NASCAR Competition Enhancements Announcement

NASCAR Competition Enhancements Announcement
January 23, 2017

BRIAN FRANCE

STEVE O'DONNELL

DALE EARNHARDT JR.

DENNY HAMLIN

BRAD KESELOWSKI

JEFF BURTON

JEFF GORDON

JOIE CHITWOOD

MARCUS SMITH

STEVE NEWMARK

MARSHALL CARLSON

DAVE ALPERN

BRETT FROOD

            KRISTA VODA:  We are just over a month way from opening the 2017 NASCAR season in Daytona, but tonight, the focus is on the convention center in uptown Charlotte as the sport lays out the exciting new plan for the future.  Welcome inside the convention center.  I'm Krista Voda with NBC.

            ADAM ALEXANDER:  And I'm Adam Alexander with NASCAR on FOX.  What an amazing off-season in NASCAR.  Dale Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, announcing he would be back, looking forward to seeing him racing once again in the Daytona 500, and Carl Edwards shocked us all when he said he would not return, especially after he came so close to winning the championship at Homestead.

            We have a new series sponsor in Monster Energy, but no doubt the announcement tonight, the biggest of them all.

            KRISTA VODA:  Adam, it's big because what's being announced tonight has been a community collaboration, industry wide, everyone from drivers, track representatives, team presidents, NASCAR executives, everyone coming together for more, to give the fans more, more moments, more opportunities for their drivers to be a hero.  You will hear from all the players on the stage tonight, and we'll take questions from the media who are gathered in this room.

            ADAM ALEXANDER:  It's time to find out the plan for 2017 and beyond.  To get things started, we welcome NASCAR Chairman Brian France.

            BRIAN FRANCE:  Thank you, and happy new year.  I have the easiest job of the day, and that is to communicate a couple things.  One is what our fans have been asking us to do, and what our team owners, our drivers, our track operators and all of our stakeholders have asked us to do, which is make the racing even more compelling on an hour-by-hour basis week in and week out.  And so with that, I'm going to bring up Steve O'Donnell, who heads all of our racing operations, to give you some detail.

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Thanks, Brian.  Before we get started and go through today's announcement, I think it's really important to recognize some of the folks who participated as core members of the industry's effort to bring all this together, and first to my left, a big thanks to Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton.  Both made a great deal of time for this.  They've been instrumental voices in helping us shape what we're excited to share with everyone today.

            There were many individuals that were involved, and I want to introduce some of those that are part of the working group and are here with us today.  Let me start off and introduce the folks on the stage.  To start off, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer of International Speedway Corporation, Joie Chitwood; the President of Roush Fenway Racing, Steve Newmark; President of Hendrick Motorsports, Marshall Carlson; President of Joe Gibbs Racing, Dave Alpern; the President of Stewart-Haas Racing, Brett Frood; President and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Marcus Smith; driver of the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Denny Hamlin; driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr.; and driver of the No. 2 Ford for Penske racing, Brad Keselowski.

            Thank you all for being here with us today and especially with your time and effort throughout this entire process.  So race formats, something we've spent a great deal of time collectively talking about and believe we're at a point now that it's the right time to make enhancements, and as evidenced by today's participation, we believe it's a great example, as Brian said, of the industry coming together, ultimately for the race fans.

            The enhanced format that we're going to talk about is going to reward performance over the course of the entire season, something our fans have consistently asked for.  Every race matters, and winning is more important than ever.

            The format is going to be implemented across all three of our national series.  And finally, the enhanced format will allow stage-winning moments, drivers rewarded for their efforts, it minimizes green-flag interruptions from a broadcast perspective.  Again, another win for our race fans.

            So here is how it'll work.  The race is going to be divided into three stages:  Stage 1, the stage will conclude on a specific lap so every race fan, every crew member, every team will know in advance what constitutes a stage length.

            The race will begin, pit road will be closed approximately five laps prior to the stage ending, and at the conclusion of Stage 1, the top-10 drivers are awarded points.  10 for first, nine for second, on down to one for tenth.

            In addition, the winner of the stage will receive one point for the playoffs, and I'll touch on that a little bit in a moment.

            The cars will remain on the track under yellow flag conditions.  We'll open pit road, and pit stops will be covered live.

            After the cars have cycled through their pit stops, the stage winner and crew chief will be interviewed, either in car, over the PA, or TV, and then we'll start Stage 2 exactly the way the cars came off pit road.

            Stage 2, exact same way as Stage 1.  Top 10 will be awarded points, and there's one point for the playoffs awarded to the winner.

            The Final Stage of the race will be concluded just like races are today.  Race points and purse are paid out based on this stage, and 40 points will be awarded to the race winner.

            We've eliminated bonus points for leading a lap or leading the most laps, and we've built that into the overall point system.

            Overtime is still in play.  At the end of the race we're going to make every effort to finish the race under green.  The race winner is playoff eligible and will receive five points for each win for the playoffs.

