Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our sport in 2011? Maybe it's something that we are not aware of or something that was left over from last year, say TV ratings or whatever? And, how have you addressed that and how do you plan to address what you feel is the biggest challenge going forward?
MIKE HELTON: Well, we address things on a routine basis. And I think by doing that, we can't always look around corners or we can't always see what the next step holds. But we certainly all have a huge appetite to try to figure those things out as they come.
Obviously the whole world, and particularly the United States and some marketplaces that we go race in or more so than others are still burdened with the economy, and that's something I think that not just our sport but all sports, all forms of entertainment, a lot of businesses, different categories of businesses have had to struggle with creating new models of how they do their business and how you adapt to the current times.
And in our industry in particular, in NASCAR, we've got so many layers of different categories of businesses, from the sponsorship level or the businesses inside the sport that make the sport work, like racetracks and team owners and NASCAR itself that has stepped up to the table and has looked at its business models to keep the sport going and then help it get back on a growth pattern.
That's what I started out with in part is the confidence that we've got that our race cars and our race car drivers on racetracks are exciting. They're doing their job. Our drivers and our team owners and their crew members are doing their job for us, and now the rest of us can take that with hope and energy and apply it to all the new models that exist out there from a business level and make NASCAR work pretty well.
Q. Mike, just to get into the sort of technical apparatus of the points, if a driver is racing for the Cup championship but runs in Nationwide or Truck, does he get points? Is he going to show in the weekly roundup of the point standings in the other two series? And the other thing is, if there is an NFL lockout this year, do you see that as a benefit for NASCAR?
MIKE HELTON: Well, first of all, on the points piece, the race results would show the finishing position and the points for that finishing position would go to the car owner and not the driver. So a series of driver points wouldn't show up for a Cup driver who was running another national series.
You know, I think there's a lot of headlines out there in all other sports, and they look at us, we look at them, we look at other entertainment businesses, whether it's concerts or movies or whatever, and we all kind of look at each other. None of them want any other one to have a bad run.
Q. Mike, analysts are saying that gas prices are going to reach $4 a gallon by this summer, could rise to $5 a gallon by next year. What steps are NASCAR taking to counteract that rising fuel cost both for the fan and for the sport itself?
In our case, I think our best effort is spent on delivering the absolute best races at the best facilities that we can. So if someone doesn't have an opportunity to participate in some other form of entertainment and they choose us to participate for that moment, that we capture them and they say, I enjoyed that, I liked that, I may go back, I think that's where our effort is every day for any reason.
MIKE HELTON: Well, I wish we had enough influence to influence fuel prices, but we don't. But on a serious note, I think the things we look at and the steps we take, we announced last year the move to ethanol as part of our international series. We're looking at other forms of alternative energy that can be used in our different forms of racing from Grand-Am to the regional programs and even in the national series in the future.
So we're addressing the topics to be, a good partner in our country and in our environment, and we're also working hard to be sure that we deliver correctly for the NASCAR community, the fans and the truck operators, the automobile manufacturers, the sponsors, and that's not a single answer. There's no one replacement for what we've grown accustomed to using when it comes to driving our car down an Interstate. It's a lot of different pieces.
Q. Can you talk about where we stand with the 2013 model, and, also, how has the response been from going E15 this week, what changes have we made, what changes will we see going forward with the setup in the garage?
But we're committed to be relevant in that environment and be relevant to that topic and be the good players in all that and be conscientious, and in doing so, part of that is the messaging to the fans of the sport to be of that same mindset. And then just do the best we can when – if – the prices of fuel have impacts, we have to be mindful of that. But I think the bigger topic in the meantime is for us to be working object our own efforts to be relevant to the whole scheme of things.
JOHN DARBY: The 2013 model stock car I think is just beginning. We've had some preliminary meetings that have had a tremendous amount of input from the four participating manufacturers, and their eagerness to get the project going. Through the years we've kind of come full circle in understanding how to blend the aerodynamic matching of the vehicles and what parts really matter and where we've got the luxury to move and bend as it relates to the design of racecars.
If you would look at the car we left before our current racecar, that was that everybody had the same templates and walked through that process of the new Cup car that's currently on the racetrack and then the transition to the new Nationwide car where we started to apply some of the techniques in letting the manufacturers have some real estate back, if you will, and the appearance of the new Nationwide cars that jumps out at you, and with the 13 car for Cup we're working very hard on even giving more of that real estate back to the manufacturers.
I think that's a lot of where the new excitement and energy comes in helping develop a new body. Be mindful of the fact we're talking about a body change – we're not talking about a whole new racecar here. But the end product I think will be pleasing not only to the competitors that are driving them but to the fans that are watching them on the racetrack, and most importantly the manufacturers that are helping support and promote those models of vehicles in our sport.
The second part with the fueling, the biggest change I think is the physical components that you see, the addition of the components on the fueling cans that the teams use in the garage and will use up and down pit road that is more of a closed-loop system. Sunoco has done a really nice job on developing a vapor recovery system, much like if you have filled your cars in California you understand the nozzle and the pump panel are just not the same.
So it's a lot of those changes that are not only helping us with the fuel problems that exist in America but they've brought us into the ethanol world, which is helpful. Engines love it. The transition from leaded fuel to unleaded fuel was a much larger project than this transition, because once the fuel was dry, became dry, the lack of lead, as the new fuel is, it's just a blending difference with the addition of the ethanol.
But ethanol is good for horsepower, so the engine builders' transition was small. The bigger one is what's going on in the physical areas of putting the fuel in the car, the environmental benefits of capturing those vapors and creating a safer environment at the fuel pumps.