Pemberton, Darby discuss Daytona testing

After NASCAR Sprint Cup Series testing at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Thursday, NASCAR Managing Director of Competition John Darby and Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton spoke the media about test results for the new Gen-6 car. Below, is a transcript:

Q.  NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director John Darby.  Robin, tell us, how did your day go, so far the development of the car, we’ve heard positive things from all the drivers today?

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  It was a pretty smooth day.  I think as many single-car runs was going on out there, it was more important for the teams to just get time.  But you know, actually really looking forward to getting some drafting practice in tomorrow afternoon.  But today was relatively uneventful.

I think that we anticipated the speeds to be a little — as good as they were.  Probably a little bit quicker than what we were the first practice down here last year on the test, and everything looks like it’s fine.

Q.  From your perspective, John, how was your day?

JOHN DARBY:  It’s about as perfect as it gets.  I think what everybody gets lost, or when Robin said it’s uneventful, it was uneventful because we weren’t running around pulling our hair out all day.

What gets lost in everything that’s happened, and I’ll be the first to remind everybody that without a doubt the mechanics, the engineers and everybody involved in NASCAR racing are probably the smartest and hardest working people in the world.  When you look at the enormity of the project, and taking boxes of parts and pieces and developing them and basically putting three brand-new models of race cars out on a racetrack, coming down to the first NASCAR official test of the new season and put speeds up that are within a tenth of a second of each other, it’s an incredible, incredible effort, and it just shows — I truly believe there’s not another racing series in the world that could accomplish what these guys did since we left Homestead.

Yes, the car had been developed for over a year or we’ve been working on it, but when the switch at Homestead gets shut off and the reality of getting ready for Daytona sets in and everybody has got to go to work, they did, and the product that’s here is just incredible.  I’m very, very pleased with every aspect of the car and every lap that was run today so far.

Q.  Robin, you have many, many, many years as a crew chief, and you’ve been through many, many, many different car changes in that position —

JOHN DARBY:  He’s really not that old.

Q.  Yes, he is, because I’m getting old.  What you’ve seen with this particular change, can you compare it to anything you went through in the past, and has this been a lot easier, a lot more difficult in your opinion?

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  You know, times change, obviously, but I was here when we went from the big cars to the small cars back in ’80 to ’81, and the thing that we have, the ability that we have today is because we have R & D Center, we have personnel that can take on projects and go off and develop things.  The teams have very, very deep, and they can go off and develop things.  They have a lot of resources.  We all do.  The manufacturers are engaged more now than they’ve ever been since I’ve been here, and this is like my 33rd or 34th year in the garage area.

When I look back at the day that we went from large cars to the smaller cars, we only had — we went to the dealerships and got cars and brought them into the parking lots of the shops and decided what car we were going to build, a Chevy, a Buick, an Oldsmobile, a Dodge, Ford, that’s how it was done.  So you know, times change, and this particular reason, for the better.

You know, there’s a lot of work that went into it, to John’s point, but we’ve been working on this car for nearly — probably two years or better, and we’ve been at the track on and off for well over a year in different stages and forms of configuration of the car.

So because of the depth of everybody throughout our entire industry, we were able to take these things and put a long lead time in them and develop a better product.  I think this will show in particular this Gen 6 car with the amount of work that’s gone into it, we will be able to deliver something, all-inclusive, manufacturers’ teams and us, deliver something that’s a better product for them to start with and compete with.

Q.  For Robin and John if I could, as far as the hurdles that you thought you might have been looking at, you mentioned it’s a two-year project to get this, and then the hurdles that you actually did run into, could you share with us what you thought was going to be tough or easy or whatever, and what wasn’t?

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  We’ve only got 15 minutes to talk about this, I think.  You know, I think it gets to be overwhelming if you sit back at first and you look at what we’re trying to do, and we knew at the end result we needed some unique cars and we wanted them to look — be a representation of what the factory was selling, to look at that and take that project on and to be able to do this and to think that we haven’t disadvantaged anyone, and they all should be able to compete.  Yeah, aero signatures will be a little bit different from one to the other, but we feel like we achieved a goal of parity for the most part and enough where the teams will be able to go off and compete.

