on the national level by capturing 22 major professional feature victories.  Kyle was nominated as SPEED's performer of the year and competed with Tony Stewart, Dario Franchitti and others for that award.

KERRY THARP:  NASCAR begins its 65th season in 2012, and no surprise, here to bring our keynote address, please welcome NASCAR chairman and CEO, Brian France.  All yours.

BRIAN FRANCE:  Good afternoon, and thank you for being here today.  First I want to thank everybody in the room and the media in particular for covering our sport all year long and every year.  We know you work hard during the season, and I recognize that this season, this off-season, wasn't much of a break.  We had a lot going on, and you had to be on top of it all, and you were.  We thank you for that coverage, and I know the NASCAR fans really thank you.

Before I talk a little bit about the upcoming season, I want to say a few things that were touched on earlier about 2011.  Last year at this event, we announced a number of changes we believed would build interest in story lines and most importantly would make it easier for fans to understand the championship race.  We're very pleased with how all those changes played out.  Adding the wild card brought significant drama through the summer and run-up to the Richmond event and through the Chase.  It put a premium on winning among all the competitors and made the drivers throughout the top 20 in the points relevant and part of the story lines right up until Richmond.  And that was exciting for our fans.

You know what, Pick a Series was also a great success.  It returned the spotlight to some of the upcoming stars in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

Simplifying the points system was also a good move that was embraced by our broadcast partners, the media, and most importantly, our fans.  And it was great to see Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Austin Dillon raise those trophies for their teams.  It was fantastic to have 18 different winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, including five for the first time.  We were thrilled to see so many fresh faces in victory lane and be able to gain the type of exposure that only winning uniquely provides.

To be sure, the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field gave us a highly competitive season, capped by a championship battle that will be talked about for a long, long time.  No question about it, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards gave us an incredible show that was exciting right to the very end in the last lap.  And in the end, it came down to race wins.  And you know what, that's exactly how it should be.  So we congratulate Tony, his entire team, and salute Carl, as well, for giving us that great battle.  He pulled off the Chase in such a deserving way.  It's just a terrific number three for Smoke.

While we all know that the economic climate around the country is still difficult, still presents challenges for everyone in the industry, we're pleased with some of the positive signs that we began to see improve last year.  Obviously we're encouraged by ratings increases across all of our national series, excited about that.  We were very happy to see some gains in attendance at a number of venues, including here in Charlotte, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami and Phoenix all had uplifts.  And we're very happy to hear the announcement last month by the CEO of Sprint Dan Hesse in December, announcing that they will be part of our series entitlement sponsor for a long, long time.  We were also happy to renew our XM relationship on satellite radio.

You know, in terms of our company, a lot of important work was done in 2011 to position us for the future.  That work is still going on.  It's improving safety, competition, cost management for the teams, and that mission never ends, and it happens mostly down the road here at the R & D Center.  Team of engineers at the R & D Center continue to work closely with the experts to study further improvements, cost containment opportunities that we can pass onto the teams.  NASCAR worked closely with the engine builders and manufacturers and enlisted the support of world-class technology partners like Freescale and McLaren to implement the new electronic fuel injection in the Sprint Cup Series beginning this season.

The development, the roll-out, the subsequent introduction of the new 2013 Sprint Cup race car has been an ongoing collaborative effort between NASCAR, the manufacturers and the race teams, unprecedented.

We bolstered our broadcasting team, as well, to better serve our current partners in promoting the sport and their presentation of the sport and to strengthen our position in advance of upcoming TV negotiations.

We elevated and expanded our industry services group and implemented some needed changes to make us more efficient and effective at working with the teams and the track in an unprecedented way.  The dialogue, the cooperation, that's all been created to move the sport along.  It's going to be invaluable to us as we work closer together as an industry.

And you know, significant investments of time, energy and money were made to overhaul the communications group.  Most of you are well aware now, as part of a long-term plan to be more proactive, how we tell the story of the sport and how we deliver information in many, many mediums.

