NASCAR Media Conference: A Look Back & a Look Ahead
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. I'd like to thank wheeler and the entire staff of Lowe's Motor Speedway for what you do with the media tour, and we are proud to be a part of it. Appreciate what you all do for the industry. I'd also like to welcome two members from NASCAR's board of directors, president Mike Helton is with us today, as well as Lisa Kennedy. It's good to have y'all with us today. Of course, the chairman will be introduced in a little while. As we prepare for the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, we look to build off the momentum created by a thrilling 2004 season that featured the inaugural chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. The season provided many highlights and memories, and it culminated with the closest championship finish in NASCAR history. A mere eight points separated champion Kurt Busch and runner-up Jimmie Johnson. The first 26 races set the stage for a great season, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. got the 2004 season kicked off in grand fashion. Dale, Jr. Joined his late father, Dale, as a Daytona 500 champion, and they became the third father/son combination to win the great American race. A snapshot of the highlights during the Race to the Chase included, 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth making his presence felt at the outset of the season with consecutive wins at Rockingham and Las Vegas. Yet another generation of the young guns was born as 24-year-old rookie Kasey Kahne immediately showed his promise with two poles and three runner-up finishes in his first seven career starts. He went on to earn Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. Veterans Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin showed they still had plenty left in their tanks and they had long-awaited returns to victory lane. Rusty won in April, his first triumph of since 2001. Mark Martin emerged victorious at Dover in June, his first since 2002, and it provided a glimpse of his resurgence. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon made it evident he was making a drive-for-five. Over the first 26 races, Gordon recorded back-to-back victories on two occasions, winning Talladega and California, and then Infineon and Daytona, and he also had a run of four consecutive poles. In addition, he won a fourth Brickyard 400. Kurt Busch extended a streak of his own with his third consecutive victory at Bristol coming in March. Jimmie Johnson won at Darlington, Charlotte and Pocono, setting the stage for season sweeps at all three tracks. He became the first driver since Dale Earnhardt in 1987 to sweep at three or more tracks in a season. And who could forget the drama at Richmond in September, which determined which drivers would qualify for the Chase. Fifteen drivers had an opportunity to make the Chase that evening. Jeremy Mayfield seized the moment with a victory, which moved him from 14th to ninth and a berth in the Chase. And that led us to the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. As many of you know NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France made the announcement for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup a year ago right here in the research and development center during this media tour. It was a bold move that produced a memorable championship battle. After seeing the championship come down to the final lap of the final race, the Chase achieved the goals that Brian and NASCAR had envisioned. Joining Brian in the program today been a forum of current drivers coupled with some legendary champions to discuss their thoughts on the upcoming season, as well as the Chase. Before we meet our guests, let's take a look at last season's thrilling Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. (Video played) Ladies and gentlemen, NASCAR chairman and CEO, Brian France.
BRIAN FRANCE: Thank you, Jim. I also wants to thank Humpy Wheeler and his team for hosting the 2005 media tour. Thanks for having us and thanks for making this an annual forum for NASCAR to share its upcoming season, so we really appreciate it. I'd also like to thank in advance the drivers who are going to join me later on today, past champions, current champion, Kurt Busch, and maybe some future champions will all be huddled up for some questions and answers shortly. You know, 2004 is undoubtedly going to go down as either the greatest season we've ever had, or one of greatest seasons we've ever had. And there are really two reasons that you talk about it in that context and there's two ways that we measure that. No. 1 is that we make racing better. Was the racing on the track more exciting? Did we showcase the opportunities for the best drivers in the world to do their thing? And the answer is absolutely. And the Chase, was that a big part of that? Of course. But our drivers stepped up to the plate and showed that when there was more on the line, they would give special performances, and they did. We're grateful for that. The second thing that we look at in terms of measuring was it a really good season or not was, did we meet our goals, and all of the things that we had going on when you think about NEXTEL, you think about Sunoco, Toyota joining the Truck series. You think about all of the initiatives that we launched, and could we pull those off correctly; the answer is, I think we did. I think our team, it reads for the whole industry to be able to absorb that many changes and pull off a fantastic season. What we've really got now is a fantastic season in '04 that's created momentum for us in '05, and that's the key for us to keep growing in the future. And not all the time in the past have we gone into the next year with a lot of momentum, and with momentum is anticipation, anticipation because you went out on such a big high. There were drivers who almost had their moment and missed it. There were others that had it. So all kinds of things that give us a good feeling and excitement to start '05 and the Daytona 500. I think, above all, what you're really going to see is the strategy change. You know, when we announced the Chase, and you heard a lot of things, you heard you'd better get ready for the final ten and you'd better strap it on for the final ten, and that's all true. You'd better have your A Game in August going into September. But what now is, that read in talking to the drivers and the teams, is that urgency better be there a little bit earlier. It better be there starting with the Daytona 500 at the end of March, April, May, because you don't want to be trying to burst in to the final ten on Richmond weekend. And also, you don't want to be trying a whole lot of new things out when you're coming in with your own set of momentum. I think the strategy in '05 is going to do just what we had hoped. It wasn't, in fact, going to make the first ten races -- or rather, the first 26 races less valuable; it's going to make it more valuable. And then the final ten races will be what we all hope for, which is a shootout with the best drivers in that given year who are ready to step up and perform at a high