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ESPN holds news conference addressing last year of NASCAR coverage

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Most modern NASCAR fans can point to one film that redefined the sport to them, and helped to make them lifelong fans; Days of Thunder.

"What do you know about stock car racing?" asked Harry Hogge.

"Well... watched it on television, of course," responded Cole Trickle.

"You've seen it on television?" replied Harry.

"ESPN. The coverage is excellent, you'd be surprised at how much you can pick up," said Cole.

"I'm sure I would," Harry stated.

After nearly three decades of coverage of the most popular form of motorsports in the United States, ESPN announced last year that 2014 would be their final season of NASCAR programming. On Wednesday, Feb. 19, the network held a news conference with their in-booth team; Allen Bestwick, Dale Jarrett, and Andy Petree.

MODERATOR: "As everybody knows, this is our final year in NASCAR, and I'd like to ask Allen Bestwick if he could talk about that a little bit having been through it before, and Allen, how you go into this year and what kind of thoughts you have going into it."

ALLEN BESTWICK: "Yeah, been through this before. It's part of the business of the business that we all raised our hands to be part of. I can tell you from my personal experience, October 2005, when NBC called us all into a room and said, sorry, we lost the bid, we're out, but we've got a year and a third to go, let's finish strong, that's exactly what everybody did.

The same is and will happen here. It's in nobody's interest, personally or professionally, or the company's interest, business‑wise, to do anything but keep our right foot pressed all the way to the floorboards, and that's what'll happen. When we get to the end of the season and we're done with Homestead and we set the headsets down on the desk, I'm sure there's going to be a hell of a party, because you spend a lot of time with people who become like a second family to you, and when that run ends, it's a little tough.

But between now and then, our company has dedicated, tremendous resources to us. Our plans are exactly the same. I mean, here before we even started the season, we covered live on the air Brian France's press conference, including all the question‑and‑answer sessions from Charlotte. We had our hours‑long coverage of media day last week. Sunday after we're done with our race on Saturday, our pit studio will be here again, like it's always been, and we'll be here from very early in the morning until very late at night. With SportsCenter coverage including a full‑hour show on SportsCenter.

Nothing changes, and we're here to do our job, and we have some great plans and we look forward to a great season."

THE MODERATOR: "Before we open it up for questions, there's something else I wanted to address a little bit. We had a production meeting this morning, and one of the things we talked about is we're going to be the first network to air the first version of NASCAR's new qualifying format, which happens Friday with the Nationwide Series. I know most people here are focused on the Daytona 500 and its traditional qualifying format, but NASCAR's new qualifying format actually does debut with the Nationwide Series, and we'll be televising that. Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett and some others were talking about that this morning. Andy, I believe you had some thoughts about how it's going to be a work in progress."

ANDY PETREE: "Yeah, it is. One of the most difficult qualifying sessions to do on TV has traditionally been one of these restrictor plate races. It takes forever, with one car on the track, and it takes a lot to try to find things to talk about. We're going to have the opposite now. We've got this thing that's going to really happen quickly. You're going to have all the cars out there. We're going to all have to figure out how to cover it, and then the teams and the crew chiefs are going to be really challenged on how to maximize everything that they have, the tools they have, to try to get the best qualifying position. I think it's going to be really exciting and so many unknown things, and I'm not sure we'll have enough time now to try to document everything.

We'll do the best job we can, and I think our group has got a graphics package that's going to help the viewers keep up with it, and hopefully Dale and I and Allen can document it well."

THE MODERATOR: "Dale, you had some thoughts about how the drivers might be dealing with it."

DALE JARRETT: "Yeah, it's going to be interesting to watch them as they try ‑‑ I think a lot of them have an idea in their head, but once you get on the racetrack, just like when you have a plan going into the race, it doesn't always work out like that, and in this session, in particular on Friday, you're really not ever going to want to be the lead car because that's not the fastest place on the racetrack. So somebody is going to have to be that for it to be a draft behind that to make those cars fast and get your fast time.

It's going to be interesting to see what the drivers do.