We completed an 18-month deep examination of our industry that will be a significant milestone for the company and the sport.  The findings of those studies have inspired a five-year strategic industry action plan that's already being implemented.

The goal of this effort is to help us better serve our great fans, grow our audience and ensure that our sport stays relevant, vibrant and highly valuable to our sponsors and other partners, and that's the critical goal of NASCAR, moving the sport along, growing our fan base and doing it in a way that works much more closely with our key stakeholders.

You know, it's been a busy off-season, as well, for the teams, and now we're ready to get started here in 2012 with the 550th anniversary of the GRAND-AM's Rolex 24 this weekend, followed shortly thereafter by the Shootout and then the Daytona 500 in a couple of weeks.  So we enter this season, as you've heard and you know, with great momentum.  We're coming off arguably the best championship battle ever, and our focus for 2012 is continuing that momentum.  We're very pleased with the changes we made last year.

We'll continue on the same path in terms of points, the championship format and the rules packages, all of which were very successful last year.  And we've made clear we're working hard to find rules packages that break up the tandem racing at Daytona and Talladega and return it to a more traditional style of racing on those superspeedways.

We've had a breathtaking number of close finishes at those tracks, but the fans want a mixture of styles, including a return to that more traditional, more pack racing and that close side-by-side competition that's unique to Daytona and Talladega.

NASCAR and the teams are working hard at this, and based on the test earlier this month at Daytona, we're encouraged that we're making progress.  The sport is in a very good place right now, no question about that, and we're working hard and even harder to achieve the very best things for the sport of NASCAR well into the future.  We expect to have another highly competitive battle for the championship this year with our biggest stars and many new faces in the mix, and as you heard, aligned with some new teams.

So our style of racing continues to attract the best talent in the world, big personalities from other forms of racing.  It'll be exciting to see Travis Pastrana, Danica Patrick and others competing in NASCAR full-time against the best drivers in the world.  Having Danica compete in this year's Daytona 500, that will get it all started.

So we're thrilled to see the level of competition rise in the regional touring series, and we're very excited by the talent that is rich in diversity that we're seeing in the K&N Pro Series and the Whelen All-American series.  You're really seeing that talent, saw the next class obviously today, but we are really getting some graduates of that program who are going to make an impact at NASCAR's highest level one day.  I'm very confident of that.

And we've talked today and will continue to talk about our move to electronic fuel injection because it's the next important step in making the cars and the track more like the production cars the fans drive every day.  It also helps us with smart technology at just the right time.

So now we look forward to Daytona.  Will we have our 11th different winner in 11 consecutive Daytona 500s?  We'll see.  Can our reigning Sprint Cup Series champion get his first win in the great American race?  And one thing is for sure; NASCAR is carrying great momentum into 2012, and I can't wait to see it all get started on February 26.  Thank you very much, best of luck in 2012, and we will move the program along.

Thank you very much.

KERRY THARP:  At this time I'm going to call on NASCAR President Mike Helton to join Brian on stage for questions with the media.  We'll go about 30 minutes and we'll take as many questions as we can during that time.

Q.  Generally at this function there's usually a change or two that you announce.  This year there's really no changes.  Does that kind of show how satisfied you are with the product and with the way everything was going?  Last year you had a points championship that frankly it will be almost impossible to top.

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, the way to top that is to have three drivers or four going for the championship if that's possible, too.  But you're largely correct that we're always looking at things.  The big thing, of course, is the tandem racing and getting the right rules package for those speedways, and the industry is working pretty hard at that.

But the other thing is fuel injection is no small thing to introduce, although we've been working on it for a couple years.  But you're right, the format, the wild card, the points, simplification of that, the feedback on that from our fans, the media and others, all of that was right on point.  So we're pretty pleased with where things are in general.

Q.  Brian, when you look at the three series, we've seen some contraction, fewer competitive teams in each series.  Are you concerned about that and is there concern that we'll see short fields in Cup?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, the economy will do that.  It will have an effect on the sponsorship model, the funding of the teams, and various reasons teams also move around or get smaller.  I don't anticipate short fields, but obviously a very difficult economy that's lasted so long has had an effect, and that will continue at some level.

