Eric Peterson, Technical Manager, NASCAR Xfinity Series
Ryan Pemberton, Director of Competition, JR Motorsports, NASCAR Xfinity Series
David Pepper, General Manager, ThorSport Racing, NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today’s NASCAR teleconference, and thank you for joining us on short notice here. We’re joined by Eric Peterson, the technical manager of the NASCAR Xfinity Series; Ryan Pemberton, the director of competition for JR Motorsports; and David Pepper, the general manager of ThorSport Racing.
Today, as you hopefully have seen already by now, we announced a procedural change to a select number of races in both the Xfinity and Gander Truck Series, and in advance I’d like to thank Eric, Ryan, and David for joining us to help tell that story of what we announced today.
I’ll open up with Eric. He led the charge from a NASCAR perspective on this procedural change. Eric, can you start off by going through the procedure and then giving some perspective on why we are moving to this model for some of the standalone events.
ERIC PETERSON: Sure. Thanks, and good afternoon, everyone. Obviously, like Mike said, we just announced the implementation of a new pit stop procedure for a limited number of events in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the Gander Truck Series. It’ll be for 2020. It’ll be four events in Xfinity and three in Gander trucks.
The basic procedure is the field will be frozen when the caution is displayed, and for teams that elect to pit on ovals, they’ll be allowed to add fuel and change two tires per pit stop, and on road courses they’ll be allowed to add fuel or change four tires per pit stop. That will require two pit stops for a full service, four tires and fuel, at all of those events.
The pit stop must be completed within a designated time period, and the team roster for each team in both Xfinity and the Gander trucks will consist of eight crew members, and the group that goes over the wall to change the tires must come from those eight members.
After a pit stop under caution, restarts will be in order at the time of caution based on pit stop strategy in the following order. So vehicles that did not pit would be at the front of the field, followed by vehicles that pitted once, then those that pitted twice, and then the free pass wave?around and penalty vehicles just like we have today.
As far as a little background on the why, we believe this procedure will increase competition on track, incentivize different strategy plays to bring interesting story lines for the fans, and bring efficiencies to teams that will help strengthen the garage now and into the future. So that’s our basic overview of the new procedure.
THE MODERATOR: And, Ryan, from a team side, you helped bring us to this point, so thank you for all the work you have done for helping NASCAR in this endeavor. What does this mean for you, your team, JR Motorsports, and the Xfinity Series as a whole from your perspective?
RYAN PEMBERTON: Well, again, I mean, I think it’s great to be a part of something that is essentially moving the sport forward and really emphasizing the strategy and allowing some different scenarios to play out that haven’t necessarily been playing out like it has been over the last few years.
So we’ve got a lot of good crew chiefs, not only here at JR Motorsports but in the industry, and I’m excited to see these guys. It’s a good time for them to be able to use their strategy, their wit, and really be able to mix up the field and play a little bit different than it’s been played before.
THE MODERATOR: And, David, first, once again, congratulations on the championship last year with Matt Crafton. Outstanding job yet again. From your perspective, can you speak to this change from a Truck Series standpoint?
DAVID PEPPER: Yeah, again, kind of the same sentiment. You know, NASCAR has been working really hard on this program, and they included a lot of the teams to give input, and I think we’ve come up with a really great scenario for these handful of races to test out, to put it back on our crew chiefs and our drivers to make these strategic decisions that sometimes were taken out of the races over the last few years.
And I’d like to echo that same sentiment that Ryan said. We’ve got some great crew chiefs here and great driver lineup, and there’s some great guys in the Truck Series sitting on these pit boxes that now we’re going to allow them to use their strategy and wit and go to work and create scenarios to make the racing even better.
I mean, at the end of the day, we’re trying to put out a product that is the very best race that we can put on for the fans each week in both these series, and I think this is just going to help us do that.
Eric, is there a concern that for fans these new procedures may be confusing because the rules are going to change on a week?to?week basis and what you see one week may not be what you see the next week, and amid a time when things seem to be changing on a consistent basis, there’s not a consistency in what they’re going to be seeing on the racetrack?
ERIC PETERSON: Good question. We don’t feel like there is going to be that confusing of a difference. It’s only at seven events total ?? four in Xfinity and three in Gander trucks ?? out of a total of 56 total races, and the procedure will be the normal procedure we have all the other weeks. And just for those select events it’ll be this way, which we’re trying to use as an avenue to test and try this out and kind of bring it in on a deliberate approach.
Eric, first off, why isn’t this being used for the trucks at Texas in June?
ERIC PETERSON: Well, so Texas, with the size of that racetrack, presents some problems from a fuel mileage standpoint. And since we were using this solely as a test item and a way to get a look at it, we did not feel like we needed to complicate the situation by adding additional rules and, to Jordan’s point, making additional areas of complication, to try and keep it as simple as we could. We feel like we can get what we need out of the other events without including Texas.