There's also going to be some games played. I think there will be on Friday. I think as we get into the qualifying at other places, there will be games more than some people really want, and it could have some people getting their feelings hurt a few times, and should be interesting TV. I'm really anxious to see how this all evolves, but I know from a driver's perspective it's going to be a learning process, and I know the ones I've talked to said we have this in mind right now, but that could change in the middle of those first few."

Q. "With the new qualifying format, the changes to the Chase, the win‑you're‑in deal, how big of a deal is this for NASCAR in terms of that excitement drawing some fans back and maybe creating some new ones?"

DALE JARRETT: "Yeah, I used something yesterday. I had the good fortune of seeing my son play his first baseball game, but I was there about an hour and 10 minutes before the game. I'm not sure who was more excited, he or I. Anyway, a number of the parents were there, and they were talking and it kind of got a little gathering around there, and they wanted to talk racing before that, about all the changes that were made at one time, and was that good. And I really think that it's a good thing. I think if you're going to make those changes, why not make wholesale changes, draw some excitement. You've got obviously y'all are all seeing a lot of things and mostly good things about it now, and I think if everyone will give it time, we're going to see some exciting things come from all of this.

We've gotten past the point that one lap of qualifying, yeah, it's exciting from the driver's seat, but watching it and trying to cover it became difficult, increasingly more fans want to see it, so let's make it more exciting, and I think that that's going to happen.

I'm big on the new Chase format. I really like the idea of what they've come up with and the idea that if you win you're going to move on, and that's the way sports and any competition should be.

I think that it's going to bring just another element to this, and I know the drivers are still working through that, but I think what they'll ‑‑ and I understand the concept. Everyone tries hard every time they're in there to go win, but there's positions and situations that they were in before, whenever a good finish versus an opportunity to maybe make a space and take a win that they're going to take that win now or take that opportunity to make that.

So I think it's going to bring some excitement. I'm really looking forward to this, and I'm really glad that it came about before we exit because I really want to see what this is going to be, and we have the first opportunity to cover it, so it should be a lot of fun."

Q. "The question is actually to all three of you because you represent three different growths, if you will. One of you is a TV veteran, one is a driving veteran, one is a crew chief veteran. NASCAR recently made what appears to be a minor change but seems to be a very significant change to qualifying. There's that crew member now who after you take some laps can go out there and change the car, and you can make some more laps. How critical do you think that is going to be to the entire process?"

ANDY PETREE: "Well, from a crew chief's point of view, I love it because any time I can get my hands on the car, I'm in the game, and that's what I want to do. I want to get out there, be part of it. I think that's a great idea to have them where they can get out there, they put the car out for qualifying and it doesn't do what they want, they can reset in the huddle and snap it again, and I think that's a good thing.

And as far as a crew chief goes, that's the kind of thing I like. I like having more involvement. It's become more and more over the years where they're taking the crew chiefs a little more out of it, and this puts them more back in it.

As far as the qualifying procedures go, I'm a big fan."

DALE JARRETT: "Yeah, from the driver's standpoint, yeah, I'm glad they made that to where you can make some adjustments because they're going to have their hands full here as they try to do this on one set of tires. That's the big thing with the drivers is a lot of these tracks, a place like here and what they're going to do and some other of the tracks that are newly paved, it's not as big an issue as they move forward, but you get to places like Atlanta, Darlington, these places where a new tire, you want to be careful rolling the car out and not hurting the tires. By the time you get to that, making those extra runs, it's going to be a handful, so being able to make an adjustment. So they're going to have to adapt to that.

It's going to be interesting to see them, how they go about things and really maximize their efforts there, and the crew chiefs are going to be a big part of making all of that scenario happen. But the drivers are going to have their hands full in trying to set the fast time a lot of these places where their tires aren't the very best."

ALLEN BESTWICK: "And from a broadcasting perspective, if you've got a 25‑ or 30‑minute session and you can't adjust the car and your tires and your engine are getting hot and you make that one run, what's your incentive to go back out and try again? That could leave you with some stretches of nobody on the racetrack, depending on the situation. This gives people the ability to try and improve, which is good, because there's always something to look forward to."

Q. "Dale, getting back to you, as a driver, how tough was it to leave the cockpit of the car, go behind the microphones, behind the cameras in the booth, and do you still miss it some today?"