Q.  Brian, can you characterize the degree of input drivers and owners have in the policy making processes as you go along with these annual meetings you have with teams now that you've been doing that for several years?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, I think for us it's a collaboration that is unprecedented in terms of -- that we sit down with, as you know -- and not just formally this time of the year but also when we have something very significant to deal with, and it's been really good.

The answer is they have a lot of input.  What you also need to know, which is pretty interesting for me, is the amount of disagreement on things, honest disagreements that happened.  People that see it one way or another way on anything important is always surprising.  You would be surprised at all of our meetings; someone's idea of saving money is someone's idea of not saving money, or whatever it might be.  So we have to make sure that we're hearing that input and obviously matching it up to our goals.

But they have a lot of input, and they should.

Q.  Brian, can you talk about what went into your decision to make fines public, and do you anticipate still fining participants when they make critical comments about the sport?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, I hope that we don't.  I think you've got to look at it in the context of how other sports operate in that manner.  In terms of going public with it, we were frankly -- we didn't have a real strong position on that.  It seemed to bother some people in November when we talked about this.  I talked about it with you.  So we're not -- we didn't feel strongly.  That's something that people think is a good thing, so we were happy to do it.

Q.  For either one of you gentlemen, this might be something better aimed at the competition department, but I'll throw it out there for you guys.  We've kind of gotten an understanding of what the auto makers hope to accomplish with their 2013 models when they debut.  From NASCAR's standpoint, the move presents an opportunity to continue to improve the series.  What areas are you looking at with regard to the new car to possibly improve competition, specifically as it relates to the mile and a half tracks?

MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, first of all, I think the optics of the 2013 car will be very significantly recognized and very popular, and the effort with NASCAR and all of the manufacturers collectively working on this together, the four manufacturers in a room with NASCAR and NASCAR saying we would like for you to help us design this race car in a way that you would like it.  And that was a bit of a surprise to them, for us to be that open with that process.

But as the time went on and we all were engaged in it, it was obvious that that was going to be great benefit to NASCAR in general because of the relevancy and, oh, by the way, the energy that it created at the manufacturer level of being excited about being in the sport, and that can't be anything but good for the entire sport.

The competitive things that we can learn from past experiences and apply any time we have a new body on a car is important, and it depends a lot on the conversations we have about the tandem racing or the mile and a half racing.  NASCAR is constantly working on being sure that our product, race cars on racetracks, is as absolutely good as it can be.  But it changes on us.  The resurfacing of a track can change the circumstances on us.

But all of those things we've learned ourselves, the input we get from the teams and their body guys or engineers and the resources that you have today from wind tunnels and everything help you make small changes that can make a big difference.  But those big differences may not last very long depending on what racetrack you go to next, what size and shape it is, or whether it's a new surface or an older surface or even the Goodyear tire that gets molded on the car.  So that's something that we constantly have to chase.

But I think today more than ever we use the resources of our own knowledge but certainly are open like we are with our stakeholders with the teams because we're all collectively on the same page.  We all want to produce the absolute best race we can.  The teams want it to be them that come out ahead, and we understand that.

But I think we can take advantage of -- any time we change a body like this and make the racing better, and that's our mission, I couldn't sit here today and tell you exactly what we will do, but there's a lot of folks working on that nonstop along with the manufacturers and the race teams, because we all understand what we do on the racetrack is still paramount.

Q.  Brian, I've heard you say that the good story lines were something that you cited in the increased TV ratings for the Chase, but even before the racing got really good and the championship battle got really exciting, the ratings were seeming to go up for the Chase, and at the same time ESPN was doing side-by-side commercials and there was also some later start times in the Chase.  With the later start times and the commercials the way they did the format, do you believe that played any factor in increasing the ratings at all?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Sure.  All that plays a factor in it.  You want to try to get all of that as right as you can.  But even when you do all those things, if you don't have close competition, exciting races and hopefully good story lines that are produced out of that, that can only take you so far.  So I still think the story lines are what drives any -- interest in anything, frankly, any sporting event.

