NASCAR President Steve Phelps addresses short tracks, 2021 schedule

Steve Phelps
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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR President Steve Phelps vowed Sunday morning that the racing at short tracks will be better in 2020.

That was among the key points Phelps discussed in his state of the sport news conference before Sunday’s season-ending Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Phelps also explained what will be the key points to setting the 2021 schedule, more information on the NextGen car that will debut in 2021 and the interest of other manufacturers.

One of the key points Phelps stressed was the racing at short tracks.

While drivers have complained about how difficult it is to pass, at many tracks, those concerns have been greater at some of the short tracks. Martinsville Speedway had only three lead changes each in its races this year as Brad Keselowski led 446 of 500 laps in winning in the spring and Martin Truex Jr. led 464 laps to win the playoff race last month.

Also of concern is the racing at ISM Raceway, which will host the championship races next year for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series. While that suburban Phoenix track has renovated its facilities, the racing has raised questions.

Here’s what Phelps said on a variety of subjects:

On the status of ISM Raceway hosting the championship race beyond next year:

Phelps: We need to make sure we are working with our industry, our teams, our (manufacturers) and Goodyear, to make sure that the racing we have in Phoenix both in the spring as well as our championship next year is as good as it can be.

We’re going to announce that 2021 schedule, as you said, in the spring, probably around April 1st, which is a self‑imposed deadline that we have for ourselves. Could that change forwards or backwards a little bit? It could.

Our promise to our fans, and we’ll do it right here, is that we are going to provide the best racing we can at our short tracks. I think we’ve overdelivered on the intermediate tracks, and we will make sure that when we get to Phoenix in the spring, and some of the other racetracks that are short tracks, that they’re going to have better racing.

On how NASCAR will make the racing better at short tracks in 2020:

Phelps: We’re going to work with our teams in order to figure out how we do that, work with our OEMs to figure out how we do that. Everyone knows I’m not an engineer, I’m not going to play one now.

I am confident, having spoken to people who are far smarter than I am in this space, that there are things we can do. And I think our teams are excited about trying to partner with us to figure out what that looks like.

On if they could just cut the spoiler to enhance the racing at short tracks and when a decision might be made:

Phelps: There are people far smarter than I am that could figure that out. Yes, 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. No specific timing.

On when NASCAR will announce what sponsors it has in its new model that will see the Cup series known as the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020:

Phelps: This is about our championship, and we wanted to keep it about that. We also wanted to make sure we were making sure we were true to Monster (Energy) and their three years. Monster has been a phenomenal partner for us. They’ve had significant success with their sponsorship and entitlement.

We have moved to a different model. I’m not going to get into what the announcement is, but we’ll have some announcements in Nashville around that new sponsorship model that we’re super excited about.

On cap costs for NASCAR teams as Formula 1 recently announced it would do for 2021:

Phelps: 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, this Next Gen car.

Another component certainly is around relevance. Our (manufacturer) partners were here looking at the showroom car or the street car versus what our racecar will look like. It’s going to be extraordinary. We are going to put the ‘stock’ back in stockcar.

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.

On why there might be a question to do a cost cap:

Phelps: 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 (manufacturers) to make sure whatever we do moving forward makes the most sense for our sport.

On the 2021 schedule:

Phelps: We’re having a lot of discussions right now on the 2021 schedule. We’re looking at three things when we’re looking at that race schedule. We’re looking at where we’re going to have the most competitive racing that we can have, where we’re going to have full grandstands, and what does that market look like, is it a new market that we can service.

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.

On status of the NextGen car, which is scheduled to debut in 2021:

Phelps: So, yes, the car is on schedule, as I said.  With that said, we’re going now through an RFP (request for proposal) process, RFPing different parts of the car. There are parts that fans don’t frankly care we’re competing, and other parts fans care we’re competing. Also our OEM partners, certain things they want to compete at, certain things they don’t care about.

We’re in the RFP process. We’re on the track already at Richmond. We have another test coming up in a couple of weeks.

When the teams will take delivery of that car, probably in the July timeframe of when the cars will start to be delivered. I have to give a shout out to, again, really the entire industry because they’re working collaboratively, working together. NASCAR runs the process, but there are teams that are involved, OEMs that are involved, and that’s how we’re going to be successful moving forward.

With respect to those that are in the RFPs to build the car, I don’t want to get into specifics about where that is. There would obviously need to be a separation between that race team and whatever either part or the vehicle itself that’s being put together.

If there is a team that is interested in competing for what that’s going to be, it would have to be kind of removed from what that organization is, if that makes sense.

On a new engine:

Phelps: I do think for a new engine, that engine will have some type of electrification, some hybrid that will be part of it.  It’s kind of a follow to the question, in fact, 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. But ideally creating a single engine package as opposed to taking an engine and kind of choking the horsepower down, is something that I believe we will ultimately get to.

What that looks like frankly will be a discussion between ourselves and our existing OEs because we need to make sure we are taking care of them first and foremost before we get a new OEM into the garage. They have been incredibly supportive of that.

We’ve had a couple of different partners come to the racetrack.  We had some last week. We had a group that came when we were at Talladega. Each of the OEs 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.