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Steve Phelps media conference transcript

NASCAR Media Conference Press Conference with Steve Phelps

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by NASCAR president Steve Phelps. If you do have a question for Steve, go ahead and raise your hand.

Steve, I was just wondering, when the Next Gen project began, certainly there was no COVID in the picture, and I was just wondering over the course of the time between the first initial steps and today, how much did the pandemic kind of curtail what you guys had hoped to do but maybe also in some ways may have given you additional time to do certain other things? I just wondered if you could give a perspective of how COVID changed the development of the car.

STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, for us, when COVID hit, everything just shut down, and so as hard as it was to make a decision to delay it a year because right now this car should be on — initially it was going to be on the racetrack at the Daytona 500 in 2021, but it was the right thing to do.

Obviously we couldn’t get parts. We didn’t know when we were going to be able to test, and so the timeline initially, and you can talk to John and Brandon about this later, the timeline was tight. Do I think we would have made it without COVID? I think the answer is yes. Has the extra time and development been helpful for us? I think so, and I think Joey talked about it in his availability here or in the opening when he said, yeah, I tested this car a year and a half ago.

So this has been a long time coming, but I think we needed to get this right. The cars obviously look fantastic, and the ability for us to create the testing time necessary, obviously to make sure we get the parts and pieces, get these cars developed, get them on the racetrack, get the deliveries to the teams obviously is very important for us to get right.

Certainly we’ve seen the development of the cars through the years. Obviously the Fifth Gen and the Car of Tomorrow was ’07, the Sixth Gen was 2013, six years later. As you noted, this was supposed to have been for 2021, an eight-year gap. With this car, how do you envision the future in the sense of is this a car for five years, and in five years from now you’re looking at starting this process over, or is this the car for the next 20 years?

STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, it’s really hard to say on that. Obviously we’ve taken — I would call the Car of Tomorrow kind of the car of safety. The Gen-6 car was really a middle ground where the styling started to come back but the safety features were there, and then this car really is a complete redesign. We heard drivers — Joey said a blank sheet, which is exactly what it was. But it took the technology from in some cases ’60s and ’70s technology into real relevance, and I think that was really important.

I’m not exactly sure if it’s just going to be iterations from here on out. Obviously we didn’t talk a lot about the power plant today. That will be a down-the-road thing and I’m sure there will be a question about that.

For us, creating that relevance, creating really this thought of we need to put the stock back in stock car racing, that’s what the styling does. That’s what the relevance does, and so that was the important thing for us.

Timeline, not sure. Iterations for sure over time, I just don’t have a timeline of what that would look like at this point.

Also it’s the hope, I know it goes with the engine, with a new OEM at some point, how important is it for the sport to have a new OEM and why?

STEVE PHELPS: Well, listen, I think that our existing OEMs would like a fourth or a fifth competitor to be on the racetrack with. We’ve got three phenomenal OEMs now. You can’t say enough about what Chevy, Toyota and Ford do for this sport and how important they are for this sport. Would it be nice to have another one? Yeah, it would be nice. It would help in a number of different areas, not just competing with the other three OEMs, but also provide additional support to the garage, which is important. The dollars only go so far, and you get kind of the mid to the back pack of the garage don’t get a ton of additional support from our OEMs. Having an additional OEM I think would certainly help in that area.

You’re a former marketing guy. Give me your best pitch as to why the fans should embrace this race car.

STEVE PHELPS: Well, I would say it’s really three things. First is the styling. I mean, the cars look phenomenal. It’s not like the existing car doesn’t look good. I think the existing car looks really good. But if you think about this car and its styling, it is a souped-up Camaro, it’s a souped-up Mustang and it’s a souped-up Camry. That’s what they are. It looks like you’ve gone to some type of outfit that’s taken a regular car and just made it look incredibly sporty, and I think that’s what it does. So that’s the first.

The second to me as a race fan really is going to be, hey, I think it’s cool that there’s a relevance to this race car that we haven’t seen frankly in 40, 50 years, and most importantly is I think the racing is going to be better. I’m no engineer as everyone knows, but I think you look at the aero in particular and the wake or the dirty air that comes from the existing car, the ability to reduce that, which this car does, or I’ve been told that’s what it does, and then the bigger tire patch and the wider tires with a softer compound I think will, again, create what I already believe is the best racing we’ve already had and will create even better racing.

The change from five lugs to a center lug, the change from teams actually manufacturing cars to buying from vendors, virtually a kit car in a way are seminal and huge shifts for what fans have expected. How will you balance those changes to what people will see on the racetrack?

STEVE PHELPS: Well, let me start with the first one, which is the single lug versus the five lugs. I would be hard-pressed, because I’ve seen it, hard-pressed for our fans, other than hitting the five lugs, the choreography of the pit stop is going to look exactly the same. Putting the one lug until it’s tight and locks is going to be the only difference as part of this.

The choreography is exactly the same. The number of folks over the wall, jacking up the car, taking the lug off, taking the tire off, putting the new tire on, hitting the lug. It’s exactly different, just hitting it once instead of five times.

I don’t think the fans are going to really notice a significant different. I really don’t, on that front.

And then with respect to — I would never refer to this as a kit car because I don’t think that’s what it is at all. We’ve tried to determine what’s important to the race fans, those things that are most important to them. Those things that are most important to the race fans are the things that they’re going to see. The skill of the drivers, the skill of the crew, that chemistry that is just between a driver and a crew chief to get the balance of the car right. All those things are what are going to make great racing.

