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France pleased with early portion of season

May 19, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- What Patrick has done for NASCAR among things that please chairman and CEO

Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR, said Saturday that he is pleased with the direction the 2012 season has taken.

"It's been a good, solid year," France said prior to the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

France touched on several subjects, including the early portion of Danica Patrick's first full-time season as a driver in the Nationwide Series.

"She's brought visibility to the sport, which we knew she would," France said. "More importantly, she's made improvements. That was her stated goal, and she's been getting better and better. I think her runs reflect that, and that'll be what determines her impact in the end -- how well she competes."

Speaking of the Nationwide Series and new drivers who are making an impact, France touched on Sunday's debut of African-American driver Darrell Wallace Jr. at Iowa Speedway.

"It's big if he competes well," France said. "He's someone with some of the most promising talent who is an African-American who has come through our diversity program. He has been dominant in the K&N Series, which is very competitive where a lot of the talented sons of some of the best competitors here in the garage compete. He's winning [in that series], and we'll see how it goes with him in the Nationwide race here this weekend.

"But look, that's a breakthrough if that materializes. And if not with him, somebody's going to walk in the door and be a star -- and it's going to be very good for us."

France added that he's not surprised it has taken so long for someone like Wallace to rise through the racing ranks after participating in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program.

"It's a very hard thing to do. You're talking about only 43 seats, really only 32 or 34 or so [that are full-time rides], and you're talking about trying to unseat some of the best in the world," France said. "So it doesn't surprise me that the climb is hard. But somebody's going to come and do it. He may the one, I don't know. We'll see."

France also mentioned that NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, located just a few miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, will be taking on a more significant role going forward.

"We're really repurposing the R&D Center in a very good way," France said. "Steve O'Donnell [senior vice president of racing operations] has taken full charge of that responsibility so we can increase our focus on the things that can make the racing better. Obviously we're focused on safety. That's a given. But if there's an aero issue -- and from time to time, there's going to be -- and if there are other areas of innovation, we're going to be on top of them.

"I think you're going to see some things like drying the track off in 20 percent of the time or so. We're working with companies that have the technology to do that, and that would be a big breakthrough for the industry if we were able to do that and some other things over time. So you're going to see the R&D Center take a much more active role in everything from performance on the track to innovation."

France added that NASCAR wants to make certain it stays ahead of the curve in competition areas going forward.

"Listen, we have a new car coming in 2013, so we want to make sure we're as good as we can be with the on-track racing. We're putting more effort into getting that right," France said. "We also get thrown some curveballs like tandem racing, which fans didn't care for as much. So from time to time, we have big things that affect the quality of racing. We just want to make sure we're able to get at those solutions faster, better. Our group is going to get that done.

"Our goal is to always take moments with new cars and new opportunities to make the racing better."