DALE JARRETT: "You know, it was a blessing to have something to do around the people that I enjoy being around and the sport that I love. So that was great that ESPN gave me that opportunity right from the very beginning. As a matter of fact, helped make my decision as to when I was getting out of the car.

I had a conversation with Terry Bradshaw in 2007, a little promotion deal that we were doing, and he was asking me about when I was going to, have I thought about it, and obviously I was at that time, and thinking about things, but he said, just make sure is that you're finished because you can't ever really go back and do it as well as what you could before. I wanted to make sure I was finished. I knew I was finished with that, but also the great thing about what ESPN did for me and putting me here and giving me the opportunity to talk about this sport and give a different perspective, it also brought me around and made me miss it, and there were times that it was difficult.

I tried to pass it off, and as much as I was trying to convince others when they would ask me, I was trying to convince myself that I wasn't missing it, but that wasn't the case. I'm okay now. It's been quite a few years now, and I'm pretty good with it, but you never lose that competitive spirit. I know that I can't get back out there. I could get back out there, I shouldn't be out there is the way that it is.

I know that, and so I'm not ‑‑ I'm very good with where I'm at and the opportunity to work with these people, and I'll tell you, what Allen was talking about, the tremendous effort that's put forth each and every week to provide a good show on TV for the fans and the media, it's just incredible. I'm simply amazed at how many talented people that I've had the opportunity to work around, so it's been great."

Q. "Andy, of all the changes this year on the Cup side, a topic in the garage is the changes to the cars and the ride height rules and all that. How different is all that going to be for the teams this year with those changes in effect?"

ANDY PETREE: "It's going to be different, but they've got a good handle on it. They've done a lot of testing, and as a matter of fact the teams are very involved in the development of these new rules. It's not going to take anybody by surprise. I think it's going to help the competition some because of the zero ride height, not having to come back and go through tech as far as the heights go. I think that's going to help things and give you a little more tools to work with there.

I think the aerodynamics, what they've done, put a little more downforce and drag on them is going to help. I think they missed an opportunity, though, to take a little power away. I think that would have helped some, too, but I think all the things that they've done are in the right direction, and I think it's going to help.

Like I say, a lot of changes everywhere. The car is probably one of the least amount of changes if you want to call it that compared to the qualifying and the Chase. But I think it's going to enhance competition."

Q. "As far as Dale and Andy, adjustments, Allen has already made the adjustment, but drivers and crew chiefs, that's probably what you guys are best at, so could you kind of like talk about what you're going to transition into the rest of your future?"

ANDY PETREE: "As far as an adjustment for me, I stepped away for a couple years before I did this job. But while I was not actively in the garage, I was working on things that helped develop the suspension systems of the cars, and we've sold a bunch of those rigs to all the teams. The major teams all have them now. That was one way that I stayed involved, and then I too took this job, and then like Dale said it gets you around the people you love and the sport that I absolutely still have a tremendous passion for. That kind of fuels it a little bit.

I mean, it's definitely a transition but there's a lot from a crew chief's point of view and a car owner, it's a tremendous amount of stress to go into that garage area every week and have 43 guys trying to take it to you, and it's hard. Very, very competitive, and it can wear you down.

I don't miss the stress part of it, but I do miss a little bit of the competitive. It's not much different for a crew chief than it is for a driver that wants to go out there and compete. There's still times that you miss that. I'm not going to ‑‑ like Dale is a great golfer, he can go compete with his buddies out on the golf course. I'm a terrible golfer, so all I can do is just go out there and try to hack it around."

DALE JARRETT: "Yeah, and that's the thing. There's nothing that ever replaces that. When you've competed at something and you try to go ‑‑ I thought maybe I could go play some golf tournaments and things like that, and that would kind of take some of that edge that I have of wanting to be a competitor, but it didn't even come close because I wasn't good enough at that to take that out of me and make me good enough for that to happen.

This has been great to be able to do this and see another side and learn something because this has been a challenge, still is to this day, of what to say, when to say it, different tracks. Here you have quite a long time that you can talk because of everything that's going on. You go to a place like Bristol, and if you say more than 15 words you've taken up three laps. You've got to be careful, and they're still hollering in my ear wherever we're there, but I can't get things out that quickly as you can see.

