Transcript: NASCAR Press Conference

 An Interview With:

           

BRIAN FRANCE

MIKE HELTON

ROBIN PEMBERTON

 

 

            THE MODERATOR:  Good afternoon.  I want to thank you again for being here.  Thank you for your patience through this process.  We just completed a meeting with the Sprint Cup Series drivers, crew chiefs and owners.  They were addressed by Brian France, Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton.  There were a few questions from the drivers, and when that process was complete, the meeting was adjourned.  We will be issuing a technical bulletin this afternoon to the competitors.  Once that has been completed, we will make that information available to you.

            With that, we will turn it to NASCAR Chairman and CEO, Brian France.

            BRIAN FRANCE:  Thank you.  As Brett just said, we just a few moments ago wrapped up a meeting with the drivers and the owners and crew chiefs, and at the center of that meeting was what our expectations were going forward and how we intended -- and those expectations are that a driver and a team give 100 percent effort, their best effort, to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can.

            And we issued a variety of things, some clarifications and some adjustments to our ability to officiate that.  We addressed team rules, and as I said, a variety of other things, all designed to do what our fans expect, and that means that they're driver and their team give 100 percent to finish as high up in a given race as possible.

            We were very clear about that.  That's our expectations.  It's an evolving issue in some ways because of historical things that have happened in the past and the subjectivity that may or may not be part of individual calls going forward.

            But that's the center of it, and that's what our fans expect, and that's what the drivers want to do, as well, so that was the centerpiece.  I'll let Mike walk through some of the specifics.

            MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, as mentioned, and this will come out in the form of a technical bulletin to the garage area later today, but we read this to the competitors that led to the conversation and discussion we had with them as well as some examples which I'll give you here in just a second.

            First of all, the new rule that is effective immediately will be 12-4L if my memory serves me right, but we'll make that official later this afternoon.

            It reads, "NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event.  Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR.  Such penalties may include but are limited to disqualification and/or loss of finishing points and/or fines and/or loss of points and/or suspension and/or probation to any and all members of the teams, including any beneficiaries of the prohibited actions.

            "'Artificially altered' shall be defined as actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR's sole discretion."

            That's the content of the rule that will be passed around this afternoon in the garage area, and as Brett mentioned, will be passed around here, too.

            That obviously comes with, well, what does that mean, and we defined "artificially altering," and then we also introduced some examples based on experience and based on what-ifs.

            I want to be real clear, and we will pass these examples out to the competitors after having talked with them today.  This is only a working list.  It's only a very early list.  It's not all-inclusive.  As Brian mentioned, this is day one of this phase of NASCAR and its responsibility to the fans and to the industry of regulating the sport around this topic.  But these are some examples, and these are the ones that we shared with the teams a while ago.

            This is the acceptable:  Contact while racing for position; performance issues; drafting; pitting; tire management; fuel management; yielding to a faster car; alternative pit strategy; long fuel strategy; laying over, you lay over for one, you lay over for all, which is fairly common in our restart language when we get ready to go back to green.

            These are some of the examples that we came up with that's unacceptable in hopes to help define the step we're taking:

            Offering a position in exchange for favor or material benefit; offering material benefit in exchange for track position; directing a driver to give up a position to the benefit of another driver; intentionally causing a caution; causing a caution for the benefit of or determinant of another driver; intentionally wrecking a competitor; intentionally pitting, pulling into the garage to gain advantage for another competitor.

            Again, I want to reiterate, this list is examples and doesn't mean that if it's not on this list it's okay if it's under the unacceptable, and there could very well be some things that we define going forward on the acceptable list.

            In addition to the rule and the examples, we also introduced in the meeting some officiating steps that NASCAR will take in the Sprint Cup garage beginning tomorrow.  So Robin, if you want to --

            ROBIN PEMBERTON:  Yeah, starting tomorrow on the spotter's stand there will only be one spotter allowed per team on the spotter's stand.  That spotter will only be able to have two analog radios.  No digital radios allowed on the spotter's stand anymore.  They'll be able to have scanners and Fan Views.  We'll also install a camera that will be piped into a replay system that we can monitor the actions that go on in the spotter's stand.

