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Ford Performance NASCAR: Roger Penske Media Transcript

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR Zoom Media Availability | Monday, March 22, 2021

Roger Penske, owner of three Team Penske Fords in the NASCAR Cup Series and one in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, was a guest earlier today on a NASCAR Zoom call. A full transcript of his Q&A session with the media follows:

ROGER PENSKE, Owner, Team Penske — HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE GARAGE AT ANY RACES? “I have not been in the garage. I went to the Daytona 500. I went to Las Vegas and in both cases I either had to make the decision to be down in the garage on the box or be up in the suite, where we had some of our sponsors, so I elected to do that. So I have not, other than talking to the drivers by phone when I’m at the track. Maybe I’ve been in the wrong bubble, but that’s been my status so far for the first six races.”

HAVE YOU SAT DOWN WITH BRAD AND JOEY TO TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED AT DAYTONA? “I had the opportunity to talk to them individually. In fact, I’ve talked to all the drivers individually and they talked. I then followed back up them. I think we’ve got a plan. I’m gonna sit down with them just face to face, all of them, before Talladega so we’re all running on the same page. I don’t think there’s anything new that will happen, but I think we just have to make an agreement on just exactly how you want to play ball if you get into that same situation as we had with two of us running as well as we had with a half-mile to go, and then end up with three cars in the trash bucket, but that’s what you have to expect, unfortunately. It wasn’t a good day for us, obviously.”

YOU HAVE A FEW DRIVERS IN CONTRACT YEARS. WHAT IS YOUR PLAN THERE? “We’re in discussion with all of them. With COVID we haven’t been able to get together, but we’ve had conversations with Brad before. I think we’re moving in the right direction. There’s no reason we wouldn’t renew for sure. I guess it’s just a matter of us sitting down and putting it together, but with everybody not being able to move around you don’t do that over the phone and you don’t do it by Zoom, so we want to do that face-to-face with all of them. THE INDY CAR GUYS AS WELL? “Sure.”

WHAT DO YOU HAVE GOING ON AT THE SPEEDWAY? “We’ve got some testing. We’re doing some push-to-pass work coming up in a week or so, and then we’ve got probably 28 cars coming for our open test early in the month of April, which will be terrific to have cars on the track and get everybody back running again because it’s been a while since we’ve been on the oval with an Indy Car. It’s been since August, to be honest with you, and then we’re just going through all the details to get ready. The good news is we’re gonna have a race on Memorial Day this year, which is exactly what we want, not have to wait until August, and then, of course, we come back with the Brickyard. The Brickyard will be everybody running on the road course, which will be terrific. We were just out there today looking at all the corners, the apexes as you’ve seen it in all the different road racing circuits. We’re trying to get something that’s meaningful for the drivers to keep from cutting the corners and on the other hand is safe. That’s been really the focus and then we’ll have the Grand Prix as we start the month of May.”

ARE YOU ANYWHERE ON SPECTATORS YET FOR THE 500? “We haven’t made a decision. That’s gonna be in conjunction with the governor and the mayor. You hear all sorts of numbers. The Kentucky Derby, 50 percent. So, I think, the numbers are getting much better and certainly going in our favor. Our goal is to hopefully be able to have some indication as we get into April. We don’t run until the end of May, so, remember, we have this generational customer, this guest that’s been coming to the track for many years and they have their tickets. I think as we sit here today we’ve got over 170,000 tickets that have already been taken, so we’re in good shape. It’s a matter of do we open up the rest for GA and some of the other things that have to happen and that’s gonna be limited basically to what’s specified by the authorities.”

JOEY SAID IT’S LIKE A MARRIAGE, WHEN YOU HAVE A SPAT YOU WORK IT OUT AND YOU STAY TOGETHER. IS THAT A GOOD DESCRIPTION? “I’ve been married for 46 years. I’ve never had a spat, you can imagine, right? (Laughing). On the other hand, I think they got together. They have to work that out. You can say all the things you want to them individually and collectively, but I think the key thing is they understand everybody loses when that happens. The crew loses. The team loses. Sponsors lose, but from the standpoint of going forward, and I watch where they’re racing now, and I think, look, those things happen. Sometimes they happen for the best. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but I think it brings that sort of a subject to the surface and we deal with it professionally and I think that’s what the guys have done, and I look forward to getting with them on Talladega because these big plate races, as I call them, anything can trigger something and with the way the rules are today and the way you can draft and the speed, it’s so difficult to get behind someone just exactly right and not spin them out. So, that’s gonna be a discussion we’ll have and we’ll have that before Talladega.”