It's all been an adjustment, and that will continue to be, and that's kind of what we do in life, we adjust and move on to the next thing."

Q. "Andy, as a former car owner, you turned out pretty good restrictor plate cars. Why do you think nobody has replicated what DEI did on plate tracks in the early to mid 2000s?"

ANDY PETREE: "You want to put me on the spot there, don't you? Okay, well, if we go back to that period of time, there was a coalition that we put together, it was DEI, Childress and APR, my company. We formed this little thing called RAD. It was actually Dale Sr.'s idea to call it that: Richard, Andy and Dale. So we called this ‑‑ we all did this joint development project, aerodynamically, on these ‑‑ and the speedway cars was where we saw the most benefit.

It was almost at that time like some of the mega‑teams do now. You see Hendrick now has a relationship with Tony Stewart. They bring all that stuff in‑house. So they're doing a little bit of that now, but back then we were really the biggest game in town when it came to aerodynamic development, and DEI, they applied it probably better than most. We won a race at Talladega. We sat on the pole a couple times at my company, and I can't remember what Childress did during that time, but I think that was a big part of it, and they had the other pieces of the puzzle that really enhanced their effort, I think mainly in the engine department. I think we were lacking a little bit there, and I think that's why we weren't as successful as they were.

There's a lot of ‑‑ I always say it's a disproportionate amount of time spent on restrictor plate racing in the shops because there's only four of them, but they are the big ones, especially this one. I was guilty of it every year that I spent so much time in the off‑season working on just this race and kind of forgetting about the other ones. With this race being as big as it is, always felt like that was the importance, so yeah, there's still a lot of effort that goes into restrictor plate racing."

ALLEN BESTWICK: "But the box is smaller now, too. You guys put this research and development effort together, but now the box within which you can maneuver is tighter than it was."

ANDY PETREE: "Yeah, and I used to have one foot out of that box as much as I could."

DALE JARRETT: "They let you off awfully easy with those answers you gave there. There's more to that story, but we won't get into all that."

Q. "Andy and DJ, restrictor plate racing is supposed to be inherently exciting but last year seemed a little bit tamer, this race and of course you guys both had the call at the fall race at Talladega where you have the single‑file finish. Given what happened at the Sprint Unlimited, given the changes to the car, given a year or two of the Gen‑6, do you expect the restrictor plate racing this year might be a little bit more similar to what it used to be?"

ANDY PETREE: "I think it's going to be better. I don't know if they've gone far enough yet. What they did is they added a little bit more drag, and I mean a little bit more than what they had last year, and I think that's definitely in the right direction. I would like to see them, which they didn't ask me, but I would like to see them have a little bit more drag on them. I think they would race a little bit better.

What I saw in the Sprint Unlimited race on Saturday night was at least at portions of the race seemed similar. They were lining up against the wall, single file, and then at times they had two lines going. So I don't know what we're going to see in the 500. I know that they've gone in the right direction. I think it will be better. How much better we'll have to see on Sunday."

DALE JARRETT:
"Yeah, I liked what I saw. I agree a lot, Andy is very smart, and especially the aerodynamics part, and he's right. What we saw, it's going to be an adjustment for the drivers now. It's going to be interesting to see with their practice sessions, and I don't know how much because I know a lot of them aren't planning on doing a whole lot out there today, but tomorrow night they're going to have to make an adjustment here, and they need to learn and make some of that adjustment before Sunday comes around because the closing radius is quite a bit quicker now because it's making a bigger hole, you're getting a bigger drafting effect, so those cars are coming faster, so those blocks, you have to anticipate that more than what you were before.

The other thing that I saw is before I didn't really think that you could stall the cars out as well as what you used to with side drafting and things. It seemed that they were so fast that they pulled through that almost.

Now with the more drag and making a bigger weight there and dirtying up the air more, the side drafting is coming into effect, which is akin to a couple of different things. It puts those cars and stalls them out just like we saw with Denny. A lot of times, when Denny made that pass coming against the white flag or going down the back straightaway into Turn 3 and got himself so far out in front, normally you would see him get run down quickly and probably passed before he got back around. Well, those cars stalled out beside of each other because they all wanted to be the one in line.

