France Focused on Enhancing Racing
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on December 5, 2013 | 2:56 P.M. EST
NASCAR Chairman Brian France will attend Monday's test at Charlotte that is deisgned to set the 2014 rules. (Photo: Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - NASCAR Chairman Brian France says he plans to attend Monday’s test at Charlotte Motor Speedway, signifying the importance he puts on enhancing the racing.
That test will set the rules for next season. It’s among the many changes that could be coming to NASCAR in 2014 or coming seasons.
France hinted Thursday morning to reporters at the Wynn about incentivizing winning, qualifying changes and altering the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule. France reiterated that all those will come after work to improve the racing.
This past season marked the Gen-6 car’s debut. France noted at the beginning of the season that officials would measure the car’s success on a variety of areas, including lead changes, how well it races and how drivers feel about it.
Lead changes were up slightly in 2013 from 2012. There were 700 lead changes this past season and 679 in 2012. That’s less than one more lead change per race in 2013.
“The number one thing we had to judge in the Gen‑6 car was acceptance by the manufacturers, the teams and the drivers,’’ France said. “That's the number one thing. And then obviously we want to get more lead changes and we want to get closer, tighter competition.
NASCAR has made it a priority to improve the racing at 1.5-mile tracks. More than 20 teams are expected at Monday’s test.
That’s not all for NASCAR.
Rewarding victories is an issue the sport faces. After having 52 lead changes the first 173 laps at Talladega Superspeedway, there were no lead changes in the final 15 laps. The penalty for making a move proved too great for some. Those that tried fell further back in the pack.
Also, the way the Chase has trended, a finish outside of 20th significantly reduces a driver’s chance to compete for the title. After blown engines in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano were so far behind that they needed others to falter to have a chance at the title.
That didn’t happen with Jimmie Johnson recording a 5.1 average finish for the Chase with no finish worse than 13th. Brad Keselowski had no finish worse than 15th when he won the title in 2012. Tony Stewart had a 25th-place finish in the 2011 Chase and needed to win five races in the Chase to win the crown on a tiebreaker.
“Do I think we have it perfect in terms of the right incentives to win?’’ France said. “I don’t think we do. I’m not willing to say exactly what it will be (now), but I think we can do a little bit better. I saw some things, too. Not that they weren’t trying to win, but maybe the incentives or risks might have outweighed that. We’ll be looking at that.
“The first thing for us is to get the rules packages in the best place that we can. That will be ongoing. Winning has to be the most important thing.’’
France also said that qualifying changes are likely for next season.
“Our goal is to make that a little more exciting, a little more interesting for the fans,’’ he said. “The track operators have certainly wanted that for a long time, and they're right. So we've been working on some ideas, and there will be something pretty shortly on that,
With NBC back in 2015 to broadcast NASCAR races, there has been talk about possible changes to the schedule for then. France quelled some of that.
“There might be a change or two, but I wouldn't predict any significant changes,’’ he said.
NBC will take over for ESPN, which enters its final season broadcasting Cup and Nationwide races.
France said he’s been given “great assurances from one of the best partners and friends in the business in John Skipper at ESPN, that this remains an important property for them, past and present, and they're going to do a great job as we say goodbye in their final year.’’