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR BLANEY AFTER WINNING YESTERDAY AND HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR ORGANIZATION STACKS UP WITH THE OTHER ORGANIZATIONS? “I think we started with XFINITY, we’ve got two wins and Cindric has done a great job. I think he ran at Daytona and got collected in that wreck at the end and yesterday he obviously had to start last and never drove in that kind of a car. As I told him, I said, ‘I thought you did a great job staying out of trouble.’ That was certainly part of the plan, and then I think from a points perspective Joey is third and I think Brad is fifth and Blaney is seventh now, and we’ve had a number of top fives. It’s interesting and something we’re all looking at is why is one car so good one day and the other ones aren’t? I think you’ve seen that with all the teams. It’s an understanding of why is one better? Maybe it’s driving style, but I feel good where we are. I think the road races, our guys are good on road races. I think that’s gonna be a positive. I can’t tell you about dirt racing. That’s gonna be completely new to our team. I’ve never really had a dirt car that we’ve entered in any race, so that’s gonna be interesting. Our guys have tested some, so I think there’s some preparation that’s taken place by the team. Look, the fact that Ryan Blaney, that first win whether it was Blaney or Logano or DiBenedetto or Brad is so important for a team to get that one, that first one because it just gives you the momentum to say we are competitive. I think to see as good as the 5 car was and when you look at that car and what he’s been able to do with it, to his credit by the way and Hendrick Motorsports, to be able to run him down, and if you look at it he was second, I think, in both of the stages, which he really didn’t get much credit for because the 5 was running away with it, but I think he was there all day. I guess we had a better long run car and then to see Ryan be able to bring it home was terrific, and I think he needed that. He’d won plate races, but he’d never won on a mile or a mile-and-a-half where he had to grind it out with these guys. He’d be fast and he even said it himself, ‘I’m fast early on, but I can’t keep it at the end.’ I think this was a great win for him and a lot of confidence, which I think we’ll see a lot of him this year. I take my hat off to Todd Gordon and the team. A couple of our pit stops at the end were some of the best we’ve had.”

DO YOU HAVE A BALLPARK OF WHAT YOU THINK THE CROWD COULD BE LIKE IN MAY? “We’re not making any predictions at all because anything I would say today could be completely wrong. Our goal is to have 250,000. I mean, that’s what we want to have. It’s outside. We’ve got the biggest stadium in the world here and it’s a matter of where we’re gonna be with the CDC and the governor and the mayor, so I don’t have any number that I’d want to hang my hat on. It just shows you the interest in the race and we’ve got a lot of people that are waiting, and we have our GA and what else we normally do on that weekend, but I think the good news is we’re gonna have the race and it will be limited or be open based on what the current numbers are. Right now, we’re at about 3.1 percent here in Marion county, which is good. It’s way down and I think with that it will hopefully be a big number. That’s what our hope is, but what we’ve done in the meantime we’ve been doing vaccinations here. We did 16,000 in three days and we’re getting ready to do a mass vaccination in April. We haven’t worked out the details yet with the state, but we think there’s an opportunity to make a big impact here, where we could give back to the community. WIth the size of our facility and what we were able to accomplish just in three days, we think we can really help this whole area here — the city of Indianapolis and the surrounding counties.”

DID YOU GET YOURS AS PART OF THAT VACCINE DRIVE? “I got mine earlier on. I hit the top age bracket, so that’s one time the age worked out for you. I checked the box.”