So I think the lead, if you can ‑‑ you're going to have to anticipate that and not wait until the last lap to make that, so they're going to have to figure those things out. But I liked what we see, and what I was going to get to about the side drafting, when you start side drafting, there are people that are better. You've got people that are better at doing that than others, and understanding what it takes, and where you're doing it because you start doing that in the tri‑oval a whole lot, the cars start moving around getting lighter, and you get too close to someone, they need a little bit of room, the next thing you know you have a big wreck.

So I think we're going to see some pretty exciting racing and some people that probably want to be able to do it and aren't quite as good at it are going to create some incidents. It's not that that's what we're looking for. We're looking for exciting racing, but it's going to create some tense moments."

Q. "Dale or Andy, what are you most intrigued with seeing with Jimmie Johnson this season as he begins in essence the pursuit of seven, and how much of the garage do you feel is truly intimidated by that team or that car?"

DALE JARRETT: "I don't know. I think there's certainly some that look at as far as the intimidation factor, some that look at it, that, wow, they step up and handle every situation pretty well. I think it's more of a motivational factor than intimidation. I think that they realize that they're the ones to beat, and we have to do that, but I think they also understand that this situation this year is probably ‑‑ if you look at it on paper, you would have to think this puts everybody else in a better scenario to beat the 48 team in the end, that this is ‑‑ even though he's won more races in the Chase than anybody else by a large margin, so you would say, okay, all he's got to do is win here, win here, move on and the last one and he's got it, but it's not going to be that simple.

But I think that what I'm intrigued by is to see how they go about it because every time there's been a change, whether it's been in the car or whether it's been in the points, the way that we put points out there, the changes that have been made, they've adapted better than anyone else. Even when they didn't win the championship, they put themselves there, and there were just circumstances they created. How are they going to go about this? People are going to pay attention to what they're doing for sure, all of us are, but the teams in there are going to, also.

You still have to make them the favorite, but I think it certainly brings a lot more people in the mix that aren't going to be what you would call intimidated by them."

ANDY PETREE: "I think it's funny you say intimidation. You think back to when Dale Sr. was winning all those championships, and he was a very intimidating individual, and then the team kind of was that way, too. I remember we'd win races down here for Speedweeks, the qualifying race or the Shootout they called it back then, you could hardly get a human being to talk to you in the garage area. None of the other teams would even speak to you. They didn't care. They didn't really like us. It seems like everybody likes Jimmie. Jimmie is a very likable guy. I think he's more like ‑‑ I think the thing he said is he was motivating. People watch what he's doing and how he's doing it, and I think that that's driving him more than anything.

He ran a marathon, half marathon, 1:28? I mean, that's pretty impressive. I mean, what an athlete. This just tells me what kind of commitment he has to excellence, and I think a lot of the other drivers look at him as an example of what it takes to try to beat him. He's really something."

Q. "Andy, would you interject some thoughts on this: Since you spent three years with the Childress team, two championships with Dale Sr., what are your thoughts on Austin driving the 3 car that's been brought up a lot since Sunday?"

ANDY PETREE: "Yeah, I've been asked this question a few times, and really that whole thing about the number coming back, it's always been in my mind Richard Childress's decision because I'm old enough to remember when he drove the car, and it had that same number, the same look, everything about it. It wasn't the same color, but that was his No. 3. And so I think he's been very respectful over the last, what is it now, 13, 14 years not using the number, basically having it in retirement for a while, and he was not going to just bring it back just to bring it back. He brought it back with his grandson, and the way they did it on Sunday was very impressive. It tells me that they took it really serious, that they're bringing this thing back and they want to make ‑‑ it's motivating now as a team, and I think ‑‑ I was really proud of him on Sunday. I was actually out here, got to talk to Richard, Mike Dillon and Austin, too, and I'm really proud of how they handled themselves, and I think Austin is really going to make that number proud again."

Q. "For anyone that wants to take it, and to follow up on Austin, you guys have chronicled his success in the Nationwide Series the last couple of years. What do you see in terms of how good can that kid be in the Sprint Cup Series, and can he win here on Sunday?"