But all that is true.

Brian France
Q.  Brian, you mentioned earlier in your speech the Freescale and McLaren technologies on board in this fuel injection system.  Is this the final piece, or is there ongoing development maybe that we'll see at the end of the season a different injection system than we see at the first race in Daytona, and what is NASCAR doing concerning cost control in the engine department?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, let me say, we're pretty confident in what we've chosen - it's been tested pretty carefully - that we will be in good shape.  If we're not, if there's some change, then we'll look at that.  But we're pretty confident that we've got the right package on that.

Let me tell you something about fuel injection that you might not have thought about.  Fuel injection excites the manufacturers.  It excites technology companies, and between that, as Mike said, and the various things we're doing with the 2013, our expectation is the car manufacturers are going to increase their support for the teams, increase their activation, which is great for all of us, and they're excited to do that because they feel good about it.

So it's not all what kind of cost we lay in on the front end.  You have to look at the entire puzzle over time.  And the other thing is we're going to be careful with technology in terms of what it does, the cost of it for the teams, et cetera.  But we're going to have to look differently at not only the car companies but all the other technology companies that exist want to feel like this is a place that showcases some of that technology.

So to attract new companies into the sport, we will have to take a bit of a different view on that, and we'll have to -- we'll balance the cost for the teams carefully, but that's the mission we're on.

Q.  With the TV contract ending in 2014, do you expect to get the new deal done this year?  Kind of what are the key issues or hurdles in that, and can you kind of talk about how digital rights issues relate to the negotiations?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, you know, we're excited with our current -- we really like our current partners.  My expectation is they want to renew their involvement with NASCAR, and my hope is at the right time we'll figure that out together.  The sports landscape in general, as you know, has heated up quite a bit, so we will be in a good position at the right time.  I don't know when that will happen.  If it happens early, it's possible, or it might not.  We're having conversations.

And on digital, it's very important to us.  Very important for us to manage those rights carefully in the future.  Obviously between digital and social media, it's the new medium to develop that deep relationship with our fans and communicate with them.  So we will be taking a very, very active role, already are, and not just us but the rest of the industry.  This is one of these things where the industry has come together on many things, but this is an important one where the industry is working together, the teams, the tracks, NASCAR and so on, to formulate the right social media strategy, the right digital media strategy for the future.  And we're quite confident that we will manage those rights in a way that takes the most benefit forward on behalf of the industry.

Q.  How confident are you that the current rules package you have in place for Daytona will greatly reduce or possibly eliminate the tandem drafting, or is that going to be kind of a moving target going forward in speedways?

MIKE HELTON:  I think we have some confidence that the tandem racing that we saw '11 conclude with won't be a part of the Daytona 500.  But as mentioned earlier, Robin mentioned, we're not going to write a rules package that prevents the drivers from racing close to each other.  That's NASCAR racing that fans expect.  So we think the Daytona 500 will be more in line with the fans' expectations, and you'll see more than likely cars push each other, but that was happening in 1959 and 1979.

So we're going to be very careful and not write a rules package that promotes a driver not racing close to each other in Daytona.  But I also expect there could be some tweaking that has to take place along the way, and the drivers and the teams know that because we're all on the same agenda, to make sure the Daytona 500 is what it deserves to be and what the fans expect it to be.

Q.  Brian, was there a red flag any time within the last few years which made you realize, hey, we need to listen to the owners and the drivers and the fans more?

BRIAN FRANCE:  No, it's just the way we manage the sport.  I think it's been incredibly helpful, and that's my style and Mike's style, as well.  What we really did was make a determination that, although we talk to them at the track every weekend, which is kind of an unusual thing in sports, that formalizing our meetings from time to time and also letting them interact with some of the people they may not see at the track who are playing an important role in helping in whatever it might be grow the sport, that would be a better concept for us, and it has been, and it's been -- I look forward to them actually.  So that's working well for us.