level. I'll close a little bit today, too, talking about our challenges and opportunities as we look at '05. I've been asked the last three or four months about what big changes do you have, do you have any new initiatives, what are you going to do to grow the sport and those things. Two things; we were digesting a lot of initiatives as everyone in this room well knows. And then the second thing is the media savvy people on my team said, look, if we announce any more initiatives, we are going to overwork the media, and you are going to get on the media's bad side. So you'd better take it a little easy in '90, and we have. I will tell you a few things that we are trying to keep our eye on. One is, it's the toughest task in sports that we have to do two things, or really three things, to look at the parity of the manufacturers, the three manufacturers currently, and count Toyota in the Truck series. So to keep that parity, where all of them feel like they have a real opportunity and a fair playing field is no easy task. If you think about '04, you never heard, well, this guy has an advantage or whatever. That means that our team in the R&D center was doing their job, and it's a tough job. The other thing that we are trying to make sure of at all times is are we doing enough in the safety area. Are we investing enough, are we out in front the next curve, the next invention, the next set of goals that we can build on. Gary Nelson has devoted primarily all of his time and many others to that very goal. And every month, every quarter, we're making a little progress here and a big step here, and there's going to be a continued, ongoing issue. The third, usually important that we are now zeroed in on, and we might have been slightly behind, or however you want to look at it in the past, was the cost. Everybody's talking about it worldwide, all motorsports, costs are going one way or they are going the wrong way. We are committed, and that's another benefit we have, we're the only one in motorsports to have a research and development center where we have people working all the time of trying to get the cost out of system. We pulled a lot of costs out in the Busch Series, and we'll be pulling out more as we can in the NEXTEL Cup and that is with the ingenuity of our teams; that, again, is no easy task. You heard me in New York and you heard our team at various times talk about diversity. We have got to make progress; we've got to make improvements. Lisa and I and others were out with Magic Johnson, who is co-chairing our diversity council, and we are make progress; our Drive For Diversity is working. We are looking at drivers that would have never had an opportunity in the past, and it's going to take time. We have a lot of smart people that are committed, starting with me; I'm on the committed side, the smart people are on the other side, but are working hard. Our international growth and strategy which we think we have to have to grow our franchise around the world. You're all aware that we are headed down south to Mexico City, and it will be on the FOX network, by the way, that event; our alignment with others in Canada to the north. So we are looking at opportunities worldwide racing is either No. 1 or No. 2, and we want to try to create as many opportunities for our drivers, teams and tracks in that area as we can. We are in the midst of our TV renewals and we will be throughout the better part of this year, and our goal is -- first and primary goal is to renew with our partner. They are doing a wonderful job, both FOX and NBC, Turner, FX, SPEED. We have got the best media partners, and our goal is to try to go long into the future with them. Finally, is to keep the momentum that we have. Keep the industry going in the same direction. We did get through some things last year that were a distraction, and now we are all focused on trying to grow the industry. We've got some veteran drivers who are saying good-bye to NASCAR that are well-earned careers and well-deserving of the accolades that they will be getting this year. And then we are blessed with having a young group of drivers in the last several years that are getting younger and younger. Because now, NASCAR today is clearly the No. 1 place, if you're the best driver in the world, to showcase your skills and talents. So we've got a lot of young talent. We've still got some great veterans and we'll be saying good-bye to some old friends as well. So more than anything, we're excited about '05. We are excited about the Daytona 500. Ticket sales across the industry are going in the right direction. Economy seems to be getting better. We've got a lot of question marks behind us, and we've got an exciting format in the Chase that we know we can build on and we're very, very much looking forward to '05. Again, thanks for coming today. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Now let's meet our special guests who will serve as our forum, along with Brian. Ladies and gentlemen, seven-time NASCAR champion and seven-time Daytona 500 winner, the King, Richard Petty. (Applause.) Richard, I've got a question for you.
RICHARD PETTY: Go for it.
MODERATOR: You of all people are familiar with a change in scoring or a change in point formats since you won seven championships under five different systems. This last change might have been a little more bold than some of those that you were a part of, but do you see this as a part of the evolution and the growth of the sport?
RICHARD PETTY: Well, yeah, I guess I do. You talk about having five different championship points, and they started with one when my father won some championships; and they didn't like that, so they changed it; and didn't like it and changed it again. So really, I don't know whether they are trying to modernize or look for something that will work and that everybody understands. You know, every time we change, everybody always said, man, we liked the last one better or whatever, and they are doing the same thing now. So once we run the first year with the new championship points, then you know you've got the believers and the non-believers that it's going to work or that it's better. After the first year, then next year, you'll hear less of it. By the third year, they will be the champion and they won't be comparing with anything. I was fortunate, like you say, to win no matter what, because going into the season, you know what -- you know what you've got to do to win the championship. You know how the points are. So it was the same thing this year, and it will be the same thing if it changes again.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, three-time series champion, former Daytona 500 winner and FOX Television broadcaster, Darrell Waltrip. (Applause.) Old DW; "old" is the key phrase there.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Thanks very much. Thanks for reminding me.
MODERATOR: I have a question for you, too. Everyone has now got a year of experience with the new format. Clearly the first 26 races of the season are critical in order to qualify for the Chase. What advice would you give drivers today for the early races to get them in a position for the championship run?
