CONCORD, N.C. â The end of the 2019 racing season marks an anniversary of sorts in NASCARâs competition department. Jay Fabian will hit a work milestone next month, completing one year as the director of stock-car racingâs premier series.
Fabian has brought an even-keeled touch to the position, but itâs also a hands-on manner with others thatâs helped him navigate the Cup Series garage â even in a season that brought stricter deterrence systems with a new inspection model. Itâs what he hopes will help steer the series in a major time of transition ahead in the coming years. And itâs an approach that has developed over his years as a team executive on the other side of the garageâs fence.
âThat may have just been a bit of luck,â Fabian explained last week from the NASCAR Research & Development Center. âI have that relationship with a lot of people that I had worked with before. âŠ If you donât have that good relationship, youâre not going to be successful in any model. So now that Iâm on this side, itâs me talking to the same people the same way about, âhey, youâve got to fix this. Weâre not OK with that.â
âSame way with in my life as a supervisor at a race team, if you donât assemble a car correctly, youâre going to have failures and issues and you have to address it with those folks that, hereâs what youâve done wrong. Itâs a little bit of the same approach, and you have to be the one doing it. Iâve always felt responsible for my job, so Iâve always stayed hands-on, whether it was building a car or whether itâs here. I think itâs super-important.â
For Fabian and the rest of the department at the R&D Center, the holiday break offers a welcome chance to rest and re-energize for the season ahead. Thereâs plenty to recharge for â ongoing tests and development to the Next Gen car thatâs on target for 2021, potential tweaks for next seasonâs rules and procedures, a newly merged NASCAR that has absorbed International Speedway Corp. and a shaken-up schedule thatâs likely to continue evolving.
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Fabianâs prime challenge upon taking the job came with an accelerated post-race inspection model that carried tougher penalties, including the potential disqualification of race winners caught with significant rules violations. Such punishments were relatively scarce last season in NASCARâs three national tours, but all 36 winning cars in the Cup Series were found in compliance with the rule book â a smooth outcome that Fabian said starts with cooperation with the teams.
âWe didnât have to spend much time fighting with them, so that went pretty well,â Fabian says. âThat was less of a fight than I anticipated.â
That model is expected to return largely intact for 2020, but with the potential for more cars returning to the R&D Center so that competition officials can monitor them for trends âÂ and also to enforce compliance with the expanded parts freeze for next year, instituted ahead of the 2021 arrival of the Next Gen model.
Any other potential rules and procedural alterations would be announced closer to the season-opening Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway in February, but Fabian hinted that the structure of each race weekend is currently under review.
âWeâll see quite a bit of impound weekends,â Fabian says, referencing schedules where cars are garaged and not eligible for major changes between qualifying and the race start. âHistorically, the enhanced schedule is when we would qualify and then inspect the next morning and then youâd (have offenders) start at the back â there shouldnât be any of those, but weâll still have plenty of two-day schedules. There will be some three-day schedules. I think there were actually some races toward the end of the year that those weekend schedules will be very similar to what youâll see in 2020.â
Fabian and his group also are deeply involved with the development of the series Next Gen car, which completed its second on-track test Dec. 9-10 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix with Team Penskeâs Joey Logano at the wheel. The same prototype underwent testing at Richmond in October, with driver Austin Dillon and the Richard Childress Racing crew that built it putting the model through its paces.
The most recent test brought teams together across manufacturer lines, with NASCAR officials working with Childress (Chevrolet) and Penske (Ford) personnel to learn more about the carâs characteristics.
âThey gave comments on the car and some performance items that in my past, you would go to a test with subtle changes on a car and you would get more feedback than you wouldâve on an entirely new car,â Fabian said, noting that officials on site worked with Logano to find the proper steering feel and responsiveness as they collected data. âI think they got that sorted, and I think everything that theyâd gone through was pretty positive at the test. Comments are good, feedback is good. I think that (Logano) wouldâve been content throughout the test at one point to line it up and race it, so thatâs pretty good.â
The offseason and the spare moments of free time have given Fabian a chance to catch up on some extracurriculars, racing with his 13-year-old son, Brady, as much as his schedule allows. The younger Fabian has competed in quarter-midgets for roughly four years and is making the transition to dirt racing at Millbridge Speedway near Salisbury, North Carolina.
Brady Fabian prevailed in two classes in Huntsville, Alabama, over Thanksgiving weekend, actually collecting a small purse. âHe thought it would be fair to split the winnings, so he got a racing economics lesson of how much it cost to get there,â Jay said with a laugh. âSo when he figured out how much he owed me after we split the winnings, maybe we should just stay the way we have been.â
Fabian insists he hasnât pushed his sonâs racing endeavors, saying âthe minute he says I donât want to do this, I wonât be able to get rid of that stuff quick enough.â Brady frequently tags along with his father on Cup Series weekends, but the smaller-scale grassroots side has its own appeal â even though Fabian admits he sometimes bristles when the driver meetings and other scheduled events donât go like big-league clockwork.
âAt this job, we donât win,â Fabian says, explaining that a job well done means not making waves or headlines. âWe donât come home hung over because we just won something. We try to put on a great race and not be involved in any of the stories of the weekend. Itâs hard to throw your hands up and consider that a win, but in my life of racing, itâs still nice to be able to take your kid out and try to do the best you can to perform.â
Still, it begs the question: Does a ranking official trusted to enforce the rule book of stock-car racingâs top series ever show up at a youth event with an, ahem, innovative car that pushes boundaries?
âSo there is always a potential that Iâll get thrown out because I donât build my own engines, but as far as everything else on the car, I am 100 percent confident of my knowledge that there isnât anything off,â Fabian smiles. âThat would be pretty embarrassing to get thrown out of a quarter-midget race because my carâs illegal.â