CONCORD, N.C. — The end of the 2019 racing season marks an anniversary of sorts in NASCAR’s competition department. Jay Fabian will hit a work milestone next month, completing one year as the director of stock-car racing’s premier series.
Fabian has brought an even-keeled touch to the position, but it’s also a hands-on manner with others that’s helped him navigate the Cup Series garage — even in a season that brought stricter deterrence systems with a new inspection model. It’s what he hopes will help steer the series in a major time of transition ahead in the coming years. And it’s an approach that has developed over his years as a team executive on the other side of the garage’s fence.
“That may have just been a bit of luck,” Fabian explained last week from the NASCAR Research & Development Center. “I have that relationship with a lot of people that I had worked with before. … If you don’t have that good relationship, you’re not going to be successful in any model. So now that I’m on this side, it’s me talking to the same people the same way about, ‘hey, you’ve got to fix this. We’re not OK with that.’
“Same way with in my life as a supervisor at a race team, if you don’t assemble a car correctly, you’re going to have failures and issues and you have to address it with those folks that, here’s what you’ve done wrong. It’s a little bit of the same approach, and you have to be the one doing it. I’ve always felt responsible for my job, so I’ve always stayed hands-on, whether it was building a car or whether it’s here. I think it’s super-important.”
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. There’s plenty to recharge for — ongoing tests and development to the Next Gen car that’s on target for 2021, potential tweaks for next season’s rules and procedures, a newly merged NASCAR that has absorbed International Speedway Corp. and a shaken-up schedule that’s likely to continue evolving.
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Fabian’s 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 NASCAR’s three national tours, but all 36 winning cars in the Cup Series were found in compliance with the rule book — a smooth outcome that Fabian said starts with cooperation with the teams.
“We didn’t have to spend much time fighting with them, so that went pretty well,” Fabian says. “That was less of a fight than I anticipated.”
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 — 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.
“We’ll see quite a bit of impound weekends,” Fabian says, referencing schedules where cars are garaged and not eligible for major changes between qualifying and the race start. “Historically, the enhanced schedule is when we would qualify and then inspect the next morning and then you’d (have offenders) start at the back — there shouldn’t be any of those, but we’ll 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 you’ll see in 2020.”
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 Penske’s 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 car’s characteristics.
“They 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 would’ve on an entirely new car,” Fabian said, noting that officials on site worked with Logano to find the proper steering feel and responsiveness as they collected data. “I think they got that sorted, and I think everything that they’d gone through was pretty positive at the test. Comments are good, feedback is good. I think that (Logano) would’ve been content throughout the test at one point to line it up and race it, so that’s pretty good.”
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. “He thought it would be fair to split the winnings, so he got a racing economics lesson of how much it cost to get there,” Jay said with a laugh. “So when he figured out how much he owed me after we split the winnings, maybe we should just stay the way we have been.”
Fabian insists he hasn’t pushed his son’s racing endeavors, saying “the minute he says I don’t want to do this, I won’t be able to get rid of that stuff quick enough.” Brady frequently tags along with his father on Cup Series weekends, but the smaller-scale grassroots side has its own appeal — even though Fabian admits he sometimes bristles when the driver meetings and other scheduled events don’t go like big-league clockwork.
“At this job, we don’t win,” Fabian says, explaining that a job well done means not making waves or headlines. “We don’t 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. It’s hard to throw your hands up and consider that a win, but in my life of racing, it’s still nice to be able to take your kid out and try to do the best you can to perform.”
Still, it begs the question: Does a ranking official trusted to enforce the rule book of stock-car racing’s top series ever show up at a youth event with an, ahem, innovative car that pushes boundaries?
“So there is always a potential that I’ll get thrown out because I don’t build my own engines, but as far as everything else on the car, I am 100 percent confident of my knowledge that there isn’t anything off,” Fabian smiles. “That would be pretty embarrassing to get thrown out of a quarter-midget race because my car’s illegal.”