            Again, every race matters, and drivers are rewarded for their efforts all race long.

            The playoffs, how does this affect our playoff system?  We talked about the races, let's talk about the playoffs.  Here's what won't be changing:  Eligibility remains the same.  It's based on race wins and points.  The number of drivers and teams, the elimination structure all remain, 16 drivers, down to 12, down to 8, down to 4.  You win, and you advance to the next round.

            The number of rounds remain the same with four, the number of races with 10.

            We'll re-seed after each round and we'll continue the tradition of heading into Homestead-Miami with the finale with four drivers straight up for the championship.

            Here's the enhancements that we've added:  Our fans have spoken and we'll now declare a regular-season champion based upon the most points earned through the first 26 races.  We'll also award points for the playoffs based on regular-season performance, and that will carry through the first three rounds of the playoffs.  What you do in those first 26 races really matters, not only to get into the playoffs but continue to move on in each round.

            Race wins will be awarded with five points.  Those will also carry through the first three rounds and continue to build throughout the rounds as we head to Miami.

            Stage wins will be awarded one point.  That one point will carry through the playoffs, as well, through the first three rounds.  Simply put, there are three ways to earn playoff points:  Stage wins, race wins, and regular-season playoff points.

            Using this example of a driver who had one stage win, one race win, and led the regular season in points, they'd have 21 points at the start of the playoffs heading into Chicago.  The bottom line for this is that it's about listening and rewarding the drivers, listening to the fans, having more moments and more importantly carrying this out through the entire season.  With that, I'll turn it back to Adam and Krista.

            ADAM ALEXANDER:  Steve, there's no doubt this is an unprecedented night for the sport of NASCAR.  Can you put into perspective how we got to this point?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think the biggest takeaway for all of you should be how we got here is the folks you see up on stage and the countless others that put hours and hours into this.  This truly was a collaboration, a lot of give and take, and ultimately everybody here on this stage wanted to do what was right for the fans, and we believe we've done that.  There's certainly things we continue to look at, but really proud of the effort by the entire group on the stage.

            KRISTA VODA:  Let's hear from the drivers.  I'm going to just pose one question, and Denny, I'll start with you and then you guys just take it.  What does this mean for you as a driver specific to each race?

            DENNY HAMLIN:  There are no off weeks.  Every single race matters.  I think Steve hit the nail on the head there.  Not only that, but every lap of every race matters.

            From our standpoint, you always felt a little bit relaxed once you got a race win, and you would sometimes maybe go into test mode or something.  Now with each accomplishment that you have during each given race, whether you're collecting points for the overall regular season or you're trying to collect points through a stage win or a race win, each accomplishment gives your road to Homestead a little bit easier, gives you a little bit of cushion there to be able to get through the playoffs and make it to Homestead, and that's what it's all about for us is making it to Homestead and trying to race for a championship, and I think this format does it for it.

            DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I agree with that.  I love the fact that the bonus points or the playoff points will carry through the playoffs all the way to the last round.  So everything you do throughout the season is really going to help you throughout the playoffs.  That's a great change.

            Also, the stages are going to bring a lot of excitement for the drivers and the fans.  I was in a unique position this past season to be a driver and a fan, and definitely I think this creates a lot of interest in a part of the event, in every event, every single week where it was needed.  There will be a lot on the line.  It's going to be very interesting to watch these crew chiefs try to figure out the strategies that will help their drivers obtain the most points for each stage, and it's going to be fun to see how this evolves.  I think it's an exciting time for NASCAR, and the fans should be pretty excited about this.

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah, I think the stages, and I think more chances to win, more chances to perform and more spotlights, so I look at races as soon as the plate tracks, especially Talladega, and you might have seen cars that have lagged back in the past.  You're not going to do that anymore.  The single-file, high-line ride out, those days are gone, and I think that's great.  We're going to go out there and we're going to race to a new level that we haven't seen before, and I'm really pumped about being a part of that in the future of this sport.

            To me, you look at NASCAR and you look at the way our races were formatted back in the 40s and 50s, it was formatted around endurance, long races, trying to make sure you were there until the end, but today's technology, the teams are just so smart, and if we created motorsports from scratch today, this is exactly how we would have done it, so it's is something I'm very proud of.

            KRISTA VODA:  Steve, you mentioned how key the Jeffs were in this, so let's hear from you.  Jeff, your thoughts?

            JEFF GORDON:  Well, I love how Steve put it, enhancements.  I definitely think this is going to enhance the experience of the competitors as well as the viewers and the fans at home.  I've got to say, just being a part of this, in that room, collaborating and hearing the different views and having everybody's input from team principals, track operators and owners, the drivers, NASCAR, networks, it was a pretty amazing experience, and I think what came out of it was this balance between what the fans are asking for and what we can do to make the races even more exciting and make more moments.  But also balancing out competition and what the competitors are going to go through, and I think we came out with something really incredible.

