ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Roger Penske is adamant that NASCAR needs to have the Gen 7 car on the track by the 2021 season, and he has a few schedule ideas, too.
Speaking with a small group of reporters between practices for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the team owner in NASCAR and IndyCar said he fully supports implementing the next-generational model in NASCAR’s premier series within two years because of its cost efficiency.
“It has to happen,” Penske said. “We have to make a change. Because the revenue side is not growing the way you want to, and the costs are continuing to go up.”
With Cup teams spending $10,000 on building parts that can be made for $1,500, Penske said “it doesn’t make any sense” and that’s why he’s in favor of NASCAR making changes “that don’t hurt the show.” New engine rules the past few years have cut costs by reducing inventory.
“The customer in the stands doesn’t know we have a super-super driveshaft or four types of brakes to run,” Penske said. “Think about it. You’ve got four cars and four to five combinations of brakes. Then you need four sets of them. Those are the things that cost money.”
Though NASCAR has said it wants to have its next-generation model on track by 2021, there have been some in the industry who are concerned that the timeframe is too tight. Real-world testing has yet to begin on the car, which remains in the blueprint stages.
Penske said it isn’t too late to hit the 2021 target date (“Look, we’re changing stuff all the time and building cars already.”), but he has urged NASCAR CEO Jim France to pull the trigger on approving the Gen 7 design.
“We need to go,” Penske said. “I said to Jim, ‘Let’s make the decision and go.’ Like it or don’t like it, but we’ll race during the season, all be working on it, we’ll come out in ’21, we’ll have it.
“The sooner we get it out and get through all the noise and people like it or don’t.”
Penske likes using the term “Gen 7” to describe all of the overhauls being weighed by NASCAR, including the schedule. NASCAR president Steve Phelps has said there could be a fresh look in 2020 and ’21 with the season potentially beginning earlier and new tracks being added. Penske likes the idea of a more compact schedule with another twist.
“If they make a change, we should run doubleheaders,” Penske said. “Saturday-Sunday. Maybe run 200 miles on Saturday, 300 on Sunday, they both count.”
Penske and team president Tim Cindric said the NTT IndyCar Series could provide a good template for cost reduction in NASCAR. They estimated it costs a maximum of $10 million annually to field a championship-caliber car in IndyCar vs. $30 million in NASCAR.
“You can run a team (in IndyCar) for probably $3 to 4 million depending on what you pay a driver,” Penske said. “That’s the compact schedule, the fact we aren’t developing cars and spending money like in NASCAR, developing every week and finding something with new rules.
“That’s absolutely where NASCAR is going with the Gen 7, the season and number of races, all these things have to come together. They do that, it’ll make a huge step. All the owners have to realize it’s a business and you might want to do what’s best for you, but you better think about your company. My dad told me a long time ago that if you’re always thinking about where you go, but if the series isn’t healthy, you’re going to feel the impact. I think Jim and the team now is well aware we just have to get everybody on the same page.”
Penske praised the leadership of France, who took over as NASCAR CEO last August after his nephew, Brian, took a leave of absence because of drug possession charges.
“Brian was a good friend of mine and played a big role getting the TV stuff together,” Penske said. “I don’t want to ever water down what he supported the series and gave to the series, but Jim is very pragmatic and somewhat of a racer, too. He’s been involved in IMSA.
“I don’t think he thought he was going to be in the position he is, but he’s stepped up and the team he’s got here. (President Steve) Phelps is a very reasonable guy. Professional. And they’ve changed up the officiating. It’s much tighter, which is good. Lot of things have happened here.”