And I think to Jeff’s point earlier, when Jeff was speaking about, he’s been around long enough and seen at least two, now the third generation of car since he’s started, he has seen that, and he knows and understands what our goals are, and our goals are to keep a good level playing field, and I think we’ve achieved that.

JOHN DARBY:  I agree.  Probably the number one concern, as it always is for us, is the competition balance.  The evolution of the automobile helped us greatly get to where we are today in the ’80s and even when the Monte Carlo that came out that Jeff referenced, the cars that were on the street were uniquely different, much more different than what they are today.

A lot of that allowed us to step away from a completely common car because the auto manufacturers had already done a lot of that just in their production cars because they’re every day on the street trying to win their own goals, and with the focus of fuel efficiency and more miles to the gallon, greener cars, all the rest of that, that helped dictate a lot of the shapes and sizes of the automobiles we see on the street today versus what we saw 20 years ago, you know.

So there was a big piece of that that was already in place that allowed us to step away from everything being exactly the same and giving the auto manufacturers back a tremendous amount of real estate to develop their own uniqueness and their own parts and pieces and character lines and quarter panel shapes and hoods and everything else that you see today on the new race car.  And that’s good.

But at the end of the day, any project that we take on like that, the race fans come into a huge concern for us, and one of the things that we couldn’t stumble on was keeping the balance of competition equal.  Right now we’re feeling pretty good about it.

Q.  Can you give us a definitive how many cars will get in through the duels and how many through speed and how many through provisionals for the 500?

JOHN DARBY:  Yeah, the procedural change from last year, and that’s obviously the elimination of the top 35, will put all of the jazz and spank back into the Thursday races because the majority of the competitors will be racing in.  But in total there will be — let me walk it to you this way:  The Sunday qualifying will traditionally still confirm and lock in the front row of the 500 in light of nobody has a backup car or engine problems later in the week.  But that’ll set the front row.

From there, we’ll go to the duels on Thursday and have 15 rows race in.  In other words, 15 positions out of each duel, which will bring you to 16 rows or 32 cars.  The next four will revert back to qualifying speeds from the previous Sunday, followed by six provisionals and a past champion.  If there is no past champion it’ll be an additional provisional from points.

Q.  Robin, you mentioned you guys are looking forward to doing a little drafting tomorrow afternoon.  Is the plan tomorrow to have —

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  We’re not going to draft, we’re looking forward to some of these other guys —

Q.  Obviously, but you may have a hand in shepherding that.  Is the plan to do single car in the morning and are you anticipating a big pack tomorrow afternoon?

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  It’s open for drafting.  John will circle through the garage area and try to encourage some of them.  We think there’s some organizations that would want to run with each other and like that.  Car inventory is a little bit low, a little thin.  Some of these cars are actually cars that they may want to test at Charlotte next week.  So we’ll encourage it, and we know that we’ll get some takers.  But you know, we’ll just see how it shakes out and how their test plan comes together for that.

Q.  Is there an ideal number in terms of a minimum number that will give you a good sense of how they’ll handle in the race?

JOHN DARBY:  The more the merrier, but any groups at all will help the teams understand what they’re dealing with.

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  We’d like to see a dozen cars out there or something like that.

Q.  Robin, the last few minutes today with the Toyotas drafting, what was your impression of that versus what you guys might have expected from four or five cars together?

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  It’s just three cars.  I don’t think you can draw any kind of conclusion to anything because it’ll be on how multiple cars catch another multiple group of cars and where the speeds go from there.

I think that some of the things that we had tested over the last six or eight months in getting this car where it’s a little more aerodynamic than what we had here a year ago, the car has a tendency to want to run better by itself, so it may minimize the push drafting.  We did see some things that happened at Talladega that showed that it was a little bit more difficult for the lead car to actually back up where the car behind it hooks on is how you do the push drafting, and because with the small spoilers and the lower drag and the smaller springs, the lead car has a tendency to really want to drive off from the car behind it.