ALL OF THE FIRST THREE INDY CAR RACES ARE EXPECTING SPECTATORS. ARE YOU EXPECTING FANS AT EVERY RACE THIS SEASON? “What we’re doing with each one of the promoters, based on what the local rules are, we’re gonna have the sponsor capability with the teams. We limit some of the hardcards, etc., but we’re flexible, and then the promoter will decide how many fans they will have, but in every case as we did in St. Pete the last race, and I think at the end of the day here, we’ll have fans at all those races, obviously Texas. And the good news is that we’ve got network TV on the first six of our eight races, which will give us a good shot in the arm. You’ve seen the number of teams that are entering. We’ve got a lot of new teams and drivers, so we feel good about it — what we have to do to go racing. The guys all can’t wait to get here on the track and get ready to go. Jimmie Johnson, there’s a lot of interest in him, obviously. Working with Chip will be a great opportunity. At Team Penske, certainly we’ve got Scott McLaughlin and he’s learning just like Jimmie is, but it’s an exciting time for us. To me, all the promoters are playing ball and I think that’s what makes a difference. We certainly here at the speedway are using all the flexibility we can to support the teams and giving them the practice they need prior to them getting here in May.”

DO YOU THINK THE PARTS FREEZE HAS BEEN A SIGNIFICANT FACTOR IN HAVING SIX DIFFERENT WINNERS TO START THE CUP SEASON? “I think we haven’t had many rule changes and parts have been frozen. If you go back, we had to submit things almost a year ago, things that we could use, so there hasn’t been that engineering changes — creeping elegance I talk about within the team to get better, and I just think the garage area is being managed much tighter than it’s been before, which, quite honestly, is good for everybody. It’s a level playing field and, for me, it’s the same for us as it is for anybody else. I’m comfortable with what’s going on. I can say that now that we have a race, but it’s interesting to see the different cars. There’s a lot more cars being competitive at certain times during the race. The restarts are wild and I think we’ve got a great product right now for the fans.”

DO YOU FORESEE AND RESTRUCTURING IN TERMS OF PERSONNEL TO GET READY FOR THE NEXT GEN CAR? “As we go into the new car, we’re gonna have a big job to do. When you think about the number of cars we have now and will be transitioning to all new cars, all new pieces, so it’s gonna take the same manpower to get that done. I think we always have some attrition each year, people that want to move on or move out of the sport, so we’ll let that happen naturally.”

AS A TEAM OWNER ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THE COST THAT GOES ALONG WITH HAVING A DIRT RACE? “If we can make the show better and make NASCAR even better for the fans around the world and the people here in the U.S., I’m all for it. The incremental cost is nothing when you think about the overall picture. I mean, I think it’s minimal and I’m anxious to see it, quite honestly. We need these road races. Look at the 20 car at Daytona. We’re seeing a lot of people. This brings more people to the forefront and gives people who have experience in these areas a chance to perform and ones that aren’t so good are gonna get better. You’ve seen that with road races, so from a cost perspective that’s not a consideration that we’re even thinking about.”

A LOT OF SPORTS LEAGUES ARE SHIFTING PROGRAMS TO STREAMING, INSTEAD OF OVER-THE-AIR CABLE TELEVISION. AS A TEAM OWNER AND SERIES OWNER WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT GOING TO STREAMING? “I think pay for TV streaming, etc., you’ve seen what the NFL is doing. There are some game changers out there right now and I think that all has to be justified one way or the other with the reach we have. NASCAR, obviously, has got a great TV contract. They’ve done a good job giving us an opportunity to have a piece of that TV contract, and if streaming becomes a major part of the success in the future and we reach more people, I think we’ve got to be part of it, but I’m not really an expert in it, to be very honest with you. I really rely on our people and would rely on NASCAR to make the right move because today they’ve done an excellent job, and I think the fact that we’ve had such a good season last year from the standpoint of our TV ratings, and also as we come into this year the sport is relative. People see it, people that might not before, so even though we haven’t had fans in the stands, the TV situation has kept us on top, so I would expect any streaming deals or opportunities in the front will be, really, we’ll get that from the standpoint of the owner’s council will get a chance to talk about that with NASCAR and they’ll be completely transparent with that, hopefully with the teams as we go forward.”

WOULD YOU BE OK WITH INDY CAR MOVING TO STREAMING, AND THE DEAL WITH NBC ENDS AFTER THIS YEAR. DO YOU EXPECT THAT TO CONTINUE IN SOME FORM NEXT YEAR? “We don’t really talk about the negotiations we’re having right now for the future, but we certainly want to have a broadcast partner as we go into the future, and if that entails streaming and other aspects of what might be available, we’re looking at all of those. We’ll be talking about that certainly in the near future.”