And what would be ?? how would this be evaluated to see if you want to use this at more tracks going forward? What would you consider a success?
ERIC PETERSON: A primary driver, that would be fan interest and engagement and feedback we get from the fans, along with how we see the races play out, and utilize the metrics we have here for passing and that sort of thing to mix the field up hopefully.
Eric, I just want to check, I know you’re talking about this is kind of testing and so forth and trying to see what you can get. What’s the purpose in doing it in both series as opposed to doing it in one series? Why wasn’t it maybe just solely in the Truck Series for the entire season or for more races or something like that?
ERIC PETERSON: As opposed to the whole season, as I said, it is somewhat of a departure from what we do today, so we wanted to dip our toe in the water and do a deliberate, strategic approach to implementing it and getting a look at it.
The reason why we selected the events we did is they’re all standalone events. The standalone events, any events for the Truck Series, Gander Truck Series and the Xfinity Series that are not with Cup present some challenges from a logistical end on doing a pit stop, and this is a way to alleviate the burden the teams have with performing pit stops at the races that are not companion events to the Cup Series.
And both the Gander trucks and the Xfinity Series share the same issues at those events, so that’s why it included certain events for both series instead of just doing it in one of the series.
What is the purpose of limiting what teams can do on a pit stop based on whether it’s oval track or road course, when you’re going to have a designated time period to complete the work, and you’ve already mandated the pit crew must come from an eight?man team roster, eight?person team roster? What is the purpose of limiting what teams can do if you’re going to have a time limit and you’re telling them that it’s going to be crew members already on their team, it’s not going to be essentially dedicated pit crew guys?
ERIC PETERSON: Well, the reason for limiting what they can do on each pit stop is so that we have the opportunity to have differing tire strategies. So if we had it where they can do whatever they want on each pit stop, then that would not allow us the opportunity to get different restart scenarios based on what you elected to do between two tires and four tires at an oval or four tires and fuel on the road courses. That decision was basically purely based off incentivizing the teams to make differing strategy plays.
Typically with the races, the last stage is more than a fuel run, and with this procedure you’re trying to, I guess, reduce maybe in one sense the role the pit crew per se ?? not necessarily the strategy, but will this mean that you’ll have to change the structure of the stage breaks, then, for the last stage; that you’ll have to change it to where the last stage is shorter or add another stage so you can just basically have caution stops and this taken care of, especially with the limits on what you can or can’t do under a green flag stop?
ERIC PETERSON: So, yeah, all of these events will still be three stages to stay consistent with all the other events throughout the season. But compared to 2019, the stage lengths will be adjusted for 2020 to prevent the need for a green flag fuel stop; you are correct.
For Ryan and David, I’m just wondering, is there any way to sort of quantify how much of a savings this is to your teams by not having to bring in those pit crews for those events? I don’t know if it’s the same as a tire bill or ?? what does this help you out with, I guess, as far as cost savings?
RYAN PEMBERTON: You know, that is a small part of it, but I really think it’s about leveling the playing field a little bit and mixing up, giving people opportunities to do something different on pit road that don’t normally have that opportunity. You take a 15th place car and you can pick one of those guys back there that are having a good day, and it’s hard if you have a real successful day due to the fact that maybe their pit crew versus somebody else’s pit crew.
I think from a strategic point, from a crew chief’s point of view, it puts more people in play, and it should be broadened ?? the competition, how many guys could be in the top 10 on a regular basis and have more opportunities. And then from a logistics standpoint, it helps out, too, as far as the people and moving people across the country.
But for the most part, it’s really about competition. If you’re a 10th place car and if you want to get two tires, you get an opportunity to go in front of the field with two tires, and that mixes things up, makes for different opportunities for different people. And then maybe one guy does it, maybe two guys do it, and the third guy wants to do it, next thing you know it really flips the field.
It’s going to be different at every racetrack, depending on tire wear and what the strategies will allow for, but it’s definitely going to mix things up more than it has in the past.
DAVID PEPPER: Very similar answer. Obviously, yes, by traveling less folks across the country, is it going to save each team money? Yes, at the end of the day, we’re going to save a little bit of money.
But that wasn’t the primary goal of this. Exactly what Ryan said, the goal is to allow ?? like in the Truck Series, Jordan Anderson, who has had many good runs, and then we come down pit road and he can’t compete on pit road with the pit crew. This will allow that to go away and a team like that to compete at a high level and have an opportunity to showcase their crew chief and driver talent and their team’s talent in building a fast race truck.
