France optimistic changes will 'elevate' racing
October 30, 2013, Staff report, NASCAR.com
NASCAR chairman also touches on Chase battle, concussion testing plans
NASCAR's chairman is confident that tweaks to the Sprint Cup Series car and potential changes in qualifying procedure will enhance the sport's on-track product for fans watching at the track and on television.
Brian France said in an interview Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he expects ongoing testing of the Generation-6 car to heighten competition, particularly on intermediate tracks that make up most of the Sprint Cup schedule. NASCAR experimented with several aerodynamic changes in a test earlier this month, and has a larger test scheduled for early December.
"I think you're going to see already good racing get elevated a notch or two, if some of the things we think are doable can happen," France said. "… Now we have a dedicated group working only on what is the best package we think we can come with, in particular on the mile and a halfs, that give the most drivers an opportunity to pass, to win, to do things? We're getting a lot better at that. That’s the hallmark of NASCAR, and we have to be better at that."
NASCAR is also considering a change in qualifying procedure, eliminating the traditional single-car runs in favor of a group format like the one currently employed on road courses.
"We're working on those changes, and we're working on making qualifying more meaningful, more fun to watch," France said. "Anytime you change, somebody is going to be affected in a way that isn’t of their choosing. Naturally, we don’t get a consensus on anything we might propose, in particular with rules packages or formats. But we have an express, clear goal that our challenge is to put the best racing on the track, let the best teams win, and have as much passing, contact and fun as possible, and that's what we're after."
France also spoke on NASCAR's plan to mandate baseline concussion testing for its national-series drivers beginning next season. The chairman said Dale Earnhardt Jr. "set the tone" for that move when he sat out a pair of races late last year due to the effects of two concussions. France called that decision "courageous," and said Earnhardt's situation last season "certainly contributed" to the edict mandating testing beginning year.
"At the end of the day, concussions are best dealt with between the drivers and their personal physicians. And any help we can give them to accomplish that -- early sign warning, or baseline testing for sure -- if we can contribute to giving them the right kind of feedback from their doctors, is what we're after. We're going to be very sensitive to that, and we should be," France said.
"We're just trying to be as proactive as we can, keeping in mind that the safety of our drivers -- that supersedes everything. I think we've had a pretty good track record of trying to achieve that in any area that becomes of interest when it comes to safety. We will be no different here. We'll be clear, careful, and get our drivers and teams on the right path."
France also said that he spoke Monday with Darrell Wallace Jr., whose NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory last weekend at Martinsville Speedway was the first national-level triumph by an African-American driver in NASCAR since Wendell Scott in 1963.
"He's a talented, confident driver," France said. "He's not just happy to be here, which I always love to see in a young guy or a young gal. I like to see a high level of confidence that you have to have to compete at the national level with the best drivers in the word. I'd like to see his career progress, as many people will. He's run well all over the place -- you look at Nationwide events, and Richmond last year and earlier this year, and Iowa and other places, and he can compete. And that will be great for NASCAR if he goes on to have the kind of career that I hope he will."
France added that he expects the Sprint Cup championship race -- in which Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are currently tied at the top -- to go down to the wire. And he believes Martinsville, site of last weekend's Truck Series fracas involving Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon, isn't the only place where top drivers will bang fenders.
"This is a contact sport," he said. "You're going to have times late in the race when things are going to happen. As I've said many, many times, there are always limits. But to expect in a Truck race or any race, for the drivers in the faster cars to be having some contact -- that's NASCAR. That's what we're all about. So I expect tight, tough racing in the final three."