CAN YOU CLARIFY WHAT THE CONVERSATION WITH BRAD AND JOEY WILL BE LIKE? WHAT IS THE MESSAGE SUPPOSED TO BE? “I’ll tell you this, I’m not sure exactly what the outcome will be. I think we’ll talk about a number of subject matters that are just like that. What’s the right thing, because at the end of the day if you have three or four cars in the race, only one is gonna win. But if one wins, the whole team wins so we cannot forget that. These guys are contracted with us. They’re part of the success we’ve had, and I think after the situation at Daytona we’re gonna have some good, solid conversations, and I think we’ll hopefully come up with something that will be meaningful. I can’t talk about what the other teams do. The Fords want to help Fords. The Chevys want to help Chevys, so there’s a lot of give-and-take in parts of that race. I’ve always said in the past, ‘Let’s go for it in the last 10 laps, but let’s take care of ourselves until we get there.’ Now, I might have to change my tune based on what I saw at Daytona.”

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE BEYOND THIS SEASON IN TERMS OF FUTURE SCHEDULES AND POSSIBLE NASCAR/INDY CAR EVENTS ON THE SAME WEEKEND AT THE SAME FACILITY? “Let me answer that question. I’ve had conversations with (Steve) Phelps, that we would be very happy to run on the weekend. We’re trying it, obviously, as we’ve done last year at Indy. We’re gonna do it again this year on the road race, so I think we work well together. We have a short race. We could run maybe two races on a Saturday will help the attendance for any promoter. Maybe we run at night. We run Saturday night and they run Sunday, so there’s lots of combinations. I would hope that we could do more of that. I’m open myself, but it’s a matter of what NASCAR wants to do with our schedule. As far as the series is concerned, I think the ultimate goal here is to have better racing at a lower cost, and I think that’s one of the things that we’ll find out once we build our fleet. Now, that’s gonna take a significant investment by everyone initially to build your fleet back up, and that’s something we all have to do and then we have to sort out the cars, and I think the fact that a lot of the pieces that we were building were special special. Those will all be common across the fleets of all the teams will make a big difference, a big difference in cost and it’s gonna come down — you’re gonna see very tight racing again as we’ve seen here in the last several weeks. I think NASCAR is aware of that from a show perspective. I think dirt, I think road races, I think all sorts of different combinations we’re gonna see. Do we see longer races or do we see shorter races? I think that’s gonna be driven, whether we talk about streaming or whether we talk about the TV contract, I think NASCAR and everyone else involved is gonna have to look at all these pieces, and I think it’s gonna be iterative. I don’t think it’s gonna be one big move that’s gonna change the world. I don’t want to do it that way. I think we’re better off to go slow and be sure we’ve got a foundation we can fall back on if we’ve made a mistake, and I think, to me, that would be my message to NASCAR, but they’ve taken time this extra time with the new car for next year. I think it’s been good. There’s been a lot of testing. I think some of the cars are in production already. We’ve tested some, but we don’t have any yet, obviously, but that’s gonna be an opportunity. Quite honestly, it gives everybody a brand new chance. All the old school stuff that we did, that’s all gonna go away because these cars are completely different from a suspension and the way that you set them up, so we’ll see who comes out on top.”

ONE THING NASCAR HASN’T DONE IS A STREET COURSE. MIGHT THERE BE A WAY TO HAVE INDY CAR AND NASCAR DO A STREET COURSE EVENT IN THE FUTURE? “I think that’s the other side of the coin. I think it’s interesting. The stock cars running, I think you could look at it from the Gen 7 car because remember down in Australia we ran a similar type car. It was a little bit smaller, but we ran every week down there and every race was on some sort of a street or a permanent road course and it was great. So, that could certainly be an opportunity and something we should take a look at. I think we need a year or maybe two years to get our hands around these cars and know how agile they are and what are the costs? Does it need more brakes, etc, which you need. If you’re running on a street course, you don’t have the long straightaways to cool the brakes, so there’s a lot of things that become different. You could even see that at Daytona, couldn’t you, with drivers running out of brakes down there at the end of those stints, but those are things we can adapt to, I think, very quickly as teams.”


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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