DARRELL WALTRIP: Yeah -- check my notes, I want to be sure I get this right. I guess the biggest thing is be consistent. Every points system we've had whether it was something that Richard had won the championship, every system that we've had rewards consistency. And so I think you look at whether we are running 26 races, 36 race, ten races, you've still got to finish every race, or at least that would be the best way to assure yourself of being in the Chase. So I think that the thing that if you look at all of the points systems we've had, the thing that's different about this one, all of the others have included all the races. This sort of makes it a ten-race special shootout kind of a thing. But I think the biggest thing about consistency is, we still reward -- there's not a big enough differences between -- if you go out and win every race like we saw Jimmie Johnson do, if you have one or two bad races, the reward for winning is not as great as the problem that you're going to have if you don't finish the races, falling out of the races. Big difference right there. So be consistent and don't beat up yourself; that's the other thing.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, Kasey Kahne of Evernham Motorsports. (Applause.) Welcome, Kasey. You flirted throughout the season with a berth in the Chase and also barely missed out on an opportunity in your rookie season. Can you point to something you learned in the first half of the season a year ago in terms of strategy or driving mentality that could make a difference this year in whether or not you improve on what you did last year?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I think, you know, really just looking back at the season, you know, I think when I fell out of races, it was early in the race, and you know, we had some 40th, 41st, 42nd, high 30s, and that's a huge deal to lose points on. So I think consistency is a huge thing, like Darrell was saying, and just be more consistent the first half of the season. You know, we never ran good at Richmond, either, and that's a critical racetrack. It comes down to, you know, everybody puts everything in and it's really close right there at the end when you get to Richmond. We finished both races and didn't run good in either one. So I think that's another track that we really need to work on, because no matter what, it's going to be close with ten to go and at the very end of the season, also.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, 11th place finisher in the inaugural Chase, Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing. (Applause.) Jamie and I were briefly visiting earlier and I gave him the best advice I could give any young driver today: Do not use Darrell Waltrip as a role model. (Laughter). I've got a question for you, Jamie. In 2003, Kurt Busch ended up 11th, and roared back the next year to win the championship. You finished 11th in 2004, which resulted in a million dollar payout and a trip to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup banquet. Did the near-miss make you more eager to put together something where you are in that final ten this year?
JAMIE McMURRAY: Probably so. It's kind of hard to use what Kurt did last year, because the guy that finished 10th might have finished 20th the following year in points, so you can't really go off of that. I think the biggest thing for our race team just is that we ran so well last year. If we had finished the races, we'd finish in the Top-10, I think we had the second most of any of the drivers. And we acknowledge the weaknesses of the team, Chip and Donny and I and Andy and Tony, we all sat down and talked about what we thought we needed to do to make our race team better, and they have done that. They have stepped up the pit crew. We felt like that was a big weakness. Other than that, we just need to run a little bit better. We ran the Top-10 a lot, but just could not quite get to the Top-5. Donny has become a little bit more aggressive on building the race cars and really feel like that's going to be what it takes for us to make that next step. So I'm ready to start this new points system over for a second season and just try to get into the Chase.
MODERATOR: Four-time series runner-up and fourth place finisher in the Chase, Mark Martin of Roush Racing. (Applause.) Mark, you're a veteran, but you immediately embraced the Chase concept last year. What intrigued you about the new format, and what was it in your words, it was 'the hardest thing you've ever done'?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I think when the fans win, everybody wins. You know, from a competitor's standpoint, you know, my belief is that one man's gain is another man's loss, because you've got a certain number of competitors out there. So anyone that gains, there's someone that has to lose from that. But when the fans win, everybody wins. And that was without question in my mind, you know, going to be a big gain for the fans. I think it proved -- it could even be a cooler deal for the fans than I expected.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, raining NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series champion, Kurt Busch of Roush Racing. (Applause.) You came into the Chase in the 8th position and emerged as the champion. You opened the Chase with a victory and were remarkably consistent throughout the ten-race stretch and led for the final eight weeks. Despite the consistency, you were in a dogfight right to the very end. Can you discuss the pressures on not only trying to cling to the championship lead each week, but also, in avoiding trouble as the season goes on, so that you're in a position to get in the Chase at the end of the year.
KURT BUSCH: Avoiding trouble was probably the toughest aspect, spinning a couple of times; and Charlotte, the way that went for us; and Kansas was probably the most memorable. But obviously, when you go to Homestead/Miami and have a wheel fall off, during the biggest day of your life, that was probably the most exciting time in my life that I can tell you about. But these final ten races, the way that you have to attack a playoff-type system is that you have a regular season of 26 races now where you're going to have your big races. You're going Daytona; you're going to have the Coca-Cola 600; and you're going to have Indianapolis. Those are small races that, well, if one of them fits into the final ten races, then you pay more attention to those. Such as when we go to Atlanta the first time this year, that's a race that falls into the final ten. That's one aspect that our team looked forward to was to develop the best setup that we could in the springtime, so that we didn't have to use a test for the latter part of the year. Once you get ahead of the game, I believe that helped us handle the pressure. Jimmy Fennig is a very wise and experienced crew chief that I've laid all of my odds on and thanked him for all of his information. And the way that we stayed ahead of the game for those ten weeks, got the points I believe after the second race of the Chase, and we were heading into Talladega restrictor plate race, knowing that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the toughest competitor. When you go to the next event, Charlotte was in there. We know Jimmie Johnson is going to be a tough competitor. Jeff Gordon is very strong in all of them. And, of course, the top ten competitors are the only guys you're looking at, but you know you're going have the guys like Greg Biffle that sneak in there for a win, or a guy like Joe Nemechek can run strong at specific tracks, such as Kansas. Staying ahead of the game is probably the biggest key element that took us to the championship this year. And I hope that we're able to realize these next 26 races are a bit different now for what we have to do for those races, and still continue to attack the final ten the same way to help us defend our championship our proper way without coming out on top.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Gentlemen, thank all of you. For those of you that don't know mine and Darrell Waltrip's relationship, I was not serious when I said, don't use him as a role model. I mean, he would be --
DARRELL WALTRIP: You always have been serious.
