Steve Phelps conducted the annual state of NASCAR media press conference on Sunday at Homstead-Miami Speedway.
In conducting his second state of the sport address on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR president Steve Phelps has reached his first figurative port of call as the sanctioning body’s chief executive.
It’s been a season full of change with even more change looming over the horizon. And through it all, the 57-year-old has shepherded his team through every meeting, every decision and every criticism with steely resolve.
It has been a polarizing season with mixed reactions to the high downforce, low horsepower competition package for speedway races. Meanwhile, that same package has absolutely worked to the detriment of short tracks and road courses, something Phelps conceded needs to be addressed during the off-season.
This season-long debate ran parallel to the development of the next-generation car that will debut in 2021 and a new hybrid-capable engine formula that will follow in 2022 or 2023 — the new rules package serving as a bridge to that platform.
There has been continued conversation about budget caps, cost containment and schedule change during his year and a half tenure at the helm under elusive league chairman Jim France, the youngest son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.
A selection of the most important quotes and statements can be found below.
Steve Phelps likes what he’s seeing on-track in 2019
“Our competition right now in the intermediate tracks and the superspeedways, I believe is the best racing we’ve ever seen. I’ll start with myself as a fan. I love watching and am super excited when we get to the intermediate tracks and superspeedways, the type of racing we are going to see.”
With Richmond, Martinsville and Richmond holding key 2020 playoff dates, Phelps says NASCAR will work with the teams and Goodyear to find a solution to improve the short track and road course product.
“Could we go to something that is a lower downforce package, and do we think that will probably be one of the answers that we could look at to be successful on the short tracks? Yes. Whether it’s cutting off the spoiler, other opportunities for us to take some of the downforce off there, those are things that we’ll explore.”
Does Roger Penske owning IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway strengthen the relationship with those entities?
“Yeah, listen, Roger Penske is a phenomenal businessman. Everything he touches seems to work, which is great, whether it’s on the racetrack or off the racetrack. He has a decades‑long relationship with the France family. I personally have known him for 15 years. He’s a man of his word. He works hard. He makes sure whatever he is doing, he is trying to do it with excellence.
“Do I think he will improve the good work that’s been done by Doug Boles and Mark Miles? I do. I think the investments he’s going to make, how he approaches things, will be slightly different. I think it will be improved.
The race in Richmond, coming back on the schedule, will there be opportunities for other races at our racetracks? I’m not sure. It’s certainly something that we’ll explore. I know Roger and Bud and Walt and the team won’t be shy about coming to knock on the door to say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ We will certainly entertain that.”
Are new manufacturers interested in coming in with the new car?
“We have a lot of dialogue. We had some folks out in Phoenix that were interested in coming into the sport. It’s important for us. We are working hard to try to determine kind of the timing of that, what that looks like, and what that partnership would look like moving forward bringing someone in. The world is a lot different than it was. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible to have an OEM come in, plug in, and start to compete on the racetrack.”
The new engine formula is on target for 2022 or 2023 and will contain hybrid, electrical elements but will sound similar to the current power plants
“I do think for a new engine, that engine will have some type of electrification, some hybrid that will be part of it … I know for a fact we will not have a new OEM unless we change our engine.
“This engine is going to sound significantly the same as whatever the current engine is. We’re not going to have a bunch of electric cars going around. That’s not what this is about. It’s about having a relevant engine to our OE partners, both the existing Ford, Chevy and Toyota, as well as whoever the new OEs that we’re looking at.
“Some form of hybrid, some form of electrification is going to be required, whether it’s stored engine or whatever that might be is down the line … We’ve had a couple of different partners come to the racetrack … Each of the (current manufacturers) showed them what they do, this is what Ford does, this is what we do at GM, this is what we do at Toyota. That’s incredibly helpful. They, too, want to be able to compete on the racetrack with other OEs.”
NASCAR isn’t opposed to a spending cap but hopes the 2021 car represents a huge spending decrease
“I think reasons to go to this new car, one is to take what is great racing, will be great racing in 2020, to create better racing. I think this new car will do that…
“The last component of that is to try to make sure that the costs associated with the car are not such that they just continue to escalate on that car. Whether we are going to have a cost cap moving forward, I don’t know. It is not an easy thing to do. We want to make sure that we have competitive racing. When the race starts, we want as many folks and drivers to win that race as they can.
“Lots of work to do on what we would do, whether we would have a cost cap or not. But it is something that we continue to work with our race teams on to make sure that we are having competitive race teams and race teams that are profitable.”
Why not replicate F1’s spending cap for NASCAR?
“We’re going to see, right? We’re going to see how it works with F1. A little bit of a wait‑and‑see approach on that. It is not an easy thing to do, right? How are you going to make sure the costs are being captured fairly and smartly across the race teams? It is a slippery slope. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a good step or it doesn’t mean we’re not going to get there. It means that we’re going to study it very closely. We’re going to study what they’re doing, continue to work with our teams and OEMs to make sure whatever we do moving forward makes the most sense for our sport.
The 2021 NASCAR Cup schedule will have three determining factors
– Where can we have the most compelling racing?
– Where can we have full grandstands?
– Where are the best new markets?
“There are a lot of discussions that are going on both internally and then with other owners of racetracks. We need to obviously work with Speedway Motorsports, work with the three independent tracks that we have, then the tracks that we own as NASCAR now.
“Again, we’ll look through that same lens. I think it’s important to do that. This is the first time I’ll go back to the fans. It really is about the fans. We need to make sure we are putting on compelling racing and having full grandstands when we do that.”
NASCAR has not started negotiating new TV contracts
“We are through 2024. I would say we’ve got two phenomenal media partners. I think you look at Thursday’s announcement with NBC, it’s just another important milestone for us or win for us to make sure that we are partnering with our media partners smartly.
“There are a lot of rights negotiations that need to happen in advance of ours. We will take a very measured approach to what we’re doing. In the interim, we’re going to continue to do what we’re doing in order to engage the fan base, be smart about what those opportunities look like, continue to grow ratings, continue to engage our media partners, whether it’s an OTT platform like with NBC, or other content or promotional opportunities … Whenever we do get to that point of sitting down with our media partners to talk about an extension, they’ll be absolutely eager to do that and then extend.”
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