            Also discussed that we will meet with the drivers tomorrow during the drivers' meeting as a little clean-up.  We're going to change some of the restart procedures from this point moving forward.  That's it.

            THE MODERATOR:  Just one point of clarity:  The new rule will be in effect tomorrow, not today.  With that we'll take a few questions.

 

            Q.  Can you clarify the "100 percent of your ability" in terms of making those judgments?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, you know, obviously there's some subjectivity that's involved in that, and we know that.  And so we'll make our best determination with the circumstances that may surround something that may look suspicious, and we'll take all of it into consideration.

            The easy thing, that's what we told the drivers -- and they want to.  By the way, this is what they do.  Race hard all the time and give your best, and there's nothing to worry about.

            MIKE HELTON:  There's two key pieces to that.  One is "artificially altering."  The other piece is "100 percent of your ability," and the ability of a race car can alter or change during the event.  It may be off a little bit early on, they get it tweaked and it's better at the end, so the ability is a big key there, too.

 

            Q.  Mike, I have a quick clarifying question and a broader question.  Does this rule in effect outlaw start-and-parks or not?

            MIKE HELTON:  It does not.  It goes back to their ability.

 

            Q.  The broader question was you have many times said when addressing issues that have come up in NASCAR, to the drivers and so forth, you don't want to put this in our hands and have us have to take action.  Would this be pretty much the ultimate example of NASCAR's hand being forced by its competitors?

            MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, I wouldn't use the word ultimate or forced, but it's certainly an example of the evolution of our responsibility that comes from the evolution of what goes on in the races.  In the garage area around the racetrack.

            Yesterday I used the restart example.  There's others in our past where what might have been acceptable evolved to a point where we felt like it wasn't anymore.  And part of what happened on Saturday night was easy for us to determine it was unacceptable without taking any further steps.

            But as we spent the time on this topic, we did this week, we felt like the step that we're taking today was necessary for us to be responsible to the stakeholders and particularly the fans.

 

            Q.  Despite all the rules that you guys made, there were two things that we weren't clear about what were discussed, as far as the means from a technological standpoint how you're going to police the sport, and secondly, the competitors still seem concerned about probation.  How do you define probation?  We were all under the impression that the Penske guys were under probation for what happened in March, and here the 22 car is on probation again.  I mean, can you define probation in NASCAR's eyes, please?

            MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, and I think earlier this year we addressed the topic, and it's still the same, that probation from NASCAR's perspective is sometimes isolated to a particular area.  The March incident with the 2 and the 22 were unacceptable parts, unapproved parts coming to the racetrack.  We had a situation later in the season or a few races later where there was a height issue post-race with one of the cars, and we were very clear, I think, then that probation didn't apply in that case because it wasn't an unapproved part category.

            Here again along with others, not in this particular situation, but this is another area where the unapproved technical area probation doesn't apply.

            I think we said this back early in the year when we were addressing this, is that it's not our desire to regulate against a team or to penalize a team beyond reason or to keep a team from participating.  We all want them to participate, and as Brian mentioned starting off, we want them to participate at 100 percent of their ability.

            But I don't know if that answered your question about how we look at probation or not, but that was my attempt to clarify.

 

            Q.  Mike, can you set the tone for the meeting?  Were drivers giving feedback?  Did you have people come to the hauler since yesterday when Jeff Gordon was introduced as the 13th in the Chase?  A number of us have spoken to a number of the drivers including after the meeting.  What was the feedback, the reaction, and were they given a chance to chat or was it like, this is what we need to do?

            MIKE HELTON:  It was an open dialogue back and forth.  We certainly laid down where we were and what we were intending to do going forward.  Brian addressed them on the character of the sport and the necessity for us protecting it.  And then there was back and forth.

            And there has been all week, as you can imagine.  Our phones or whatever you may term them have become the new hauler, so to speak.  There's been a lot of dialogue since last Saturday night throughout the garage.  But I would define this meeting as they were very attentive and probably was the most broadly listened-to conversation we've had in a while in that collective group.

 

            Q.  And do you get the idea that any of the teams will have to scramble to understand things or talk to their teams or get ready to have this implemented so quickly tomorrow, or do you think they totally get it and it will be easy?