So we’ve leveled the playing field, and I think you’re going to see a lot of really good stories from a lot of really good race car drivers that are out there that are going to have an opportunity to go run in the top 5 and go run in the top 10. And it’s going to create stories and names that maybe aren’t household names that you see every single week, and it’s just going to make the competition better.
Now, does that make it harder on a team like ourselves? We’re going to have to obviously work harder and race harder. Yes. But we’ve always been a proponent of that. We want to race the very best people in the very best trucks, and we feel like we’ve put together a driver lineup and a crew chief lineup and a team lineup that can compete at that level.
We want to go to the racetrack and have 15, 20 teams that have an opportunity to get a Top 5 finish or compete for a win or a solid finish. That’s just going to make it more exciting for the fans, both at the track, watching on TV. And at the end goal, if Monday it’s a buzz on social media and all of you folks that we had a great event and what a fantastic race it was the day before, then we’ve all done our jobs and we’ve put out a great product and had a great race.
Both Ryan and David, you’ve sort of answered my initial question here by what you guys just talked about as far as leveling the playing field. Do you think that these races turn into now a little bit more of a wild card, not necessarily like a restrictor plate race, but in a sense where it does really open things up for a Jordan Anderson, just like you talked about? Or is the fact that you guys still have ?? the top teams have the best drivers, the most experienced crew chiefs, so on and so forth, that cream will still rise to the top, or do you really feel it will turn into a wild card situation?
RYAN PEMBERTON: Well, I hope for JR Motorsports that it’s not necessarily a wild card situation. I think we have great teams and great crew chiefs, and I think they’re going to capitalize on it. The crew chiefs that are the best and the quickest on their feet, they’ll have an advantage over others. But there are certainly other great crew chiefs out there with experience further down in the field, and they’ll have ?? they will be able to have opportunities.
It’s quite risk and reward. So we’ll use this as an example. If you’re running 10th at any place and the caution comes out and you want tires, if you take two tires, you might only come out 5th or 6th at best if you’re running in the 10th position. Maybe not even that far up.
So if you take two tires and you’re 5th, you’re like: That’s not a very good reward for my risk. But if you can line up first on two tires, that’s a different return on your dollar. So that’s going to make that call a little more popular. So that automatically mixes things up a little bit.
So I think that the risk and rewards there, I think that’s where the excitement, that’s where you’ll see people that are ?? I use the term flipping the field. That’s the time when people can reposition themselves in the field, maybe at a little bit of a deficit, but they’re up front. Just like any other place, up front, clean air, cars always seem to be faster. That might give some people an opportunity to take advantage of something that they wouldn’t normally have had a chance to do.
And then if you’re up front leading a race, that’s something else you’ve got to consider, how many people are going to take two behind me versus taking four. That’s going to make even the guys up front rethink what they’re doing. Maybe they get cold feet and they go like, man, I’m only going to get two because I don’t want to give up the lead, and next thing you know maybe the guys right behind them get four.
So it’s going to really change how you go about these pit stops. And that’s where the strategy comes in play, and I think that’s where the excitement level comes in.
DAVID PEPPER: Yeah, very similar answer. I mean, yeah, it’s a risk?reward. From one standpoint you look at it and say, man, I want to put the very best program and we need all the ThorSport trucks to win these races. But if one team wins all the races and there’s no real strategy or show and there’s no good racing, then the product is bad, and people are not going to tune in. And ultimately it hurts the sport or the series, and ultimately it hurts our team.
So, yes, I hope that we put together the very best team we can to rise to the top, but I’ll also tell you that if it’s a tremendous show and they come down to the line at Iowa four wide battling for the win and you can throw a blanket over the top 5 because of the different strategies, I certainly want to come out on top of that as a competitor. I’m going to work very hard to do that. But when you’re in a great race and you win a competitive show like that against some of the very best drivers, it’s even more rewarding.
It’s kind of the risk?reward comment. You want to have a good show and you want to race the very best, but the victory and winning a championship, a race, winning whatever, the value in that is all of the quality people that you either outsmarted or out?raced or were able to compete against and beat.
That’s what gives you the value in the win if you’re a competitive person. You want to have the opportunity to beat as many quality people as you possibly can, and I think this scenario will do that.
The graphic shows a two?lap penalty for taking four tires. Can you explain that?
ERIC PETERSON: Sure. So for an oval track, you’re only allowed to do two tires and fuel on one pit stop. So if a team were to take four tires on one pit stop that was not approved for damage or flat tires or something like that, that would be a two?lap penalty.
Forgive me on this, but it sounds kind of like you’re taking away from the haves and giving to the have?nots. If I were a top team like JRM or ThorSport, I would be kind of a little upset that we’re, quote, evening the playing field, but really what you’re doing is bringing you guys down to a level that you’re not truly at. You’re better than those other teams for a reason, and it seems like this is kind of helping the have?nots by taking from the haves.