MODERATOR: He would be a great role model -- no, I'm just, I figured I'd better kiss back up. (Laughter). Thank all of you for joining us today for this forum, and all of them are available for media questions at this time.
Q. Brian, one of the big things about in the off-season is there's been a lot of talk about your role changing potentially in the sport and a lot of rumors that I know you've addressed them at some point. But now that we are all in one room, can you address those rumors and put them to rest, and do you have any idea where they came from and is there any idea that you were going to change your position in NASCAR?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I hope not but, you know, look, I'm only 42 years old, so it's a little too early for me to retire. So that's that. Look, we had a great year. I'm looking forward to '05. We've got a deep-structured team anyway, but I'm not planning to go anywhere, and that's really, the extent of anything I could comment to. I don't know where that started.
Q. Do you anticipate any changes in the Chase for the Championship format, and if so, when might they be announced?
BRIAN FRANCE: We don't anticipate anything for '05. We did look hard at making any potential adjustments but, you know, when you think about it, we had five guys going into the final race, eight points separated first and second. So we feel like we've got a pretty good system. And I would agree with what Darrell said, too, the consistency which we never said was going to get thrown off to the side, it still matters, but I think urgency matters maybe a little bit more than it ever has. But on balance, we are pretty happy with where we're at, and we'll take a look at it and go through another cycle with the teams. I said the word "strategy" up there. I think we are going to have a bit of a different strategy, and we'll see how that plays into '05, but we are set for '05.
Q. Darrell, the great championship battles that you were in, you were always able to focus in on like one guy, and kind of create a little bit of a psychological thing there. It almost seemed like in the Chase, there were too many guys to really create a rivalry toward the end of the Chase. Do you see that as a downside of actually having too many people going for a title at the end of the last race?
DARRELL WALTRIP: No. I think when you look at the Chase, we compare it to what happened in '03. You know, '03 was a runaway, and occasionally with every points system that we ever will think of, this one included, you're going to have a runaway. Jimmie Johnson could have run away with it in the ten races and Kurt could have run away with it in ten races. That's always that possible. I think the thing that makes this year exciting versus last year is the fact that one guy just sort of ran away with the championship and nobody could compete. I think quite honestly, if you ask Jamie or most of the guys, they would say there wasn't enough guys in the Chase. I think we might want to think about expanding it, throw out the 400 points and take the Top 15 maybe. There were guys like Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett and Kevin Harvick and others that, you know Rusty has always been in the Top-10, and he may have had a chance to get in the Top-10. I don't think you can have too many people battling for the championship as far as what we all do is concerned. Now as far as these guys that drive the cars, they may feel differently, but the more the merrier in that case. Just means more heads to work on. You keep you up later, you know, a little more homework.
Q. For the King, you and the Woods brothers were the only organizations left since the early days of racing. How do you stay in it in the years to come, and what advice would you give to other teams who may be struggling?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, we started in -- I guess my dad ran the very first race, so we were in Charlotte in 1964. And that was just our business. I always explain it like the farmer, and then his son comes along and he farms; and his next son comes along and he farms, and that's sort of the way we looked at it, for the Petty crowd to make a living and just get along. As far as, you know, other teams coming in and staying, like what the Woods' boys and Petty boys had done, I don't really see that, because the last few people that's come in in the last 10, 12 years, 15 years, they looked at the money. The money came up and as the money came up; then you've got people investing in the racing business. Most of the owners now have some kind of business that racing is basically their sideline. It's not a varied thing that makes a living. With the Woods' boys and Petty boys, this was our way of making a living. We didn't have any other business to back us up. So I don't see people staying around and doing as much later on as what they have. Just one of the deals where we are sort of wanting to do a franchise deal; so that when we got ready to leave, we'd have something left because we didn't have another business, but that's not come to be. And so we'll just have to wait and see what comes down the road.
Q. For Kurt, Mark, Jamie and Kasey, can you guys talk a little about now that you've had the experience of a year with the Chase for the championship, if your teams might approach it differently because of the way things played out last year and through the first 26 races if you would approach that any differently in terms of strategies.
KURT BUSCH: I think for us, regular season of 26 races with valuable races in between those, we've got the advantage of knowing what exactly we did as a team to accomplish our goals. For us to start out the same way, we built the best possible car for the Daytona 500. Then we move on into the schedule to know what races we are going to put more emphasis on. You have your divisional rivals, you have your games that you have, like on a baseball weekend where you run three games against a specific team that you know you're going to be playing against in the playoffs. Those are the challenges that we look at in NASCAR now with this new regular season versus the playoff. So it's one fun aspect that you can compare to other sports, but yet we still can have one bad race in the playoffs and still be able to make up for it in the final ten races.
