After Kevin Harvick’s victory in the Monster Energy All-Star Race on Saturday night, the focus turned to what NASCAR will do next with the rules package that was used in the race and created closer competition.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief racing development officer, met with the media after the race and talked about the event, what NASCAR saw and what’s next. Here’s what he said:
STEVE O’DONNELL: From an eye test, we were certainly pleased with what we saw. I think you’ll hear drivers say directionally there’s some things we can look at. We agree. But would certainly say we’ve got to take time to digest what we saw, look at a lot of facts, see where we go from here.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it right up for questions.
Q. You obviously said there is some tinkering that needs to be done. What kind of things are you looking at?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I think it’s really premature. We just got off the racetrack. It’s even going through the stats. We haven’t had a chance to look through a lot.
I can throw one out. We had zero lead changes at the loops last year. I think we had 38. That’s more than the last four years. Pretty good data when you look at that.
You also look at being able to approach the leader, what are some of those challenges we may want to look at. Certainly from first to tenth throughout the night, much closer. At the end of the day the best teams and the best drivers are going to go out there and win. We also saw that tonight.
Q. Where do you go from here? What would be the timeline if you wanted to integrate any of these concepts into the 2019 package?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Good question. I think one of the things in getting to tonight and talking to the industry was we knew going in that we had a lot of data through what Eric did and a lot of CFT data. Especially with the OEMs, a lot of things to work on. Didn’t want to push too much with what we do because we didn’t know what we would see on track.
I would say now, directionally you do like some of the things you see, now you’ve got to get together with the industry, debrief like we always do with the race teams, the drivers, certainly listen to the tracks and the fans, then the OEMs, talk about how do we continue to look at this and look at it in a smart way, look at it in an efficient way.
Can’t really put a timetable on it other than we know we have some meetings set up that we’re contingent upon what we saw tonight. Those will take place, then we’ll try to put a timeline together to look towards 2019.
Q. For fans who watched tonight’s race and liked it maybe better than a normal mile and a half, would want to know why this can’t be implemented sooner, what would you tell them?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Well, I probably would wait to see that, first of all. We just got done with the race.
I answered that with Bob. We have a process in place. Talk to the industry about what we wanted to do to see if even directionally this was right. You don’t want to assume that what you put on track is going to be a home run. We certainly hoped it would be, but there’s certainly some things that you look at that you could tweak if you went this route.
For us, we’ve got to take the time, be smart about this, really look at it, see where we can go from here. But I think it’s fair to say that this is something we absolutely want to look at.
Q. Talked to Martin Truex Jr., he said it was very racy. He liked it, had some ideas obviously. For you up in the box, you could see it like the rest of the fans, were y’all high-fiving, thinking we’re moving in the right direction here?
STEVE O’DONNELL: That’s a good question. I think no, we’re not high-fiving because we got to control ourselves up in the booth. I think you judge it by the fans. I think you look down the last 10 laps, everybody is standing up. Marcus has a suite next to us. I can say that last year’s All-Star Race was fairly silent. Don’t know if everybody stood or everybody was even still there, but it was packed. We heard screaming in the suite next to us.
People were enthused. I think the one thing, you saw Kevin Harvick go out there and win, and he certainly dominated this year, but you didn’t know who was going to win that race in turn three. You saw drivers out there competing. You saw three lead changes in one lap at the end of the third stage.
A lot of drama built in. For us in race control, I think you look at it and you certainly saw things every lap that you wanted to watch a number of spots on the racetrack.
Q. Joey Logano mentioned earlier that this is naturally more exciting with everything that’s on the line and no points. How do you kind of adjust how you view the excitement in this race compared to what you would see if you incorporated this package in an actual points race?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I think if you asked Joey Sunday night at the Coke 600 if he’s going to race just as hard, he is. We have the best race drivers in the world that are going to go out there and go after it every lap.
This race package, it’s important for people to know, we saw a lot of things even coming into this about this being a superspeedway package. That’s not the intent. The intent for us was to really look at taking the best of our short tracks, taking the best of the superspeedways, trying to find that balance where you could bring the cars closer together. You were not going to see, we didn’t expect to see, pack racing. We expected the best cars would still win, but we thought they would be running close together. We saw that tonight. That was the goal of this. The goal will be to continue to look at how we can continue to dial that in.
Q. I understand what you’re saying about lead changes at the loops. Harvick led the final 10. It seemed like once the leader got up front, he was harder to catch. Would that be something you would look to address?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Yeah, no, we’d absolutely look to address that. You always want to see that. I think Kyle Busch won the All-Star Race last year by 1.1, 1.2 seconds. Tenth place was 1.5. There’s a big difference there. I think you knew on Lap 7 that Kyle Busch had won the All-Star Race. I think we all knew that last year.
It was different this year. But still certainly something when you look at this package, very similar to Indy last year, when you looked at the ability for someone to get up to the leader, then that stall, that is something we want to look at.
I’d go back also to looking at our guys with Eric and the crew. This was a package really meant for the Indianapolises of the world, Michigans. We wanted to try this at Charlotte to see what we could learn. I think that’s part of what we would look at for sure.
Q. Is it fair to say this package could be used again this season? Is that in play?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I would never say never, but our intent is we’ve talked coming into this, was to try this here, then really take a deep dive into how do we make this the best package possible for 2019 if we liked what we saw. Again, it’s still very early. You all watched the race, we just watched the race as well, so we have to digest a lot of information and see where we go from there.