            I had a new perspective this last year being in the booth, so I'm really excited about getting back in the booth and calling these races with the stages.

            JEFF BURTON:  Yeah, and from my point, when we're not broadcasting a race, I'm watching the races.  I'm a race fan.  I love watching racing and I go to races.  I watch races live, I watch them on television.  And when a race fan buys a ticket to go to a race, that race fan deserves to see a race that matters.  That race fan deserves to see a race that's going to impact the championship, and the win and you're in is awesome, but it also took the drivers and the teams off the hook a little bit.  Now, the drivers and the teams, after they've gotten win, they still have a reason to go race, they still have a reason to go earn points that will ultimately help get them to Homestead.  Every one of these guys wants to win a Cup championship.  That's what they're doing.  So if you incentivize these guys and they race their guts out, but if you incentivize them to go earn something during the race, it makes it so they want to race that much harder, and race fans deserve to see races that matter, and this is an enhancement that will help make that happen, and when races matter, the fans win.

            ADAM ALEXANDER:  Let's bring in Steve Newmark.  What has it been like to be a part of this process from the team side?

            STEVE NEWMARK:  Sure, I think I speak for all the team principles here when I say that the process was enlightening.  Many of us were involved last year in the charter discussions, which really just involved the teams and NASCAR, and this was unprecedented in that it involved every major stakeholder in NASCAR.  We had teams, drivers, tracks, NBC, FOX, NASCAR, and input from the fans through the fan counsel surveys conducted by NASCAR.  And I think what that resulted in is everybody moving toward the singular objective of trying to enhance the race product, to make the viewing better for fans on and off the track.  And from my perspective, what was probably most telling was being in that room, as Jeff alluded to, was the passion that everybody exhibited.  We had very open discourse and dialogue, and I think that passion came from not only the fact that all of us are in this profession, but everyone in that room was a fan, and as far as what that means for the teams, I think we've all talked about it with our crew chiefs, with our team members, and they're chomping at the bit to get to the track, because what they see is that this new format, the new scoring system, injects an infinite number of strategies, about how to win a stage, how to win a race, how to make the playoffs, and of course that gets more exposure for our partners and sponsors.

            KRISTA VODA:  Time now for our track representatives.  Joie, I'll start with you.  How does this enhance a fan's at-track experience?

            JOIE CHITWOOD:  I think we've said it, every race, every lap means something, whether you have a TV viewer or someone setting in the stands themselves, and so I think being part of this group, understanding our job as an industry is to always improve.  And I think about what NASCAR has done in terms of pit lane officiating, I think about what Marcus has done with investments at Charlotte and Texas in terms of big screens, what we've done at Daytona in terms of investment in a stadium, we as an industry did collaborate and think about what's the best thing for the fan.  One thing I do want to mention, there's an opportunity at Daytona that is unique as well that is part of this announcement.  The Duels at Daytona will now actually pay points, so the top-10 finishers for each of the duels will receive the same points as a stage winner, the ten, the nine, the eight, all the way down to one.  It does not qualify as a stage win, but it does pay out regular-season points, as Steve recognized earlier.

            But I think for us, we're in the job of promoting our sport.  All of us do that.  To do it as a group and to come up with a format as an enhancement and opportunity, that's what we do, and I'm excited.  I think about I want to be part of a sport that wants to improve.  We can never sit back and think we're good enough.  That never happens.  I mean, everything about our country, what we do, it's about moving forward, improving, and I think this group did a great job coming up with something very unique.  I think it's appropriate, it really makes sense.  I think our fans are really going to enjoy the opportunities in this upcoming season.

            ADAM ALEXANDER:  Marcus, what are you most excited about?

            MARCUS SMITH:  Yeah, Adam, I think as I sit here and I look at this group, it's really exciting to be a part of this group because we're all NASCAR fans.  I think you can tell that from the discussion.  So I think all the NASCAR fans throughout the world will be really proud of the time, a lot of time, that was put into this formula, and a lot of the discussion, a lot of the challenges, a lot of the great ideas that were discussed, and it's going to pay out for NASCAR fans.

            We really looked at all these decisions, all these different opportunities from the lens of a fan, and I think we all really take that to heart.  This isn't just our job.  We love the sport and we're NASCAR fans, and this is really for the fans.

            KRISTA VODA:  Well, we're just getting started, and Adam, I'm guessing some of the folks out here have some questions.

            ADAM ALEXANDER:  Safe to say they do, yes.

            We are back live at the Convention Center in Charlotte.  It is a history-making night in NASCAR, as we show you what 2017 and beyond will look like.  Krista, here it is by the numbers.

            KRISTA VODA:  There's a lot of excitement because, number one, there is still a race winner.  The drivers have always raced hard.  Now they are rewarded for it because there are stages in each race.  That means more opportunities for winning moments and more points that you can take into the playoffs.