MARK MARTIN: We played the hand that we were dealt. Obviously, if you want to be realistic about it, we didn't plan to blow up on the 8th lap of the Daytona 500 and turn around two races later and break another engine and fall out of three of the first six races. After that, we had to deal -- we had to play the hand that we were dealt. So I think that in reality, every team has to do that. What we would have loved to have done was scored points all throughout the first 26 races and the first 20 races that would put us comfortably into the Chase, saved all of our tests, like the 97 and the 17 did, and go into the Chase there with a lot of tests left and looking good. We weren't there; we had to use all of our tests; we had to fight as hard as we've ever fought in any battle in our whole lives just to make the Chase, and a lot of that was not really our own doing. So I think in reality, you have to play the hand you're dealt.
JAMIE McMURRAY: We Just kind of like what Mark says, and just tried to win the race. With about eight races to go, I think I was in 11th, like two or three points out, and we had sat down as a team and said if somebody gets underneath, you need give them an extra couple of feet, just be a little bit more cautious right now because we were running well enough definitely to make it in, and I think we blew up a couple of motors and got in a couple of wrecks shortly after that. After that, we just said, forget it, and go out what you have been doing -- for me sense I was eight -- is you go out every week and you try to win. I don't know any other way to go about it.
KASEY KAHNE: I think with myself being a rookie and not knowing which tracks we'd be really good at and which tracks we would not be as good at, it was tough on the team to really know where to work early in the season. So this year we have a better, you know, idea of which tracks we need to test at, where I struggle, where I need to work on more. And also the cars, we weren't really good at the restrictor plate races, and I think that's going to be somewhere we are a lot better this year is restrictor plate races and we're looking forward to that. We'll also be able to save some of our tests for the last ten races, which last year Tony wanted to start off the season really strong and test early, and it worked, but we didn't have any tests at the end of the year. We'll be ABLE to save some for the end of the year and that should help.
Q. My question is for the King. If I could ask you from the perspective of a car owner, specifically, as sponsors' contracts are coming up for renewal, do you think it's possible that they will want to structure the contracts in terms of the Chase? In other words, will you do X amount for the first 26 races and then if you make the Chase, we'll give you Z amount; and if so, is that any reason for concern? Do you worry about that? Will that change the way you do business very much?
RICHARD PETTY: Well, I guess you've got to look at different -- different organizations look at it different. Most of the time when you sign up with a year-long sponsor, they do promotions all year long whether you win or not. And so a lot of times you wind up with a good sponsor that doesn't really worry about where you run. They want you to win and do that, but that doesn't help them sell their product. So you have to do that on appearances and cereal boxes or whatever it is. With our sponsors, Georgia Pacific and Brawny, we have not heard anything about it one way or the other, and I can't speak for the other sponsors, but I still think that the majority of the sponsors don't look from race to race to race to sell their product. They look more at overall program that they sit down and do. So far, like I say, it's not affected us, and really, I have not really heard anybody say anything about it.
Q. I'd love to hear from all of y'all, if I could, but Rusty Wallace last week was quoted as saying that he would like to have a pension plan for retirement. And Brian, if you could first address Rusty's comments there; and Mark, you're facing retirement somewhat, semi-retirement, if you could address; and Darrell, you and the King are retired. So I'd just like to hear from all of you if you don't mind.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we have obviously different differences in terms of how we are structured than many of the other leagues that might allow for such a thing, and notably that they are independent contractors with independent budgets and teams; and the teams rather have those and some interest in their own plans that they are starting. We would be open to assisting, and we -- and Rusty and I sat down a couple of years, any way we could. But you have a team owner, you have a sponsor relationship, you have a track relationship and then you have a NASCAR relationship. There's a lot of open relationships, and they are not necessarily connected on any given day. So that would be difficult to launch what Rusty had talked about, because of how fragmented that part of the business is.
MARK MARTIN: I'd love to see a pension plan, but, you know, I've said that in the past, a lot of things have happened in racing and NASCAR racing that I never dreamed would happen, but I haven't said in the past that it would never happen. There's a lot of complications in having a pension plan. I wouldn't expect NASCAR to pay for it. I wouldn't expect the owners to pay for it. I don't know who would pay for it. I mean, so it's a very difficult situation. We can't compare what we do to any other kind of sports. I think probably one of the first places we could start by looking at is, you know, $150 million or $200 dollar racetrack to start with; whereas, you know, it takes a lot of money to put one of these facilities together. Do you think you're going to get the racetracks to help pay for one of these pension plans? It's a very difficult process we're talking about, and I think it's really a shame. It really is a shame that we don't have one, but I certainly don't, you know, know what the answer is.
DARRELL WALTRIP: I was on that deal of saying, what am I going to do when I retire and retirement deal would be great. And that was when I had run 19 years to win the first million dollars. Now they pay these drivers a million dollars just to walk from the bathroom to the car, okay. (Laughter). So from that standpoint, it looks to me like you ought to look after yourselves, okay. I know if I had that much money, I would look after myself, and believe me, social security check ain't big enough to cover all of this stuff yet.