Q. I think it’s fair to say bringing this to a mile and a half track compared to Indianapolis, being so flat, this package would behave differently. Did it behave how you anticipated it coming in here or were there some things you may have been surprised by tonight?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Again, still fairly early. I asked Eric in our really quick five-minute debrief, I think you’d say yes. One of the things we looked at even prior to coming here was the wheel force data from the car. Eric went out and looked at that. It was almost an exact match for us coming in. We felt like we were on the right track. We felt like we’d see what we saw tonight.
I think the question mark was, can you potentially draft, if you got behind the leader, what would happen, could somebody really get away. We saw a mix of that tonight. I think it was stage two or maybe even in the open where a bunch of cars got loose but were able to get back up and close to the front.
A lot of things to look at throughout the field. Could you move from back to front? What could you do when you were out front? So we’ll look at all those. Each track has different characteristics, for sure. I’d applaud the team for getting us here and really seeing I think the results we hoped we would see on track.
Q. I saw the Truck race earlier this year in Vegas. Did that spark some ideas about bringing that pack or closer racing to this track?
STEVE O’DONNELL: That’s a great question. I think if you look back to where we were 2013, 2014, we were more of a high downforce package, had a lot of discussions in the garage area about the racing, what we could do. We chose to go all really low downforce at that point. That mixture produced some good racing, but some challenges as well.
When we looked at that, one of the things was the speeds at which the cars were going. If you look at Charlotte, Atlanta, higher speeds usually make it tougher to pass. There’s usually one groove.
I think the angle we all looked at, certainly at least what I hear from our fan base is, I love the Trucks, Trucks are great. I don’t really hear anybody talk about the speeds of the Trucks. They say it’s great racing. That was the goal tonight, too, is to put on a great race, but also be able to showcase the best drivers. I think it did accomplish that still early.
But Kevin Harvick winning for us is by no means a negative. It’s the best team right now. He went out there and proved it.
Q. If there is a big buzz off of this race and people did leave excited about what they saw and you want them to come back next week for the Coca-Cola 600 but they’re not going to see the same thing, does that hamstring NASCAR and the track?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I think it’s a fair question, but I’d also say that we’re proud of the race product that we have on track each and every week. We always look to improve it. One of the ways that you improve it and you do it in a smart way is to work collectively with the industry to make sure that you have all your bases covered.
The last thing for us to do would be to roll something out with a number of unanswered questions. That would be the case if we did that. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of work to do on the garage area to make sure we’re on the right track. We feel we are. I want to make sure the OEMs are comfortable with where we’re going, the direction, so we continue to have that fair playing field across the board.
I would say certainly the direction that we saw tonight is one we would like to pursue, but you need to have continuing conversations. Again, go back and really analyze everything that we saw. It’s a one hour eye test for us. We haven’t gotten into all the data as of yet.
Q. When you woke up this morning, what was your mixture of excitement and nervousness for today, the significance of what you were trying to do today?
STEVE O’DONNELL: A lot of prayers this morning probably.
You know, a lot of anticipation for the race because I knew how much work went into it, especially from our team. So was certainly cautiously optimistic, but you never know, all kinds of things to look at.
Really just wanted to see it play out. Knew that either way we would have a direction from this. We would know that this is something we want to continue to pursue or we would also know that we collectively tried something and it’s not a direction we want to go.
I think all in all, was excited beginning of the race, honestly was excited throughout the race. I thought every lap had something to watch out there on the track.
Q. How many packages do you feel you can have in the sense of if you want to go this route, how many races would you want to use it, or are you looking for something you feel like you can use on short tracks, intermediate tracks, everything but Daytona and Talladega?
STEVE O’DONNELL: Great question. I think that’s one of the things when we analyze this. We did a lot of work over the offseason, Bill, Gene, crew, with the engine builders, to look at how could we be more efficient with the engines. This was not part of that. When you look at this race, one of the challenges was are we going to create an entirely new engine package. That is not the intent at all.
If we were to pursue this route, that’s one of the things we’d want to look at, is how do you keep potentially a restricted engine package, then just one other, not go to three different engine packages. Very similar to the rules for the racecars, what they look like. You want to be as efficient as you can, but also put on the best racing possible. That’s something we’ve got to look at and make sure we can limit the number of packages, but certainly make it so that it’s the best racing possible for the race fans.
Q. When you have these conversations in the future about this race package, what is going to be in terms of how should it put it? The conversations that will be had in terms of what could work for a Charlotte and Michigan, then thinking what could be something similar that may work for Richmond or Bristol or Martinsville, or even one of the road courses?
STEVE O’DONNELL: I would say it’s fairly simple when you think about all that. I think the team owners, the tracks and everyone would say the same thing. If Marcus Smith’s phone is ringing, I got to get to that race, I haven’t been in a while, that’s a good sign. If NBC and FOX are calling saying that business is good, ratings are good, that’s a good sign. If you’re seeing more sponsorship inquiries to the race teams, that’s a good sign. That all comes from race fans speaking up.
If this is something the fans liked, hopefully we’ll hear that. We’d continue in that direction. But that’s ultimately how you dial in. If it’s 36 different packages or if it’s three, you want to end up on the right one.
We believe we can keep it simple with the number of race packages we put together. We want to be as efficient as possible. Ultimately it’s about the fans and putting on the best race we can.