We did see some times that were two cars that were not hooked up but were old-school drafting run down and pass a couple other cars that were actually just hooked up.

You know, things change, and it remains to be seen what will become of this, but everything that we’ve worked on and everything we’ve been seeing, we feel like we’re in a pretty good place with it, we just need to — we’d like to just see more cars out there right now.

Q.  It appears that bump drafting may be curbed, lessened, you might not see as much or any of it.  I wondered if that was purposeful in the car’s design, or was that an unintended consequence?

JOHN DARBY:  We hope it was in the design.  The aero signature of this car is hugely different than what we left in 2012.  You can still push if you want to, but because of the difference in the drag of the car, and even more importantly where the drag is on the car, which in this version of car it’s much more on the nose than it is with a big spoiler, the advantage of the push is not there.

At the end of the day, the competitors are going to use whatever format of racing generates the most speed and gives them the biggest ability to pass, okay.  And if four cars in a single line is quicker and can run down two cars pushing and ultimately pass them and keep going, then that’s what’ll dissolve the push is the fact that the advantage of it’s not there.

The test in Talladega did show a little bit of that, the Toyotas playing around today, late this afternoon showed again that there wasn’t a huge speed advantage by doing it.  I don’t know how much effort they were putting into trying to make it work.  We don’t know that for sure.  A big group of cars, if we can get some out tomorrow, will again show more of that.

The style of the race is probably a little bit left to be seen yet, and whichever way is the quickest way around is what ultimately they’ll choose.

Q.  Robin, in all the years, again, you were a crew chief, everyone would come here and the speeds really meant nothing until we got here for the Daytona 500.  So as we look at these speeds now and you’ve mentioned them a number of times, you and John, how really important are the speeds right now, or are we all just like everyone else, including yourselves, the truth comes in February somewhere around the 14th or 15th?

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  The truth will come then.  But what you have to realize, back in those days where speeds didn’t mean anything, we didn’t have test policies like we do today, so you could go and buy Talladega for a week and work really hard and go to other things to do your testing.  So you purposely would come here and you’d run with a restrictor plate upside down, which is a little less efficient and you’d run with something that was a little off and a little here.  But things you had in your bank that you already knew you had, five horsepower here and six horsepower here and two over here and one over there because you didn’t want to show your today.

In today’s world everybody has got all of those things.  There’s only so far you can go, and they do have a couple tricks left over, whether it’s in lubricants and some other things, but the way these cars — and it’s so close in the way they compete, they need to run as fast as they can because there’s spring rules and shock rules in the back, and cars may hit different and you’ll see them at nighttime, they’ll compress more, they may
Today it’s close, and teams come closer than they used to, and so guys, the sandbagging is still there to a degree, but it’s nothing like it was 15 years ago when you had a list of things that were the go-to things that you knew you could put in there.

JOHN DARBY:  The other part that goes with that is it’s very clearly understood that there will always be a speed gain when we come back for actual competition, whether that’s through the improved engines, the actual race engines, just removing all of the test equipment from the car, all the data acquisitions, the Pitot tubes that are hanging out of the roof and the weight of all that, that will naturally increase the speed of the car.

I think when we say the speeds are really good right now, it’s because we’re comfortable in the fact that we can gain and still sit here and be comfortable.

Q.  Just curious if any other tests besides next week’s test at Charlotte have been added, and I just wanted to ask, on the testing rules, each organization gets four.  Is that one-day test or a two-day test, and can you go over the parameters for their tests that aren’t these two official NASCAR tests.

JOHN DARBY:  It can be up to three days long, as long as the test is completed seven days prior to the event.  You’re correct in the fact that each organization will receive four tests, and they can choose where they want to go.  The teams are allowed one transporter and two cars per car number, so if you’re a four-car team, you could bring four transporters and eight cars and all four of your drivers to that test.

From there it’s pretty much like the testing used to be.

ROBIN PEMBERTON:  We have not added any, other than the dates that you guys know going early at Vegas and Texas.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR

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