RICHARD PETTY: A couple of things come to mind. As long as they grandfathered in all of us, I would be favor of it. We have to go back and pick up some of the guys that dedicated their life. Like it's funny how Rusty starts thinking the way he starts thinking when he's not going to be racing anymore. But anyway, the other thing, Mark said something that quite honestly, I think we want to -- at some point in time we are going to have address and rethink. He said we don't do business like anybody else does, but I think as time goes by, I think you are going to find that there are models as everybody likes to talk about, if our model is a chase and a championship and a playoff, and that's tailored after the NFL, then there's going to be points in time in our sport where we are going to have to start doing business the way all of the other sanctioning bodies or professional leagues do. And we have the people to do it. That's the neat thing about Brian and everybody at NASCAR right now, we have the people that are thinking outside the box and are going to think about things that like this that would never even have been brought up before. So I think the drivers right now are in the best position they have ever been in as far as leadership and where they are going to take them.
MODERATOR: Richard, do you mean Lee never paid you $1 million a year when you were driving for him?
RICHARD PETTY: He wouldn't even know what $1 million was. (Laughter).
Q. This is for Mark. Mark, there were some quotes out of Daytona quoting you saying that you wanted to see a realignment among the top drivers this year. If those quotes are accurate, could you expand on that a little bit as to what you see?
MARK MARTIN: Did I say that?
MODERATOR: Did you say that, Mark?
MARK MARTIN: I'm not sure. Tell me more about what I said. (Laughter). So it will lead me -- I'm not sure.
Q. It said that you were looking around the garage area and everybody had in their minds who they already picked to be in the Chase this year, and you thought you might have a little different plan. Does that refresh your memory?
MARK MARTIN: Okay, I didn't know what you meant by realignment. We're just talking about, you know, the people that you expect to be in the Chase and to be in the hunt and, you know, I think that 2004 was -- was some unpredictable and some predictable. I guess what I was meaning is that 2005 will be the same. It's really, really competitive out there, and when you expect, you know, you've got at least 20, at least 20 that could be in that Top-10, and the difference is just as Jamie said, the difference is, how many flat tires you have, how many guys wide-up right in front of you, how many times does a part break, and those things really determine it. It is so competitive now, you can't recover, you know, unless you really perform. You can't recover because there's so much competition around. And, you know, obviously, there are some guys that didn't make the Top-10 in '04 that I believe will in 2005 -- you want me to name names? Don't put me on the spot. I'll name those names but not in front of everybody. (Laughter). That way, you and I can know, but everybody doesn't know that I'm such an idiot, you know. I don't want to go on record by saying who those are but I'll tell you afterward.
KURT BUSCH: I'll make one prediction and Darrell is going to get his wish and I think that a 400-point separation is going to come into play, and I say that because I think people really have figured out by June or July, 'I'm within striking distance; it's clear to them now and I think that you'll see, there's a better chance this year that somebody won't lose sight of that 400-point leader and sneak in the Chase.
Q. Brian, last year there was an appearance of sponsor conflicts in the victory lane celebration. Any changes for this year or any discussions on how to make all of the sponsors happy?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we have got more than ever now. We smoothed that out. There were a few weeks in a row that we had some disagreements, but we resolved that and everybody now -- I think everyone understands that we've got to make sure that everybody's sponsor gets enough out of their involvement, because we're not driven by one category or one sponsor. This is a very big industry that relies heavily, obviously, on getting value. We resolved that and we do that like a family. I've had differences with teams and tracks frequently, but we are going to sit down, that's my philosophy, and we are going to work through things in an orderly way. Because anybody in our industry that doesn't want to see the sport get bigger and better because it benefits them, it's in our self-interest to work together.
RICHARD PETTY: The thing about it, the fans want it to be spontaneous. They don't want to see anything orchestrated at least that's how I view it. The drivers need to be able to express themselves. They need to be able to hoot and holler and have fun and do everything but jump on the roof of the car, and that's what the fans want to see. I think when you start trying to orchestrate victory lane, sometimes it gets a little too sanitary for me. I'd rather see the drivers have a good time. They just want to race. It's their biggest day of life in some cases, and let them do what they want to do. And if they knock over a few bottles in the process, well, excuse me. (Laughter).
Q. Curious, I know Mark, I think your answer to my question will be 'win the NEXTEL Cup.' The question is: Is there one thing in any of your lives that you have not been able to do that you have -- that you really want to do, and maybe we step outside of racing. IS there something for the King and maybe Darrell to start, maybe each of you would say one thing you'd like to do in your life that you've not been able to do yet?
DARRELL WALTRIP: I'd just like to go through one year and not make somebody in NASCAR mad.
MODERATOR: That's impossible.
DARRELL WALTRIP: That would be a first for me and that would be something to look forward to.
BRIAN FRANCE: Good. We'll take you up on that.
MODERATOR: He's been making that -- how long have you been involved with NASCAR?
DARRELL WALTRIP: Since 1972.
MODERATOR: He's been making somebody at NASCAR mad every year since 1972. I never get mad at you. But I know you. (Laughter).
RICHARD PETTY: I don't have anything really profound to say other than, you know, I really would -- I look forward to -- the thing that I haven't done in the last 20 years, is spend as much quality time with my family as I hope to do. That's the thing that I haven't done that I look forward to do doing or committing myself to try to do. But it's going to be 2006 before that happens. And then according to Darrell and Richard that may not happen even then. They gave me a pretty bad report on all of that stuff there just a little while ago. So I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to it or not.
