Before Steve Phelps officially becomes the fourth president of NASCAR next week, he held his first extended media availability Wednesday afternoon.
At the NASCAR offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, Phelps (pictured) entertained a group of reporters for an on-the-record conversation that lasted over an hour. Among the questions that Phelps answered were those on team ownership, competition and business, schedule changes, Brian France’s future and that stake in NASCAR that was rumored to be up for sale earlier this year.
Here are a few of Phelps’ more noteworthy responses:
Anything you can tell us about the 2019 package?
“Nothing to report on the 2019 package; we are obviously getting a lot of input from teams, broadcast partners, tracks, drivers, and we’re not going to have 100 percent alignment. And when you have something that is a significant competition issue, you’re going to have differences of opinion but when we’re ready to announce that, which will be relatively shortly, I think the industry will come together and say, yes, this is what’s in the best interest of the industry, and that’s the package we’re going to run.
“What we’re trying to [do] is whatever that 2019 rules package is going to be is pretty simple: We want to have the best racing we can and what is going to deliver against that promise we make to our race fans which is close competitive side-by-side racing. That’s a goal we’re always focused on.”
On trying to grow team ownership and Furniture Row Racing closing
“We’re sorry to see Barney [Visser] go, frankly. Barney is a gentle giant, kind of a quiet force. We don’t want to see ownership leave or owners switch like that, and particularly when you have someone who is your reigning owner of your champion. With that said, there are circumstances that happened as part of his deal from an expense standpoint and from a sponsorship standpoint that he didn’t feel he could make work. Some family things, whatever he wants to share with you all.
“Do I think it’s systemic? I don’t. Do we need to have and would we welcome new owners to come into the sport? We would. We welcome new OEMs to come into the sport, and we’re on that journey as well. It’s an important thing. Our owners who love this sport, and many who have been in it for decades, we want to make sure there is a transition to new ownership as well and in a way that benefits the sport.”
Any progress on the new sponsorship model NASCAR mentioned?
“We’re meeting with teams and tracks, with our broadcast partners to try to fine-tune what that looks like. We are continuing on that. We want to make, like ownership, the sport as easy as it can be for sponsorship to come in and say yes. Reward those sponsors that are currently in the sport so they want to stay. So, we’re continuing on that. It’s something we are interested in implementing in the 2020 season but it won’t be a full rollout. We have sponsors who are in place at the track level, we have sponsors who are in place at the sanctioning body level that we have to honor those contracts and see where they go from there.”
What is a suitable attendance number for a track like Richmond, and should a track that’s lost roughly seven percent of its crowd twice a year be allowed to keep two races?
“I won’t try to be Pollyannaish about this at all – I don’t know what the optimal crowd is for a Richmond or for any other facility, frankly. What I do know is we need to make sure the race product that we put on the track is as good as it can be, which is what we’re going to do.
“We do know that the race-day experience or the race-day weekend is really important, so we’re working with our tracks to have them understand that, and we need to reinvent what I would call the event promotion and what that looks like. And that gets back to a collaboration effort which we are going to see to between our racetracks, NASCAR, our broadcast partners and our teams and drivers in order to promote this sport in a way we haven’t in the past.