Q.  On the abolition of secret fines, will you now still fine drivers but publicly for disparaging the sport, and if so, how would you categorize that given that those comments probably happen outside the realm of an event?  Is that still an action detrimental to stock car racing?

BRIAN FRANCE:  If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we're going to deal with that.  You know, we have to deal with that.  And I think what's really interesting is I can't tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.

Now, having said that, we give the entire industry an unprecedented amount of -- we're not talking about who's critical of NASCAR.  You can be critical of things you don't think we're doing well, in particular a race call.  You can say I don't think I was speeding; I disagree with that.  We understand that.  It's when you go after the integrity of the sport is where we will step in, and they will be public.

Q.  Today Wal-Mart announced they're going to sponsor a car, and Bill Elliott said it's as big a news as when the stock cars went to Indy for the first time.  And Miller today announced their sponsorship of the 2 continuing.  What I want to ask is about what corporate America is looking at NASCAR like today, what you think the corporate sponsors are thinking now, and if you think we'll get to the day that we'll have cost containment to get one sponsor on these cars instead of so many rotating again.

BRIAN FRANCE:  Cost containment is not a function of splitting the car up with different sponsors.  That's a financial decision frankly that the teams have made from time to time.  It's our preference to see more primary sponsors for sure, and I'm very happy, as you just said, about Miller joining, and I think it started last year when we did have a number of renewals, including a very large one with Sprint.

You know, I think everybody has always realized the value in what they can get out of NASCAR, and we're very pleased that a number of companies are renewing that.  That's good news.

Q.  On the topic of manufacturer interest, cars have been evolving, and you recall 30 years ago there was an experimental LR car, and the cars of today tend to have 1.62 liter.  How much further are we along from seeing compact cars running perhaps city streets to attract young people, à la the drifting?  How much closer are we to seeing a series for that?

MIKE HELTON:  Well, you'll see some of that in Daytona this weekend.  The GRAND-AM product now that NASCAR is very much engaged in I think gives us the opportunity to look at what you're talking about, whether it's a C class or a B class automobile and gives us the ability to showcase that type of racing and that very specific type of environment, which is historically sports car racing.

And we get that.  As we become more merged with the stock car part of NASCAR and the sports car part of GRAND-AM, there's a lot of opportunities for us to do things like we're talking about.  There's a level of interest not only in the current manufacturers but others in the opportunities that exist with B and C class type cars in some kind of a competitive format.

But tomorrow's race is -- how many cars do you have in the Continental race tomorrow, Joie (Chitwood)?  80 cars in the Continental race, which is part of the Rolex 24 this weekend, and that's an example of what you're talking about.

Q.  In the '90s NASCAR had phenomenal growth and then in recent years it's sort of plateaued, and as you said 2011 was a great year, got a lot of momentum back.  What are maybe some of the next big things you're looking at?  Are there any new tracks on the horizon, new markets you want to get into, new manufacturers coming into the sport?  What's kind of the next big thing you see coming down the road?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, I don't know that there's one big thing that we're pointing towards.  What I can tell you is all the things that we're doing that we've announced today and have announced in the past.  I can tell you that the industry has never been more united to growing the sport of NASCAR on everyone's behalf.  And that's going to be our job.

Obviously you've heard a lot about digital and social media as an enormously important place.  We've reformed our communications efforts to reach more fans.  So you're going to see us and the entire industry get more aggressive.  You're going to see youth initiatives.  You're seeing the fruits of diversity start to be right around the corner.  That will really advance us if we can get a breakthrough, which I'm very confident we will, at a national level.  So there are a lot of things out there that are all going to point to us being able to either grow our audience with a new demographic, whether it be a younger demographic or more diverse.  We're doing the things that we think you have to do to put yourself in a position to grow in the future, even though when I say grow in the future, it is a very, very difficult landscape for any sports property to build on.  It's just very competitive.