Q. You talked briefly about expanding international growth. Where do things stand on moving into Canada, and if you could update us on New York City?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, Canada, we have reached an agreement with TSN, which is the equivalent of ESPN. And right now, particularly with hockey off the air, NASCAR is very popular in Canada on television. So we are interested in taking better advantage of that and seeing what opportunities north of the border. And when we say, that we don't mean to take the NEXTEL Cup north or south or anywhere else. Obviously domestically it is full. We are just looking for opportunities, because as I said in my earlier remarks, auto racing around the world is either No. 1 or No. 2, depending on where you are, with soccer being the lead. So we think our style of racing is the best by far, and we think our formula is the best. So where we can take that to benefit the industry and the years ahead is something that we'll have to see. And with New York, you know what I know, to land the acquisition, they are hard at work, the IFC, trying to work through the regulatory process to get a track built, and that's all I know at this time.
MODERATOR: You might also mention Mexico and the international mix.
BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, we're going to take a Busch race down. We are excited about that because we've got the best promoters in Latin America, with Carlos Salima family (ph) and Loisia (ph), such a big presence there, and we are on an historic road course. And I've been down there a couple of times and it is -- we've got 130,000 or 140,000 seats, and they usually fill up because there's not a major sport in Mexico. So we are excited. Our teams are excited. We are going to be on the network on FOX. It happens to be on an off-weekend, and we believe there will be some NEXTEL Cup drivers who want to take a crack and want the largest purse there as well. Finally, we are developing auto racing south of the border. Why we are doing all of that is because we know that the Hispanic market is the fastest growing, emerging market in the country. And we also know that Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, that's where a lot of our fans are coming from. So we want to be relevant to our fans, and one of the ways you do that is be relevant in their home country. There's a lot of reasons why Mexico ought to be important to us, and it is.
Q. How are we doing on saving money for the teams; where is the direction going on that? Is it something we won't see for a long time yet?
BRIAN FRANCE: Let me tell you, the one thing you should be taking away from guys like me is do you really believe -- and I've talked to the guys around the world that run auto racing, and most of them don't believe it. Believe me, like Claire said, you really can't save anybody money, because if you save them money over here, they will spend it over there. We don't believe that. And I'm not saying we're good at it yet or we are as good as we are going to be. We believe the one premise, that we want to get it into a situation that, sure, you can spend money. If we take it from here and spend it on anything you want, it's a free country, but that you don't have to, that's the big thing; that I'm going to spend that money inefficiently. So I don't have to have -- and that's one of the things we feel strongly about our gear role, because we have a runaway cost driven by RPMs and the need to go to 10,000, 11,000. And how do you that? You have to go around the world to find those parts and find engines that will allow you to do that. We are not where we want to be as an industry, but we believe that we can improve in that category, so that an underdog team, and we always -- Gary Nelson has been quoted, we always quote the Alan Kulwicki story; that year that he won the championship, he didn't have the biggest budget, but one of the smaller budgets, but guess what? He had enough budget based on the rules back then; that if he did all of the things right and he drove his heart out, he could win a championship. Now, are we in that place today? Probably not. Do we want to end up there five or ten years from now is that our goal? You'd better believe it.
RICHARD PETTY: I've been in this a long time; I'd spend $800 to win a race. Everything has changed on that end of the deal, and I'm really with the process of making the racing part as cheap as we can. Not cheap, but keep the costs down, cut out days at the racetrack, all of this kind of stuff. It gives us and our workers more time at home, all that kind of stuff. You know, if you give me $1 million, I'm going spend $1 million. If you give me $3 million, I'm going to spend that. But I would like to have enough money so that I could spend it on things that I want to spend it on.
Q. A follow-up on the Hispanic issue of going to Mexico, what do you hope to accomplish with a Busch race down there, and how will that portray to the fans that you have in the United States?
BRIAN FRANCE: No. 1, we are going to get awareness in the whole country. It's a big deal, by the way, and we are proud of that. Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world No. 1 and it's a big deal. There are great promoters down there, and they are energized, the motorsports fans south of the border. We are on network television here in the U.S. and it spotlights us having an interest in being relevant in people's home country. That's an important thing, in the Latin American community. That's not the only thing you can do, but just one of many things we've got to do to appeal to the Hispanic market in the years ahead. And we've got a good diversity plan led by Tish Sheets and others, and we have to do some things like take events to places where people are.
Q. I wanted to ask you a couple of things about the schedule. If you look, No. 1, looking at having shorter weekends as maybe a way of adding a race or two to the schedule? And No. 2, if you're looking at the mix in the final ten at all of a way to improve it or change it or get other races into the mix.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I think Mike Helton it laid out. If we can save the teams time, time they don't have to be someplace, we are saving them money. We are saving them money on sending crews in, team members in and all of the rest. So if we can cut time out of the system, that's an important thing, whether that's testing, whether that's in and around events and so on. Are we doing that to add two new events or one new event? No. That's not in our thinking at all. We are just trying to really save as much cost as we possibly can. And then finally on the realignment question or the back ten events, we are real comfortable that we have a nice mix of tracks to make up -- and of course, Texas will be new in '05, but we're very comfortable with the diverse tracks that we have on the circuit, and many of those, by the way, are historical big events that we would not want to move and the tracks would not want to move anyway. So we are pretty comfortable with that.
Q. For the four active drivers who are going to be racing this year, you're going to have new spoilers, smaller with less downforce, and new tires. How do you think that's going to affect the racing, and how do you feel it's going to affect your personal chances to get into the Chase?
KURT BUSCH: Well, I believe the way the new rules with the spoiler are configured it's going to be more of a drivers race, more of a hands-on approach to what we have to do as a driver; whereas sometimes technology and engineering can cover up some of what the driver does at a racetrack. Some racetracks, Daytona Talladega, won't change, but that's a racetrack to where a car has more of the equation when you have a final formula added up. When you go to a road course with a smaller spoiler, Sears Point won't be affected as Watkins Glen. So a driver now has to look toward to some events being different. And tire compounds and tire coats continue to change, so you have to stay on top of that game, as well. So it's much more in the driver's hands, and you to stay on top of it with your crew chief to make sure you have the best success that you can.
Q. Brian, Richard mentioned just briefly, franchising awhile ago. As you think outside of the box and you have contact with all of the other leagues that do it that way, what's the status of the very concept of franchising? Is it a month way or could it be near or long term? Where does it stand?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we have reviewed it a number of times, and we'll always be looking at different ways to do things to give a franchise the equity on the back end and all of those things. But we haven't figured out a way to properly sort that out. And then finally, one of the ways we can, you know -- we're talking about costs; that is, more money in everyone's pocket on the team level, and it's another thing if we do the cost containment plan that we are on right now, and successful over the next four or five years is we'll lower the threshold to enter into the NASCAR. Because if I'm a new team, it is a daunting task, especially a single team, to break into NASCAR with the megateams and the budgets and the expertise necessary to compete. So one of our costs, it isn't just -- the first thing that helps our current team owners and drivers and everybody else save more of what they earn and all that. But the second thing is to lower that barrier, so that we can get more teams. And then you have to ask, how does franchise play into that, because franchise, by the nature of it is, it blocked. You're putting a moat around everybody that's in. How do you get new people in after that? So it's a complicated subject. Let us work on saving costs and raising income and revenue for the teams. We know we know how to do those two things, and we're going to work as hard as we can.
Q. Mark, the topic of the gap between short-track racing and NASCAR's Busch, Truck and Cup leagues, your son, Matt, is an aspiring driver and there are many young drivers like that. With the demise now of the Dash Series and ASA not looking too good, where do you think we need to fill in a gap there, or what series would you aim your son at to go into "the big"?
MARK MARTIN: Well, there's a great question. There are, you know -- they are sort of at the limit for, let's just call them child prodigies. One, some of these kids that are really, really young that are really ahead of their time, and have let's say, been racing five, six, seven years, that are 13, 14 years old and are capable of racing with grownups, with us, for instance; not to say on the NASCAR level, but with adult drivers in racing series that are very competitive. You know, in today's age, their opportunities are much more limited than they were just a few years ago. I don't have a perfect answer for you. Matt's getting a chance to drive in a truck series down in Florida, and it's giving him great experience and I'm really happy about that. I also have a friend that I'm working with that is 14, not quite 15 yet, until this summer, and in my opinion, he's as good a race car driver as I am; today, at 14 years old as I am today at 46 and there's nowhere for him to be challenged. He can go race, but, you know, he can't be challenged. So hopefully in the long-range future, you know, that may be down on the pecking order underneath pension plan or something like that. But, you know, hopefully we will find a way for the real young guys to be challenged and not have to sit around for four or five years and wait for their chance to go racing on the NASCAR level. There needs to be something in between the very beginning kind of racing and the NASCAR level for these young guys to get involved in, and there's just not a great source for to that right now.
DARRELL WALTRIP: It appears to me that we look at the traditional Stock Car series to be the feeder series for what we're doing when, in fact, most of the new drivers of late have come from the open-wheel series. And I think when you look at midgets, sprint car, champ cars, right on up the line, they have got a lot of beginning series, a lot of places for kids to plug in and get going early on. So I think we're going to have to look at those series as a place to train, a place to get your experience, and a place to make your move into the NEXTEL Cup.
Q. Brian, in regards to diversity, how do you specifically measure progress with the diversity? And is it going to be a case where you're going to need to have an African-American, Hispanic, a female, or someone from another ethnic background in the Cup level before you see significant progress?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, that would be ideal, but that's a long-term proposition. We look at progress on a variety of ways, and are we creating awareness for people who would not otherwise look at NASCAR, either from a driver's standpoint or maybe coming in and working on a team or working in a track. We have some great success stories. I know we had an intern who joined us out in the Los Angeles office now came back, hired him, he's now -- he came from North Carolina A&T, was at the university that he went to, so he went back and re-sold the university on NASCAR, and he had the passion because he got on the other side. That's just one little example. I said earlier, Lisa and I and George were out, we really had a good night with Magic Johnson, and he was telling us how he's knocked down a bunch of barriers and so on and so forth. We are pulling from all of the resources we can. But the No. 1 thing we think is really going to be the best payoff and there are a lot of other payoffs is the drive for diversity where we are actually going out with our sponsors, millions of dollars in investment money, to the short track where drivers start. Last thing you want to do is put somebody who wasn't ready or was not prepared just for the sake of doing that. So they have to go up the learning curve just like everybody other driver. So they are reaching out to potential African-Americans and everyone else who would not have otherwise looked at NASCAR as a place to showcase their talent skills. We are finding them, taking time, they are energetic, and I think if you measure us over the next five or ten years, not the next five or ten months that, would be a better time line.
MODERATOR: Okay. That wraps up the forum segment. Thank you.
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