NASCAR President Steve Phelps touts playoff format, Cup drivers

AVONDALE, Ariz. — NASCAR President Steve Phelps touted the playoff system in his state of the sport address Friday at Phoenix Raceway. He then addressed questions about the star power in NASCAR, the ongoing charter negotiations with Cup teams and the efforts to grow the sport through diversity and inclusion.

Phelps said during the Friday morning session that some people view the playoff system as “gimmicky.” He disagreed while saying that the current system rewards the best drivers in the sport.

Phelps said that the champion crowned on Sunday will be deserving and that NASCAR has the most competitive racing in the world.

MORE: Full transcript of state of the sport session

Here is what Phelps and Steve O’Donnell, chief operating officer, had to say on a variety of subjects:

On how NASCAR drivers can help sell the sport:

Phelps: I think for us, our drivers are fantastic. They're interesting. They're heroes when they get into the race car. We need to expose them in a greater way to both existing fans, nurturing that relationship with the existing fans, and future fans. How do you do that? One of the ways we can do that is we have a brand-new production facility that we're building out in Concord next to our R&D facility, which will have two main components to it. It will be kind of the live broadcast component, then something we call NASCAR Studios, which is essentially content.

We think the opportunity to create content, interesting content, whether it's short form or series like what we're doing with Netflix or whatever that may be, to serve fans where they are is an important component to it. Our drivers are cool. They're interesting. We think we've got the best racing in the world. So all those combinations together we think will allow our drivers to build their own brands. If we build our driver brands, then the sport's going to have the best success for long-term growth.

On the possibility of increasing horsepower at short tracks:

O’Donnell: I think everything is up for consideration. We've proven that. You have to factor in what are the costs involved as well, right? It's not as simple as just upping the horsepower. You better be ready for all your OEs to be onboard. It better make sense for any potential new OEM and technology. It's not just a short-term answer.

For us, we're going to look at shifting specifically around that at our next test and see what we can do. There will be variations. Also some aero things we do with the underbody. There's some things we found in Richmond from an aero standpoint that could work as well.

On the charter agreement negotiations:

Phelps: We won't get into the negotiations specifically, but I would say that I'm confident that the teams and NASCAR will come to an agreement that is fair for race teams, fair for NASCAR, and help grow the sport. I think that's what we're going to do.

On this season’s officiating:

O’Donnell: I think as a sport, I put our officials up against any sport in the world. I'd also put our officials from an integrity standpoint up against anyone in the world. When they make a mistake, they don't hide. They go to the media. They go to a race team and they correct it.

Doesn't happen in all sports. Do we want to get everything right? We do. But I would remind everyone there's no timeouts, there's no going back to New York to review something. You're racing. Every second of every race you got to make a call. You got to be able to defend that. They're able to come in and defend the call they made. If we made a mistake, we're going to address it.

We meet every Tuesday. We go over everything that happened in race control. We talk to the drivers, the owners. We want to be perfect for sure, but we're not going to get everything right. We're not going to get everything right in '24 or '25 as well.

But I promise you that the best interests of getting it right every single second of every race, it's always our goal.

On NASCAR’s growth through diversity efforts:

Phelps: I'm proud of the work that we've done in the areas of diversity inclusion to broaden our sport. Our sport is about welcoming all race fans, right? That's what we want to do. We are going to continue efforts to have the entire country, the entire world, come to our facilities, watch on television, because it's about a love for racing.

I think our racing and our sport in general, but racing specifically, is a great opportunity for people to come together. That's what we want to do.

We're going to continue to make sure that we are broadening our fan base, and broadening our fan base across every segment of this population - young, old, black, white, male, female, all of it - because that's how we're going to grow.

Our job when we wake up in the morning, How can we grow this sport? We're going to do it with all kinds of programs to meet potential race fans where they are, or existing race fans where they are. I think that's the responsibility of anyone who works within this sport, certainly those that work in NASCAR.

On the possibility of EV cars:

O’Donnell: Yeah, a lot of work's gone on at the R&D department around EV. We have a car. We have an alternative body style with that car. I would not look for us specifically to go racing with it. I think you could see it showcased at certain events next year. But there's other forms that we want to look at.

I'm actually headed to Japan Thursday to go look at hydrogen racing specifically. We've got a contingent heading over to Japan to look at that.

We want to kind of test each and every form. Really excited about what our teams put together around an electric car. Again, wanted to showcase that to the fans and explore other technologies, as well.

On the future of stage breaks at road courses:

O’Donnell: I would say that we are strongly looking at that. I would say 99% there will be some type of stage break. We do want to look at the incentives during the race. There was a lot of challenges from the race teams of strategy, who stays out or points. I think we want to take some time with the teams and drivers to figure out what's the best use of that, maybe looking at the points system as well. But would anticipate stages, for sure.