So we're having to be at the top of our game to make sure that we're delivering what the fans want, what our partners need, and what new fans will get excited about.

Q.  Can either one of you update us on the green initiative?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Green initiative is really well.  I think we're -- obviously the biofuel and ethanol a year ago, fuel injector to a small level.  Let me tell you, we've had a big summit in Miami in November, brought a bunch of different companies and brands together in the technology space and the green energy space that would have never looked at NASCAR in the past, and they're taking a hard look at that.  We'll be announcing some new companies that are coming in.

You're aware of all the recycling and all the things that the industry -- that we're marshaling all the resources to get us to a place that's very important to the car manufacturers.  We're getting some acclaim for that for taking an offensive-minded strategy in a smart way as an industry, and so I'm real proud about where we're at and more importantly where we're going.

Q.  For Mike or Brian, in press conferences this week and even here today, we're heard talk about the 2013 car making it more relevant for the manufacturers in discussion with EFI.  Talk about making that more relevant to the manufacturers, which kind of begs the question of something was not as relevant before those two things.  My question is how did we get that way, or perhaps as Mike said earlier, is it simply a facet of the general evolution of the sport?

MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, I think it's a couple of things:  One, as you walk through this Hall of Fame and you watch -- are able to visibly see the evolution of a race car and you see how it went, for a lot of good reasons, and primarily for safety's sake, the evolution of the race car became more motorsports orientated than it was a transportation orientated vehicle.

So we tooled along and everything was working good, but along the way, not just for the 2013 car but along the way, the manufacturers said, well, what about this and what about that.  But we've never had a collective effort like we started a couple or three years ago that showed up first in the Nationwide garage with the pony cars and the muscle car look.  And obviously that was very successful for our relationship with the manufacturer but with the car owners and the fans and the racetrack.  So that kind of stepped in then to the Cup side.

Well, what can we do at this level, and by then the manufacturers were saying, okay, NASCAR wants us to help them, and we did ask them to help us.  So that collective effort produced what we'll see -- we saw it Tuesday with the Ford and we'll see the other three makes as the season goes on.  That collective effort kind of migrated back toward the relevancy, and a lot of it also had to do with technology, the ability of whether designing products or using different forms of technology for us to regulate like a fuel injection system, where we were ten years ago afraid of going down that road because of fear of not being able to regulate it, the technology, and NASCAR is embracing technology to make rules and regulations.  And oh, by the way, just the technologies of fabricating parts and pieces that are now more common in NASCAR than they might have been 15 years ago led us to the ability to create the 2013 car with the manufacturers.

BRIAN FRANCE:  I would add one thing to that.  Their business has changed quite a bit in the last three or four years even.  You see leadership in a number of areas.  They have different expectations.  As Mike said, there's been a flight to technology on their behalf.  It's their stated goal, flight to green, to be smarter about emissions, and that's a lot of it, so we're going to make sure that we're delivering on the important promises that they want to get met.

Q.  Brian, with all the positives that you enumerated about EFI, is it NASCAR's desire and are there plans to bring EFI to the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series?

BRIAN FRANCE:  I think over time, absolutely, that will be something that will be important.

Q.  This kind of goes to Jim's question:  Where did the process start or where was the moment where you said, okay, we need to move toward another car, this idea of the 2013?  Did it start with the manufacturers or fans, or did it happen in a boardroom in Daytona?  Where did that process start?

MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, I'm not sure that you could draw a line on a calendar and say here's the date and here's the location or here's the person that said that.  I think it's just in our DNA to constantly look or try to be able to look around the corner.  So as we focused on the car that we race now, and particularly around the chassis of that car, that was the mission that was to be accomplished.  But even while that was coming to fruition, and once it got into the Cup garage, and we knew it would eventually expand to Nationwide and probably to other types of racing series down the road, that the thought process was, okay, what's next.

And along with, as Brian mentioned, the leadership and the OEMs that we're involved with started saying, what can we do, then from that collective conversation came the idea of the optics side.  Sooner or later the manufacturers are going to have another body design or another change, and we're seeing a lot of things happening on their level that are -- that our fans and their customers are excited about, the cars that Ford and Dodge and Toyota and Chevrolet are putting on the street.

So it all just came together, if you will, at the right time for us, we think.  But it's been a two- or three-year effort and will be another year before we see it.  But I think it's more just like being in our DNA to continually pursue what's next.

Q.  A lot of the discussions and changes that have been made over the last couple of years have been traced back to what you've talked about the fans are asking for, and it strikes me that perhaps maybe the fans and what they ask for may not always be good for the sport.  I'm thinking about the change in the car in 2007; the reaction initially was, well, we're tightening up the rules, and this is manipulating the competition.  But now fans are asking you to do exactly the same thing, manipulate the competition and break up the two-car draft or change that at Daytona.  How do you look -- what principles do you cling to and hold to as you're wading through this changing tide of fan opinion?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, you know, we don't always obviously react to every request that the fan base would like to see, because you're right, some of them are either not practical or wouldn't work properly.  But it's kind of real simple for us; we've been doing this for over five decades, so we have a pretty good feel for -- we certainly have a great feel for our -- the values of NASCAR in terms of close, competitive racing.  So if we think there's something that we can do that enhances that promise that we have and it matches up with cost and all the other things, relevance and all the things you hear so much about today, then we try and do that.

And if it's something like tandem racing where it's overwhelmingly, where they just don't like that style of racing, they like the old style, naturally we will try to -- by the way, that's consistent, because we like the old style ourselves better.  It evolved into something that no one saw coming, and now we're going to deal with that.

There isn't a new change in that.  It may seem that way, but the reality is we've got our values, we've got our mission, and just because you're collaborative, that's a really good thing.  I don't ever want us to think that we're headed down a road because we listen to people a lot more and that somehow that's going to foul us up.  It won't.  We'll make sure of that.

MIKE HELTON:  And to Brian's point, I think what we maybe should be most proud of today, we being NASCAR, is being more open minded to all stakeholders, to the racetracks, to the race teams, the broadcast partners, sponsors, the media.  I think what we have tried to do over the past several years is to become more open minded, so we don't look at it as a fan asking us to change something.  We look at it more as saying to the stakeholders, which include the fans, what do you think and what do you like and what do you dislike, and then we digest all of that across the board from all of our stakeholders and try to make decisions that we feel like will fit best for the next step that NASCAR takes.

It's not -- a team comes to us and says you need to change this, and we say why, and the question that they ask us isn't as important to us as the answer that they give us once we say why, and then we can follow it through.

Same with fans.  We don't react necessarily to a fan saying you've got to change this as much as we say, well, why, and then hear what the answer is.  And if that answer makes sense, we're going to go to work on it.  If it doesn't make sense, then we have to go to the next question.

KERRY THARP:  Before I excuse you from the stage, we just got some very sad news, the passing of Dr. Joe Mattioli up in Pennsylvania today, and I know Brian and Mike are very close to that man and what he meant to the sport, and Brian, I know that he goes back a long ways with your family.  I just wanted to pass that on and didn't know if you had any comments you and Mike would like to say on behalf of Doc Mattioli.

BRIAN FRANCE:  He was a friend from the very beginning with my grandfather.  It's very sad to hear that, and we're very close to the Mattioli family, and obviously our hearts go out to them.  He was a great man, and he really, really cared a lot about this sport.  He'll be missed.

MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, there's no question that Doc was very symbolic to the passion of our sport.  When you say Pocono, everybody has their own different interpretation of your first reaction to saying Pocono.  But it's certainly the character and the passion and the impact that Doc and Rose Mattioli and that Doc made on our sport will be forever engrained in it, and it's sad to hear of his passing, and like Brian said, all of our thoughts are with Rose and the entire Mattioli family right now.

KERRY THARP:  Thank you, Brian and Mike, for your time up here today.

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