            ADAM ALEXANDER:  You said points, and I think about those playoff points that now will carry throughout the playoffs.  That is a really big deal, and certainly going to be a game changer in 2017 and beyond.  Let's bring in our drivers one more time.  Brad, in the past, say lap 75 in a race, it really meant nothing.  Now a stage in the race like that can become very significant because there's something truly on the line.

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Yeah, for sure, and you know who I really feel sorry is for the pit crew members because a bad pit stop at lap 75, they're going to have a lot to place on Radioactive, Adam.  I can tell you that those moments it's going to be harder to recover from a mistake.  It's going to mean more when there are mistakes, and you're going to have to be more perfect to win a race and to sweep a race, and that's going to be the big deal, to see if you can sweep a race, because obviously that will be a big opportunity that's never existed before.  Believe me, I know.  I've had some of those races where you lead 300-some laps and you lose out in the last five laps, and those really sting, but the opportunity to win both stages and the race and score a perfect race is really big and means more than ever before as much as everything else does.

            KRISTA VODA:  Jeff Burton, there's a word that's sort of been thrown around, moments.  We keep hearing that.  Why?

            JEFF BURTON:  Listen, it's all about -- we've seen it with the current format, where when drivers get in a situation where they have to find a way to win a race or they have to find a way to get by somebody on the last lap -- I think about Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon tying last year, those are moments that are fun to watch.  By the way, as a former driver, they're fun to be part of, too.  You want to be in those moments.  You want those moments where you can go prove to the world I can win this race.  I can do what I need to do when it's the most difficult.  In all sports when it gets more difficult for the competitors, it's more fun to watch.  There's a reason that playoffs are fun to watch, because there's a ramification for not doing well and there's a reward for excellence.  Any time you can put these athletes in that position to excel, it's more fun for us, the fans to watch.

            KRISTA VODA:  The members of the media who cover this sport are in attendance.  Let's take some questions.

 

            Q.  This is for the three current drivers.  You guys have worked on different systems.  You communicate with the fans.  You know that this is a very passionate fan base that kind of resists change a lot of times.  Already it's blowing up and people are saying this is so confusing and we don't get it, and while the media gets it and we understand it --

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  Wait until you see it on the racetrack.  If you are watching right now, please trust us.  When you see this on the racetrack, this is going to be the best racing you've ever seen.

 

            Q.  How can you ease the fans' angst right now that this isn't going to be like your grand All-Star Race last year that nobody understood?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  But I think when you see the races play out, you're going to see things that are going to be incredible.  You're still going to see the race winner that we've always had.  That doesn't change.  But you're going to see -- I'm going to tell you my mom is watching at home because I know she's a fan, and believe me, being a Keselowski she doesn't like change, either.

            But what I would tell my mom and I would tell anybody is when you want to get up at lap 30 for that bowl of chips, you're not going to want to get up.  It's going to be the race segment, the first segment and you're going to see some great action.  You're going to see the moments that Jeff was talking about.  You're going to see a moment like the pass in the grass that's going to be for the end of the first segment.  Those are the moments that are going to make you really want to watch and love NASCAR racing for a long, long time.

            DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I agree.  You know, there's parts of the race where it's going to feel good to be rewarded for your performance, and for those rewards to matter toward not only the regular season and making the playoffs, but to be able to go deep into the playoffs with those extra points is going to be a lot of fun for the guys that can achieve that.

            So as a driver, I'm happy to be rewarded for performing well throughout the event, not just for how I finished, because it'll tick you off if you're in that car for enough races and you're whooping everybody's butt all day long and then you get beat by somebody who's running 20th all day, just by circumstance, how the cautions fall late in the race.  So it's going to be great to be rewarded as a driver for consistently performing well throughout an event.

            Again, like Brad said, as a fan, I think watching the race, you've got a reason to stay tuned in because what it matters to the driver you're pulling for, whoever your favorite is.  If he's sitting there leading and you're coming up on the end of a stage, you've got a reason and a vested interest in paying attention to what's going on and how that relates to the season as it unfolds throughout the year and how those points start to culminate and what that means to you making the playoffs or not making the playoffs.

            You know, there's so many scenarios that are going to come into play that I think are going to be really interesting and drive a lot of interest for the sport on how guys not only lock themselves into the playoffs but also those guys trying on that bubble that can maybe win a stage or two and gain a few points.

            DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I think more than anything, you still have the start of the race, you still have the end of the race, and in between, there's going to be a lot of moments for -- I think it gets lost sometimes that people think that we can just go harder and we're going to be able to do something great and go faster than what we already are.  Well, I'm just thinking about the crew chiefs that are going to be scratching their heads on the strategy side of this because if you're 12th or 13th and you think that you look at the format and you're like, well, it only rewards the top 10 so what about everyone else?  Well, what happens when the caution comes out 10 laps before a stage comes to a close.  You're going to have guys that are wanting to stay up front to collect those stage points, and you're going to have everyone else pit.  So the field is going to get completely swapped around, and what happens when you swap a field around?  You have more side-by-side racing and more exciting racing.

