NASCAR President Steve Phelps addresses competition, 2022 schedule

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps said that he anticipates more practice and qualifying sessions in 2022, that series officials are examining ways to ensure all charter Cup teams perform to the highest level possible, and that he doesn’t foresee Cup races moving to only streaming services.

Phelps discussed those issues and more in a 40-minute session with reporters Friday.

Phelps said “my feeling” is that NASCAR will go back to more practice and qualifying next year. That would make sense with the Next Gen car introduced in the Cup Series in 2022. Teams will need as much time as possible on track with the vehicle.

On the issue of races potentially moving to streaming services in the future, Phelps said: “Do I envision a time when NASCAR Cup Series races are being streamed and that’s the only place you can get them? I would say right now, that’s not something that’s on our radar. I think that making sure there is a place where people can watch over the air – broadcast – is important to us. It’s important to our teams and our sponsors.”

Phelps also addressed the issue of ensuring charter teams are as competitive as possible.

There are 36 charters, ensuring each of those Cup teams a starting spot in each race. Any team with a charter also is required to compete in every race or risk losing the charter.

NASCAR can take away a team’s charter if they finish in the bottom three in car owner points for three consecutive years with the same charter. Lower-budget teams have sidestepped that issue by leasing their charter to teams that will finish higher in the points for a season and then getting the charter back. 

Phelps said that series officials are looking at ways to make sure each team is as strong as possible, especially with the possibility of more new owners entering the sport. David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said Thursday that Toyota officials were “talking to no less than two potential owners.”

On the issue of competitive teams with charters, Phelps said: “Whether there is a change to the bottom three rule moving forward, I think that you all have seen some maneuvering that has gone on with respect to the bottom three rule, the ability to have someone lease a charter. It’s not perfect.

I think the intention of the bottom three rule and leasing – they were not supposed to be tied. I think it’s an unintended consequence to something that we thought was in the right interest.

“The reason why we had leasing in the first place was if a team that’s been involved for a long time lost a major sponsor, they’d be able to lease that charter for a year, then have it back when they were able to get the sponsor, a new sponsor on that race car. Don’t want to belabor that point.

There are things we are looking at (and) are doing that will ensure that people are competing. They have to compete. They need to be competitive on the racetrack.”

Other topics that Phelps addressed:

On fan support of NASCAR promoting social justice and banning the Confederate flag last year: “A couple weeks ago we got our brand tracker for 2020 back. Looked at a number of different things including the health of the sport, the health of the brand, all which are soaring, which is fantastic.

One of the most important questions that was in there was a question about how our avid fans felt about the stance that NASCAR took on social justice and the banning of the Confederate flag. … These are all avid fans broken into three segments of time spent: 16 plus years as an avid fan, four to 15 years as an avid fan, or zero to three.

“Sixteen-plus (years as an avid fan), three-to-one favorable to unfavorable about how NASCAR handled social justice and the banning of the Confederate flag.

Four to 15 years (as an avid fan), six-to-one favorable to unfavorable.

Zero to three (as an avid fan), eight-to-one (favored what NASCAR did).

On potential changes to the 2022 Cup schedule: “As we think about ’22, will we continue to have schedule variation, additional changes? I think the answer to that is yes. What that looks like, I’m not sure at this particular time.

We have a promise to our fans that we’ll continue to create new opportunities at new venues and new formats. That’s what we’re going to do for ’22.”

On potential new manufacturers (OEMs): “We believe that we are going to have renewed interest from an OEM standpoint. I think all the OEMs last year were kind of in survival mode. They sold a lot of cars, and the inventory was low, but it was a difficult period for them as well. I would say the OEMs probably did better than they thought they were going to do when COVID started. That part’s rewarding.

As things get back to normal, we will continue to ramp up our discussions with new OEMs. We talked about our media partners being in a better place with us, our fans. I believe new OEMs and the relevance of this sport, where this sport now ranks within the sports entertainment landscape is different than it was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago.

With that, as well as the Next Gen car coming out next year, I think there’s going to be some renewed interest from an OEM perspective.

On momentum of the sport: “There’s a lot of momentum in the sport. I think that if you look at our partner FOX, their promotion right now, they’re calling it the best season ever. I’m hopeful that’s exactly what is going to happen.”