The fact that there won’t be manufacturers and teams won’t be manufacturers, I don’t think a race fan frankly cares about that at this point, they just want great racing, which is what they’re going to see.

You’re going back to your roots. You’ve come full circle. We’ve come through the COT phase, and these are closer to — I get the safety on that. They’re not only closer to the street counterparts, and the racing is for the fans, but for the OEMs, it used to be win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Do you think that that is even stronger now with these, and did that kind of play into all your planning?

STEVE PHELPS: Well, listen, I would surmise that that’s exactly what’s going to happen. When I look at this race car, it looks exactly like the race car that I can potentially buy on Monday. Obviously the win on Sunday portion is important, so getting in Victory Lane for these guys is important for Chevy, Toyota and Ford, but I think absolutely getting back to our roots, getting back to kind of putting the stock back in stock car will help sell vehicles on Monday. That’s certainly what our expectation is. I’m sure it’s the expectation of our OEM partners, as well.

You can’t watch Nightly News without hearing that there’s a chip shortage. Any of your vendors suffering from a chip shortage, and how would that affect new teams coming on?

STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, I’m not really sure. That would be a good question for John or for Brandon. I’m not sure. It would just be conjecture on my part. But I would absolutely ask that follow-up question when they’re here.

Can you just give us an update on what the testing schedule is going to be for this car going forward? When can we expect to see it on track maybe more than one or two at a time?

STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, that’s a really good question, and I actually had that in my prep material, but it would be another really good question for John or for Brandon.

I know that when the teams are going to start delivery and I’ve seen all of that in the next testing, and all those dates have got jumbled in my mind, so I apologize for that, so that’s two questions in a row. Hopefully the next question I won’t be stumped.

Through this process, how many times have you woken up in the middle of the night with cold sweats and nightmares trying to figure out the next step and solve the next problem with this new generation car?

STEVE PHELPS: You know, I’ve got to be honest with you, we are — if you think of the team that’s been on this and the significant amount of prep work that they did even getting this thing off the ground, so clean sheet, hey, what’s this Next Generation car going to look like, it was actually before we called it next gen. It didn’t have a name. You think about John Probst and Brandon Thomas and all the other engineers on the NASCAR side and the OEMs and the significant amount of resources they’ve put against it, and then the teams themselves, I actually have very few sleepless nights.

I was certainly disappointed when we had to put pause on this for a year because I know what this is going to mean for the fans. I know what it’s going to mean for the industry. So that part was disappointing. But really no sleepless nights.

I imagine we get to the Daytona 500 next year, I’ll be — I’ll be obviously very eager and excited about it, but there will be just a little tinge of, oh, boy, we’ve got to get this first race under our belt. But it’s really exciting and just a phenomenal team that has collaborated together to bring us to this point.

Still much work to do, obviously, but really to get us to this point where we have the unveil is really exciting.

Right now the competition on the racetrack is very good, and is there any worry that when you bring something out new you don’t necessarily know what that competitive balance is, and sometimes it takes a while to get back to what it is now. Is there any worry about that, or do you feel they’ll hit the ground running and we’ll see the same competitive level?

STEVE PHELPS: You know, we’re not going to know until we get out there. I have been told by our engineers with all the sim data that we have that the car actually will be racier than the existing car.

But you’re right; you look at the competition on the racetrack over the last year and a quarter, it’s arguably the best racing we’ve ever had. 10 winners in 11 races, the competitiveness that exists, the cars are racy and the drivers are driving the wheels off these cars.

I’m excited to see what our drivers are going to do when they climb into these cars at the Daytona 500 next year. I do believe we’re going to see some phenomenal racing just based on what we know about this car and the features that are in this car that would allow for really great racing.

Just an observation I made on the way the cars are kind of set up. Today you had Chevy’s logo in the back, Ford’s in the front, Toyota’s kind of center. Is that kind of — was that planned or is that kind of a signal to NASCAR fans that you might be seeing numbers being able to be put in different spots going forward?

STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, no decisions yet on the numbers. That was really the decision of the manufacturers, how they were going to do the styling of their own vehicles, the paint-outs, which wheels they were going to put on because there are different wheel options they could have. That was really up to them.

We’re doing some research right now. We did some research when we did the numbers initially at All-Star last year. You know what, it’s mixed. There are some fans that absolutely hate it and there are fans that absolutely love it, so no decision as to what we’re going to do on where those numbers are going to be placed. We’re working with our teams on it. The teams are fielding a study, as well, right now. So that’s kind of a TBD.

Certainly with this car you’ve talked about the cost containment and helping costs for teams down the road. Obviously at one point NASCAR was looking at maybe potential spending limits for teams. Is that something that’s still something that you’re looking at in play, or does this car kind of change that thinking?

STEVE PHELPS: Well, I think for us, it’s something that we had looked at previously with our race teams. Again, right now it’s not something that we’re going to put in place for 2022. Listen, we’ll explore whatever we can explore to help our teams with their profitability. Healthy, profitable teams puts on better racing, and that’s exactly what our fans want.

The more competitive or healthy our race teams are, the more likely it is they’re going to bring fast race cars to the racetrack, and the more of them that can do that just creates better racing.

Right now some type of limit on spending is not something that we’re going to entertain for ’22. We will keep our options open for ’23 and beyond.

THE MODERATOR: Steve, thank you for taking the time to join us today and we look forward to seeing this car on track.

STEVE PHELPS: Thanks, guys. Appreciate your time.