            I think that there's a lot of different things within this that you don't necessarily need to know how a watch works, you just need to know what time it is.  I think you're going to see better racing on the racetrack, and that's all that matters.

            STEVE NEWMARK:  And, Jenna, don't worry.  This wasn't just Brad's idea.  He had adult supervision from Gordon and Burton who came in and kept him in check.

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think it's important, Jenna, too, to frame it up, you can get confused if you want to get into the weeds on math.  This is really about introducing two breaks and rewarding your favorite driver for racing up front.  I mean, it's as simple as that, and then what I've heard loud and clear from the fans on Twitter, I want my driver rewarded for every race.  That's happening, and it's as simple as that.  It's rewarding drivers for their effort all race long.

            JOIE CHITWOOD:  Jenna, I would actually point out, this is not a new concept.  I think Marcus would agree, there's been a lot of events where we pay halfway money.  There's opportunities, I think the Daytona 500 had the $200,000 number at the halfway point to incentivize that opportunity.  So this is not really new.  Many track promoters have worked with the industry to come up with other ways to incentivize other elements of racing early on, so I don't think it's a new concept per se.

 

            Q.  Steve, in analyzing this system before you announced it, how did you find it would have affected some of the more recent Chase-era finishes, particularly last year when Truex was very hot at the beginning but didn't push through?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think it's important to say we certainly modeled the last few years, but you don't know how drivers potentially would have raced.  Denny talked about strategy with crew chief calls, so that could have mixed some things up.  But if you just looked straight up at last year, someone like Martin Truex probably would have advanced to the next round, so things would have been close and some different segments or stages would have mixed things up a bit.  But it's really hard to model in terms of what will actually happen next year.

 

            Q.  Steve, in making this decision, how did you balance making constant changes that could possibly alienate fans, especially the traditional fans versus trying to boost your ratings and attendance?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Well, every sport that I'm aware of makes enhancements almost every year to improve the fan experience.  NBA went to a three-point line.  Doesn't change the entire game, it changed the strategy and rewarded players for different moves.  NFL, they moved the field goal back.  To me that's what this is.  This is an enhancement to improve what we think is already a great product.

            I don't look at this as a drastic change by any means.  This is something that we all feel really good about as an industry that improves what we think is already a great sport.

            DENNY HAMLIN:  I think the old-school fans actually should love this, because we're getting back to you're crowning your champion based off of 36 races now again.  It's not just that 10 races.  Every single race matters, so I think that the old-school, core fan that loved the old points system as you start at 1, you end the 36, should accept this with open arms for sure.

            JEFF BURTON:  We still have that playoff, but what that old-school fan now understands that what his driver did at Daytona matters on race 34, and we lost that a little bit, and now we have that back, so it bridges what it used to be to what it is today.  It builds a bridge to those two things.

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Brett especially has had some drivers who have been around a while, right, and we look at our hard-core fans, but we look at our drivers who have been in the sport a long time to bounce this off of, too and maybe some perspective to you as we discussed it with those drivers, what was the feedback you heard?

            BRETT FROOD:  Yeah.  Our drivers are super excited about it.  These drivers are fierce.  They're racing every lap as hard as they can, and what we're going to be able to do is showcase that.  They're not taking laps off and they never have been taking laps off, but what we're going to be doing is showing on lap 71 or 81 and 160 that are going to be rewarded for it, but overall speaking from our perspective we've got drivers that are really excited about the opportunity and partners alike.

            DAVE ALPERN:  No, I would agree with that.  I think a big deal for me is also the idea that bonus points carry over to every round.  So in the past, you raced 26 races and the playoff points that you received benefitted you in Round 1 to help you advance to the Round of 12 and then they were over.  I think it's a real incentive to say, hey, when I go to the Round of 12 and they reset the points, they're going to add my playoff bonus, and I'm going to get a reset again in the Round of 8, that's a big deal.  I'm thinking about that every round of -- every race, every lap, even into the playoffs, so that part of it's a big deal.

            MARSHALL CARLSON:  I speak, too, for the one constituent that's not on this stage is the crew chiefs.  So we've heard from the drivers, crew chief cadre, we've got some incredibly fierce competitors there, too.  And I'll tell you, we've shared that with them as teams and they are literally chomping at the bit to go racing this way.  You talk about an opportunity to run different plays, to work different strategies and reward risk where guys are willing to take risk or need to later in the season, it's just incredible as you start playing this through in your mind.  I think the core fans are going to love it.  I think new fans are going to adapt to it because more like other sports, we've got scoring throughout the entire event.  It's nothing but an enhancement, and we couldn't be more excited.  It's going to be fantastic.