ERIC PETERSON: I’ll take that one, too. It is a team sport strategy, and the biggest thing, one of the things we looked at was kind of data of our current pit stops and all the teams that consistently run in the top 10. Our current pit stop strategy really did not mix the field up very well. The average position change was right around one position.
That’s the reason we kind of took this other approach, is that kind of the purpose of coming down pit road and doing pit stops is to hopefully mix the field up a little bit where you don’t have a "follow the leader" race the entire race. And what we currently had ?? or currently have at all the other events does that mix that up very well, so that was one of the reasons we are going this route with these standalone races.
Does it seem like if it’s successful and we have the five?wide at Iowa or whatever, will this be forwarded into both series on a more common basis overall or also brought up to the Cup Series? Is there any talk about that?
ERIC PETERSON: Right now there is no plans for the Cup Series. We’re focusing on the Gander trucks and Xfinity Series, and our plan right now is just to focus on these seven races and try to put out the best production we can and then go back and analyze and evaluate what we did versus the other races and the way we’ve done it to this point and analyze and go from there.
But no set plans to do anything beyond these seven races. That’s our focus right now.
Ryan and David, can you kind of share, when did this discussion about this whole process start from your end? And how did it evolve until we got to the point to where it was announced today?
RYAN PEMBERTON: Well, yeah, it was probably ?? if I had to look at my calendar, probably seven or so months ago that the topic came up, along with a lot of other things that we talk about continuously to try to improve efficiencies or to improve the competition.
But it was probably about seven months ago, and it was one of those things that kept getting brought up. I think with NASCAR and Eric, it was sort of getting more legs and started talking about it, putting more thoughts and ideas to it, and after a while it became something that was more of a reality than just a thought, and we’re here today.
But it’s been the bigger part of a half a year anyway.
DAVID PEPPER: Yeah, and we joined in about five months ago as it grew legs in the NASCAR conferences and different calls that we all have. Like I said, through the meetings it started gaining importance. There was a lot of positive things that could come of it. We had a significant amount of meetings amongst a group of folks and kind of came up with this as the final let’s give this a try, and really looking forward to see just what we put on the racetrack.
Eric, you kind of touched on it a little bit, but how will you quantify success, that this is working the way you designed it and that this is something you want to explore increasing for 2021?
ERIC PETERSON: Yeah, well, we’ll obviously look at a visual and how the races play out and solicit fan feedback and response from the fans on each of the races as well as the metrics we use on a weekly basis to verify how good the races went now, from the amount of passing and things like that.
It’ll be a combination of metrics and fan interaction and fan feedback to get us to that point.
If, for example, the fans don’t like it but the teams do, where do you lean then?
ERIC PETERSON: I mean, that’s something we’ll have to weigh out once we get to that point. Like I said, we have a lot of different metrics that we can use and feedback we can solicit to help us arrive at a decision.
Eric, are the cars going to stop like they do in the K&N races, or will they all still be going? Can you kind of explain what happens when the caution comes out?
ERIC PETERSON: Sure, no, it’ll all look ?? aside from the number of times that are pitting on an oval track, there’s going to be your two opportunities to pit, where you do that all in one right now.
But aside from that, it’ll all look pretty continuous with what we do right now. The cars will keep moving. They’ll come in the box, we’ll do a pit stop just the way we do it now. We will have a time limit that you have to get the pit stop done in, so it will look a little slower than probably what we do today, but it’ll all look very similar to the pit stop you see today on pit road.
So obviously the time limit for the pit stop has to be less than the time it takes for a lap under caution.
ERIC PETERSON: Correct, yes. And again, our plan is over the coming months here to collaborate with the teams and work with them on developing what that time actually will be. But we still have that work to do yet.
And so I guess the question is why is it better to do it this way than maybe the way you would do it on a K&N race?
ERIC PETERSON: The biggest reason is to kind of keep the show moving and keep it esthetically pleasing and keep the pit stop looking at these seven events as close as possible as we can to all the other events during the season.
Eric, these changes are in place for the first two races of the Truck Series playoffs, at both Gateway and Canada. Was there any debate over implementing these changes to Xfinity playoff races, as well?
ERIC PETERSON: No, the sole decision on which events really surrounded them being standalone races and not playoffs or non?playoff events. It definitely centered around standalone events.
And what will the procedure be if a driver has a flat tire on a green flag run or is forced to pit under green flag reasons?
ERIC PETERSON: So under green, if you have a tire issue, you will be allowed to come in and pit under green and change tires. NASCAR will just verify the fact that you did have a tire issue. But if any sort of tire issues or damage or loose wheel, you will be allowed to change tires under green for any of those scenarios.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports