NASCAR president Mike Helton, Sprint Cup Series managing director of competition John Darby, and vp of competition Robin Pemberton met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway to discuss changes to championships and potential point system changes, future technical changes and other issues.
MIKE HELTON: Just very quickly, welcome to 2011 and welcome to Daytona. After our 2010 season and the conclusion and the competition that took place on the racetrack, we've got a lot of hope and excitement going into 2011, and we're very excited about the confidence level and the enthusiasm that I think the drivers have got right now about being eager and anxious to get back to what they were doing. You couple that with what we saw on the racetracks last year and the conclusion of the season, and we feel very good about the start of 2011 here at Daytona for the Daytona 500 and all of Speedweeks with all of our national series. So we're eager to get going, I guess I could say in just a few words.
You know, there's headlines and topics and things that I suspect we'll go over as many of them as we can today. We'll answer them as precisely as we can and be open and candid about ones that we may not have final answers on.
Obviously, we're in the middle of a lot of stakeholder meetings, the most obvious ones are the ones with the team owners and the drivers, and during the off-season and as the season progresses and we make a list of things and have conversations about topics that we may look at making changes to, the off-season gives us an opportunity to focus specifically on those, and after the holidays we can get busy talking to the proper stakeholders and go over our conclusion, our decision, and in some cases it's a function of a collaborative effort with the racetracks and particularly with the drivers and the owners and coming up with some finality to our process.
So we're in the middle of that, and it should be wrapped up by next week, and we'll be eager to get the season going.
Having said that, the one topic I think that has enough finality to it to go ahead and put it out on the table, and I'm sure there will be questions about it, but it is the fact that the 2011 driver applications went out in the mail to the drivers. It had in it a paragraph and a point where you would declare in which national series you would collect points – championship points as a driver – and you could only pick one of those.
And so we can get into more answers around the questions you may have about that, but that is one topic I think that's out there that will probably be safe to say will be talked about a little bit today.
But having said that, again, I want to thank you and welcome you to Daytona. This is the 53rd annual Daytona 500, but after 30-some years in this business, I still get excited to pull inside this tunnel, and walking through the garage area and even talking to the guys in the meetings, the owners and the drivers in particular and, quite frankly, a group of drivers who represent NASCAR's future, there's still a high level of energy and enthusiasm to get the season started but more importantly to do it in Daytona in the Speedweeks environment.
The surface this year I think adds some mystique to that in some ways, but adds a lot of other levels of energy to it, as well.
Q. John, could you address the transition process, the next step in your career and where that whole new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director position is at, please?
JOHN DARBY: Yeah, I think so. Our plans haven't changed, although we've been so busy, especially in working on last season, the development of the car, the change-over from wings to spoilers, the new nose, everything that's new, and you see for this year as well as working real hard on just our base competition not only in the Cup Series but all three national series, it was more of a priority shift, I guess.
The plan for movement is still alive and well. I think we're still actively seeking a replacement as a Cup director to which will ultimately allow me to move to my new position. But, for the meantime, we've just kind of folded that all into one. Racing is what we do, and the priority became to manage the Cup Series and do what we could for the '10 season, and we did that and will continue to do that until the timing is right.
I think even last January on the initial announcement of the promotion we were quick and repeatedly said that the time line wasn't as important as finding the right person and making that transition smoothly. I'm still happy doing what I'm doing, and I'll be happy to do the next step.
MIKE HELTON: The only thing I'd add to that quickly is John was spot on on everything he said, and fortunately for NASCAR, there's not a hole or a void, so there's not an emergency-type situation. It was our desire this time last year to be much further along than we were in that process of succession, but we do enjoy the benefit of a lot of great talent in our sport who can move around and do things.
Q. My question involves selecting which series you're going to compete for the championship in. Nationwide, the title sponsor of that series, expressed a preference for some sort of sunset provision that would have allowed perhaps Carl [Edwards] and Brad [Keselowski] to compete for the title this year. Was that considered, and why ultimately was that not incorporated in the change?
And as John said, we focused more on the urgent issues than maybe we should have focused on searching for the Cup Series director. But that is ongoing. It is high on our list to accomplish sooner than later.
MIKE HELTON: It was considered, and Nationwide had expressed that to us as well as some of the drivers, that particularly Carl and Brad had expressed, "OK, can you just give me one more year?" We stuck to the decision once we made it – and felt like it was better for everybody concerned, the whole industry, to go ahead and draw the line and not have any lingering effects to it. And we've done that with other decisions we've made. We've also made advanced decisions and put a time line out there to reach.
But on this particular one, and we've been talking about this topic for a few seasons, we decided that it's in the best interest for the industry, even though there were some that get caught up in it, but it's the best overall decision to go ahead and make that call and go ahead and draw the line and say, no, it starts and stops right here.
Q. Can you give us an update on where you stand with Rookies of the Year? Yesterday the Wood Brothers announced that Trevor Bayne would be running some 17 races or so. Will that make him eligible for that program this season?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: You know, as we continue our talks with all the teams and the stakeholders, picking a series has been one of the topics, we know that we'll have to make some adjustments to the Rookie of the Year and their eligibility. We're talking to some of the parties that this directly affects, and I believe that we'll make some adjustments to that that won't hurt a rookie coming forward who wants to move up into the Cup Series and run for Rookie of the Year. But we're in the middle of talks for that.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about a potential change for the points system, and even if you are not at the stage of announcing that today, the 1 to 43 points have been discussed a lot. And I wonder if you can talk about, even if you can't announce it today, what merit something like that would have, put some perspective on that thought, perhaps, and change or no change; how much really changing things big-time would shake the fans up or not?
MIKE HELTON: In regards to the points, I think where we're at today is, again, we're in the middle of the conversations, actually telling the competitors where our mind is. And the goal was and has been for several years, but the goal is to have a more simple points system. If you look at all of motorsports and even sports, as well, it sometimes is complicated. Even for us we have to occasionally go to the rulebook and look at what position got what points.
So the goal for some time has been to create a points system that is easy to understand, easy to explain, easy to be talked about, but also be credible at the end of the season. And so it's a function of taking the current one that establishes the criteria for the credibility because of its length of time we've used it more than anything and come up with one that you can sit and have a conversation with someone and say, 'Well, what do you think about this?', and they sit there and say, 'Well, that's pretty simple.'
The main goal is to get one that's just easier to understand and simpler, but you have to do that with credibility around the championship. And we're close – we're getting a lot of great input from the drivers about the tweaks that would go along with something like that, so it's actually been fun to work on.