 

            Q.  For the Drivers' Council, it's hard to believe the drivers all get in one room and really quickly come up with something like this.  What was the discussion you guys had?  How long did it last?  And what did you guys think was really important?  And also, we'll have a lot of discussion about whether this has you racing harder, and I think it was Dale who tweeted, hard to believe that we will, but we're talking about incentives.  You guys in a group how that worked out?

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  You ever seen cats herded before?  That's trying to get race car drivers to agree to things and to get together.  I think every race car driver would agree that the more opportunity you have for rewards, the more you're going to put out risk, and risk makes for some of the best racing.  When there's risk on the line and you see guys that are going to take a chance that maybe they didn't have the incentive to take before earlier in the race, it's not really racing harder, it's taking more risk.  And I think that's really what you see out there.

            You're never going to get every person to agree on anything.  That's one of the beautiful things about our society.  But I think you're going to see a lot of drivers really like the idea of being rewarded for each moment in the race.

 

            Q.  Steve and anybody else who would like to answer, it's kind of a follow-up.  There's been a lot of talk about collaboration.  Obviously a lot of times people joke, if you asked 10 people how to fix something in NASCAR you're going to get 10 different answers.  I was just wondering if you could talk about some of the commonalities that you found when you got these different groups together that you all found agreement on that needed to be -- that you felt needed to be addressed?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, great question.  You know, that was one of the keys when we got a small group together was talking about are there common things we want to look at, and I think you've heard about that today is that every race needs to matter, and it did, but once you won a race, that incentive to get through and carry through the playoffs we felt was missing a bit, and we looked at how can we do something, and then we also looked at some enhancements we had made in some other series.  Camping World Truck Series, we had the caution clock and a lot of feedback on that.  I know Dale Jr., a lot of folks said, hey, I don't like it and here's why, because that caution comes out.  I've busted my butt for 50 laps and I'm back to square one, so drivers weren't rewarded for that, and that was a key for us to hear, that how do we if we're going to insert breaks, how do we reward drivers during a race for that?  That was a big takeaway for us to do, and then the final one was everyone agreed that if you could carry everything through all the way to Miami, every race matters, and once you do that and introduce that, that was big.  It's something that the fans have asked for.  We've all heard it loud and clear, and it was kind of those three principles, how do we build on that and bring it together, and that's where we came up with the format.

            MARCUS SMITH:  I'll jump in there and just say that the process for how we've worked together has been fantastic.  It's been the best discussion, group discussion I've ever been a part of in the sport.  Fantastic candor, a lot of ideas thrown on the wall with this group, and we went from one side to the other, and everybody had some great input.  But it all came back to what's going to be great for the fans, what's going to be great for us as fans but for all the fans whether in the stands or at home.  What Dale said earlier was a really key important part.  Now if you're watching at home and a stage ends on lap 100.  On lap 75 you start to gear up and you're watching because your driver is focused on that lap 100 stage end.  All of a sudden, that lap matters, and without this, that lap really didn't matter all that much.

            So your driver is trying to be the leader at the end of that first stage and the second stage, and of course the final stage of the race, so you've got now not just one finishing point but three within a race that you can really see a difference.

            JEFF GORDON:  I was going to add, as well, I think one of the things early on, we talked about the length of the races.  Do we need to shorten the length of the races?  We all agreed, no, we need to make more moments happen within the race, and this -- breaking it up into stages really did that.  That was part of that enhanced experience for the fans as well as more green-flag racing.  So by ending these stages what's going to happen, the TV is going to be coordinated with NASCAR and how you go to a commercial break to assure that the fans are going to commercial break when nothing is happening on the racetrack, and then when they come back from a commercial break, boom, cars are on pit road pitting, go to a break, come back, we're going to talk to the winner of that stage.  We're going to talk to the crew chief, winning crew chief of that stage, and then we're going to line these cars back up and we're going to go green-flag racing.

            I think there's a lot of that discussion that went on, as well, and I think it was unanimous, everybody agreed that that was something that was really important to all of us and the fans.

 

            Q.  Steve, I just wanted to double check if I understand correctly, concerning the rules, if I understand it correctly, you have three stages.  In principal you can have, per race event, three different winners, correct?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  So there's only one race winner, but you can win the stage.  So Stage 1 you can win, Stage 2 you can win, but the actual race winner is that last stage.  The Final Stage is the race winner.

 

            Q.  And after Stage 1, how do you form the grid for the next stages, after the results of Stage 1?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  We'll open pit road, and you can elect to stay out if you want.  I would assume everyone would pit --

            JEFF GORDON:  After we go to a commercial break, then we'll open pit road.

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Good point, Jeff.  It would be how you come off pit road, so the pit stops matter and that could mix it up as well.

 

            Q.  Concerning driver crashing out of the car?  Can he go to a backup car or is he out of the race?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  No, it would be just like today.  Under this format -- good question.  An incident on lap 1 is a tough day.  An incident with 10 to go, hopefully you've won two stages, you've made up for some of your performance.

 

            Q.  And race lengths, are all three stages the same race distance?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  It'll vary by track, but yeah, the first two stages will be the same and the last stage obviously with what's remaining.

 

            Q.  The past 13 seasons everybody on that stage has used the term Chase at some point.  As part of this announcement today, the word Chase, that term, is being eradicated, NASCAR is going to go with playoffs, which I think is significant, because, initially, there was resistance to using playoffs in describing this.  A few questions, I guess, one for Steve is what's the thought process behind that for NASCAR, and then for the drivers, any love lost with getting rid of Chase, or do you prefer playoffs as the term?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think where that came from is sitting in a room with this group of folks and a number of others and saying, what do most people understand when they're talking about sports, and people understand playoffs.  We introduced a new word, i.e., the Chase, and we liked it at first, but when you really talk about it, when Marshall Carlson is out talking to a sponsor, well, what's the Chase?  Well, it's our playoffs.  And people immediately get that and they understand that.  So for us it was a big part of -- this is a big sport built on sponsorship for sponsors to understand, for fans to understand, and it's a common word that most sports fans know.

            DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  I think that for all the folks that have been asking us to get rid of the Chase for years, this is a great day for them.

 

            Q.  How would weather maybe affect this, like you had the race at Pocono last year was rain shortened.  Would that race pay fewer points than a race that runs a full 500 laps?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Good question.  Let's take Pocono for this year.  So if we got to the conclusion of Stage 2, that would be our rain halfway point where we declare it a full race.  If it rained at the conclusion of Stage 2, we would pay out Stage 2 points and then also award all of the race points.  If we started the final stage, wherever rain came, then we would pay out the points based on that.  So Stage 2 is really that marker for a complete race.

            BRAD KESELOWSKI:  I think something to add to that, that's one of the great things about having stages is, if we do have an event that does get shortened for a reason like that, there's still been a lot of great content and moments inside that race.

 

            Q.  Steve, as far as the end of stages, I know there's going to be a lap that's set.  If a caution would come out two laps before the end of that stage or a lap before the end of that stage, can a stage end under caution or will you have a restart to end the stage?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  That's a good question, and we had a lot of debate as a group about that, and we thought that the best way for fans to understand it was to have an exact lap.  If a caution were to come out let's say eight laps before the end of the stage, you can guarantee we'll make every effort to go back green.  But if it's a lap before, it would finish under caution.

 

            Q.  Jeff Gordon, now that you're officially retired it appears, can you speculate --

            JEFF GORDON:  I am racing next week in the Daytona 24-hour race, so still not official.

 

            Q.  Can you speculate how this would have impacted the way you would have raced during the length and breadth of your career?

            JEFF GORDON:  I mean, you know, to me it certainly changes how you approach your race and your strategy and the setup of your car to look at how that stage can enhance your opportunity to get into the playoffs.  To me, even though it didn't work in my favor with the playoff system, I love it.  I loved it as a competitor, the excitement that it brought, and I wanted to win a championship under that format ever since it was created.

            To me, it just really makes you push that much harder as a competitor, and the strategy side of it is the thing I find really interesting, as well.  It's definitely going to change up the strategy.  If the strategy changes, that puts you as a driver in a position, if you're on older tires and your crew chief decides, hey, we're going to stay out and try to win this stage, it puts you in a position as a driver, you've got to drive the wheels off that car and hold off those competitors to make that strategy work, or vice versa, maybe they stay out, you get tired.  To me double-file restarts and the playoff system change the game.  This is just taking it to that next level.

 

            Q.  Steve, when you first presented the format here at 6:00, you were talking about the fans spoke and you heard them loud and clear.  What did they say?  How did they say it?  And if it was the fans that were speaking and initiating all of this, what was the role of all the stakeholders behind you on stage?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Well, I think it's a combination, and I think the fans in terms of not necessarily this exact format but wanting every race to matter, wanting their drivers to be rewarded during a race, and then most importantly wanting their regular season performance to go all the way through.  You heard Dale Jr. talk about the Chase, and part of that was because they felt like their drivers' performance didn't matter all the way through to Miami, and I think we've done that.

            I think when you real a look at rewarding drivers and taking it through the entire season, that's what we're talking about from a fan perspective, and that's the -- I guess that's where we came after it from this entire group is how do we put something together, a system that will do that for them.

            STEVE NEWMARK:  I think the broadcasters had also heard feedback from fans that were watching on TV, that if you could minimize the number of times you cut away from live action, and this allows the TV viewership to experience that and to make sure that they don't miss that moment that Jeff is talking about.

            MARSHALL CARLSON:  This actually goes back, NASCAR invested in a lot of research and fan listening over the years and continually does that monitoring, so these conversations, you know, if you think about it, stage or segmented type racing is the core and the tradition of our sport.  That's the core and tradition of stock car racing.  So I think that people expect to see rises in the action during the course of the event.  These are some of the listening's we got from core fans and new fans.  Really enthusiastic back reporting back from the fans, initially, that have been reached out to about this opportunity.

 

            Q.  Steve, Steve and Jeff just touched on this, as well.  What assurance have you gotten from the TV networks that there will be less commercials?  I am sure it will still be tempting to take as many commercials as they can.  Fans don't want to have the action interrupted.  How sure are you that that will be the case?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Well, you can never guarantee anything, but I can say that sitting in the room all along the way with us were our two TV partners, and that was one of the core things we looked at.  We listened to the fans and we see the fans, as well, that we don't like breaking away from live action.  Can we eliminate that totally?  Probably not.  But this format allowed us to do that.  That's why we put in two breaks.  That's why Jeff talked about being able to interview the driver.  That's why pit road would be open at a certain time.  It introduces some breaks that TV can rely on and go to break and not miss some of that green-flag action.  Is it going to eliminate it totally?  No, but I think this is a start that really helps get fans more green-flag action on the track when they're sitting at home or in the stands.

            JEFF BURTON:  I can promise you, I'm in my second year of doing this, there's a tremendous amount of effort by the networks to bring as much racing as possible to the fans.  The fans tune in to watch the races, and finding a way to do that is difficult sometimes.  This eases that a little bit.  This gives a chance for us to go to a break at the right time so the fans miss as little green-flag racing as possible.  There's a tremendous amount of effort put into that.

            JEFF GORDON:  Or just action in general.  I think maybe Marshall said it, as well.  Even if it's pit stops, those are important.  People want to see that.  They don't want it to happen while you're gone on a break.  I think while some of that may still happen because there's still going to be cautions throughout the race that aren't part of the stage ending, I think this assures that just like the teams need to have sponsors to operate, so do the TV networks, and I think as this evolves, I think the fans are really going to see an experience that they're going to -- that's going to please them and say, oh, wow, that's awesome, I didn't miss that.  You know, it's going to take some coordinating.  It's not going to go flawless at times, but I think that it has the potential, and I think it will be really good as we get more and more experience at that.

            JOIE CHITWOOD:  I think also this element fits with the at-track opportunity.  You think about these events and how long they are, the opportunity to have more of a planned break for our fans, it's not just the TV viewer and commercial, but from an at-track experience, to have that planned break, we think that actually fits, as well.  It's been interesting as part of this process, and I think all of us would agree to one thing.  We all maybe come into a meeting and start at one point and actually got to the other side of the conversation, I think we all went through that, and it was really interesting because in big groups to get everybody moving in the same direction is challenging, but really to start in one place and end in a different, I think all of us at one point or another was convinced with a great point of view or a great candid conversation about what the sport is looking to do.  But I think at the end of the day, whether it was TV, whether it was at-track experience, what the teams do, what the drivers do, what NASCAR has to officiate, we really came out of there unified, and I'm not sure in all of our years of this business to be in that room with that many folks together, to come up with something that we think works for everyone.

 

            Q.  Steve, you could probably talk about this.  How long did this whole process take?  Has it been two years, 18 months?  Obviously it didn't happen last weekend.  And also, NASCAR historically when you've made changes like in the points and different things, you've gone and run -- you've ran simulations.  How many simulations did you run?  How long did that whole process take to run through simulations and things like that, and the overall process?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  That's fair.  We've looked at formats for years as part of the old Chase system, so that's been an ongoing process for a number of years.  I think when you step back to the meetings we had with the industry, middle of last year, those started in terms of we need to look at this.  Here's some ideas, and that came from individual conversations, through TV, through the team presidents, through our OEMs.  That kind of got the momentum, hey, let's really take a look, now is the time to do that, and then really, a deep dive in Las Vegas where we had the full group.  They had a lot of the elements coming in, but that's where we really started to hone in on each.

            As far as looking at models, we looked at since the Chase began and we beefed those up.  I know Brett Frood ran models, a number of us ran different models to see, okay, here's what it would have looked like.  But again, we kept coming back to, this is going to change strategies, so in all those models, though, we felt very comfortable with the results and how it looked and were able to kind of press forward and go with what we have.

 

            Q.  Steve, can you talk about the overtime rule and how it apply for each segment and will we see caution laps count at the end of each segment going into the next segment?

            STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yeah, so the overtime rule is only for the end of the race, so we will end stages under caution if there was a caution that came out right before the end of a stage.  Hopefully that never happens, but we know it probably will.  So overtime same as the fans have always seen for the end of the race, and what was the second part?  Oh, will the laps count?  So the laps will count.  The end of the stage afterwards when we capture the cars we'll display the caution, those laps will count.

            ADAM ALEXANDER:  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.  Great day for NASCAR, great for the sport, and a great day for our fans, so thank you very much for joining us today.