            MIKE HELTON:  Well, we wouldn't take the steps if it was unreasonable to ask them to get to that point, so we took the steps that we felt like we could accomplish before race time tomorrow.

 

            Q.  Brian and Mike, where do you think NASCAR is after this week in terms of maybe credibility and character, and what steps do you have to take to restore that?  I think you mentioned the word protect.

            BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, it's like anything else; circumstances happen that are unhelpful in the credibility category, there's no doubt about that.  And you go back to what you're about, and what we're about is the best racing in the world with the best drivers giving 100 percent of their ability, and to the extent that we get off of that for any reason, then it's our job to have the rules of the road and the rules of the race such that it achieves that every day.  And if it's not this, it might be something else.  You deal with it.  We have dealt with it as best that we can, and we move on.

 

            Q.  Robin, you touched on changes among the spotters and radio communications, but as far as positions, what goes on out on the racetrack and changing positions, are officials now going to have to look at every change in position on the track or just ones that raise a red flag in y'all's eyes to determine if there was something going on?

            ROBIN PEMBERTON:  Well, we're always looking at all the positions.  Throughout all of these races there's situations we know that can occur that affect the outcome of a race negatively or positively.  And so we'll move forward and we'll increase our technology and things that we need to look at, and more in depth we'll do that.  We'll move forward and we'll increase our efforts in some of those areas.

 

            Q.  Mike, you used the term "shifting the paradigm" yesterday.  In listening to the list of things that are no longer acceptable, intentionally wrecking a competitor, as an example does that mean that NASCAR's reaction to, say, what happened between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski in Atlanta back in 2010 would be dealt with more harshly tomorrow than it was then?  And is this a sea change basically in what's allowed in terms of competitors policing themselves on the racetrack?

            MIKE HELTON:  Well, let me take the first part of that and you'll have to help me understand the second part, what you're looking for there.

            Intentionally wrecking someone, going back to Carl and Brad in Atlanta, going back to last year in Phoenix with Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer, who were both in the Chase, has not been unacceptable, which means we have reacted to them, and we'll have to take each unique situation, circumstance as to the level that we would react to them.  But it continues to not be acceptable, and we just wanted to make that clear on the list of what's not acceptable.

            The part that causes it to become part of this example in this conversation is if there were a driver who intentionally took out another driver for the benefit of a finishing position of somebody else.  But intentionally taking somebody out has not been acceptable before this.

 

            Q.  Are digital radios still going to be allowed for teams?

            MIKE HELTON:  Yes, but not on the spotter's stand.

 

            Q.  Brian, you mentioned that this was unhelpful in the credibility category.  Was it most hurt because of the 15 spin Saturday that caused NBC Nightly News to do a segment last night and refer to that race as being rigged because of it?  Is that what you view as like maybe the biggest --

            BRIAN FRANCE:  I think it's the totality of all the different things that went on, either that were inconclusive or suspicious or whatever it might be.  It was unhelpful, and my hope is that we'll have greater, greater clarity, and we'll have that line as bright as possible because we're about delivering for our fans what they expect, and that's the best racing.

            We'll get through this, not to -- this is a highly competitive moment on Saturday night to try to get in the Chase.  We understand why we obviously don't agree with it, but we obviously understand why people are going to take chances to do things that they shouldn't do.

 

            Q.  Brian, did you do this today because you felt there was some sort of eminent threat or that drivers and teams would continue to do what they did last weekend starting with this weekend, or did you feel that for the integrity and credibility of the sport that you had to address it today?

            BRIAN FRANCE:  I think we wanted it to be very clear, and we wanted to reinforce frankly the cornerstone of NASCAR, which is giving your all.  And that's the cornerstone of any sport.

            The extent that other factors got in the way of that, that we want to make sure that we eliminate those factors and deal with it going forward.  And by the way, we had a very frank discussion, as we've told you, with the drivers.  I didn't talk to any of them afterwards, but I could see as we were walking through, this is what they want.  This is what they want.  They want to have clarity and they don't like team rules, and they don't like some of the things that have gone on in the past, and so my sense of it is that they were -- they're never pleased when we call them to a meeting.  I don't get many thank-you notes.  But I also believe that they understand what they want to get back to.  It's to not worry about anything but winning races and doing your best.

 

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