DALE JARRETT: "Yeah, he can win here on Sunday, as can a lot of others. That's the great thing about it, that's provided that over the years. He's with an organization that historically has done very well at this racetrack. They come here with fast race cars. He's got a lot of talent, and that's putting a lot of pressure, to say that a rookie can come in here and win. He does have that behind him, and he has the know‑how, and watching him through the Nationwide Series. He can get himself in position. He's great at taking care of his equipment, of getting himself to the end and getting himself in a position to win, and that's what ‑‑ that's basically the recipe here on Sunday is putting yourself in that position, taking care of everything, knowing what you and your car are capable of doing at the end, and then anything can happen by getting in that right spot.

But throughout the rest of the year, I think that we're going to see ‑‑ I think that he is a very talented driver.

My question is going to be with Kevin Harvick leaving that race team, with Jeff Burton gone from that race team, where is the leadership coming from there now. Ryan Newman is an excellent race driver. Can he provide that maturity and leadership that they really are going to have to have? And I think maybe they're going to find out they're going to miss Kevin Harvick a little bit more at the start than what they may anticipate, so that'll be interesting to watch all of that take place."

ANDY PETREE: "Yeah, when you talk about Austin's talent, after the qualifying session, I went out to Volusia County Speedway, watched him run the dirt modified race, won the heat race and the feature, and running against guys that do this 100 nights a year, and he does it every now and then, drops in on them and wore them out. I was impressed with him. He's got a lot of diverse talents, and I think the biggest thing that Dale brought up is he does take care of his equipment, and I think it's his biggest attribute. He's going to get a lot of laps on the track this year to be getting experience. I don't think you're going to see him on the wrecker hook very often because he's very good at taking care of his car."

Q. "Allen, we've known each other a lot of years, and it's always been NASCAR with us. Now you're moving on. What type of familiarity do you have with the IndyCars and what kind of challenge do you think you're going to face?"

ALLEN BESTWICK: "I have the same familiarity with IndyCar now I had with the Winston Cup Series when I joined MRN in 1986. First Winston Cup race I ever attended, I was working. I grew up where modifieds were king and didn't have that much on television back then, and it was Stafford, Seacock and Thompson three nights a week and so on.

First race I covered was at Dover, 1983, Richard Petty was the winner, and I asked the King a question, didn't realize he had his hearing aids taken out, and that little pressbox at Dover, I asked Richard a question with my little tape recorder, shaking like a leaf, and his answer back to me was, "Do what?" I said, "I beg your pardon?" He said, "Do what?" And then Tom Higgins stepped in and said, "Here's what he's asking you, Richard," and helped me out.

You know, IndyCar racing has been good. The racing has been good. The field is deep. It's fun. It's a new challenge. This has been my life since 1986. It'll be a little emotional at the end of the year, but I made a lot of great friends, had a lot of great times, done some things I never dreamed I'd get to do. But it's the business we're in, and I've been presented with a great opportunity to check off a lot of other things on my career and my sports bucket list, and I really look forward to that.

As far as getting ready, you do your homework. I've already been at the Penske IndyCar shop for a day, going through the cars top to bottom. I spent yesterday at IndyCar media day. I'm going to Indianapolis from here, between here and Phoenix. There will be no shortage of preparation on my part, and I think you know me well enough to know that won't be the question, preparation will not lack. I look forward to it, and getting started on it, but that party after Homestead this year will be a big one."

The West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner was lucky enough to be allowed behind-the-scenes of the ESPN coverage of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Ford Championship Weekend at the Homestead Miami Speedway. Their professionalism and amazing ability to relay what is happening on track to millions of fans all over the globe is second to none, and set the standard for motorsports coverage worldwide. Though the racing will go on, it will never be the same again.

Over the next couple weeks, this column will strive to provide full coverage of the events leading up to the Great American Race at the end of February, including a possible interview with the head of the CJ Mears Gang himself, Casey Mears, as well as other members of the NASCAR garage.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opens with the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Feb. 23. The race will be televised live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET. The cars will also be on track throughout the "SpeedWeeks" leading up to the "Great American Race," including the Budweiser Duels qualifying races, which will be televised live on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers, no matter how many (or how few) wheels they may or may not race on. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways, HOAs, elections, and restaurants.

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