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State of the Sport: Digital cockpit, lower minimum driver age for Trucks hot topics

November 17, 2012, Joe Menzer,

France addresses digital cockpit, lower minimum driver age for Trucks hot topics

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- One day soon, Brad Keselowski may not have even to leave the cockpit of his race car to interact with race fans through Twitter.

And if all goes according to plan, he won't face fear of a fine being levied by NASCAR for it afterward, either. That's because he may not even need to have his smartphone with him to do it.

New car look

The sixth generation race car will have significant changes to the paint scheme.

During his annual "state of the sport" address Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR chairman and Brian France discussed the new 2013 race car, how a "digital cockpit" might be coming to the sport as soon as 2014, and how he admired the way driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. handled his concussion issue earlier this season.

Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing operations, also announced prior to France's question-and-answer session with the media that the minimum driver age requirement for the Camping World Truck Series will be lowered next season from 18 to 16 on all tracks that are road courses or 1.1 miles or less in length.

Among the changes to the 2013 car will be the way a sponsor's logo is more prominently displayed -- on the roof of the car, along with the car number, for instance -- and how the driver's name will be prominently displayed across the top of the windshield.

"We are striving for raising their awareness all the time and every time, and we're striving for continuity," France said. "As these paint schemes have had to change more frequently than they used to, the continuity of Jeff Gordon in a flamed 24 Dupont [car] is a little different now. So we're trying to do things that will build their star power and at the same time have a little continuity for our fans to follow their favorite driver."

France also talked about how a "digital cockpit" may be coming to Sprint Cup cars as soon as 2014. He said that impacted the decision to fine Keselowski $25,000 for having a cell phone in his car last Sunday at Phoenix, as NASCAR tries to establish policies that it intends to enforce going forward.

"We'll soon be talking to you about a digital cockpit that will coming down the road as early as 2014, and smart devices and smartphones and other devices can have an effect on manipulating the technology that is now going to be in the cars," France said. "We have to be careful with that. And so that's why our policy is that you're simply not going to be allowed to take a device into the car with you."

And finally, France complimented Earnhardt for the way he handled back-to-back concussions over a six-week period, which caused NASCAR's most popular driver to sit out two races in the middle of the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a precaution. France also pledged that NASCAR would continue to do as much as it can to diagnose concussions suffered by drivers after on-the-track incidents, but again stressed that it will be up to drivers to admit it to themselves and their teams when they're not feeling right.

"I was very pleased the way Dale handled that," France said. "There is a lot of personal responsibility if you feel like you're not yourself and there are some things that your body is telling you, where you don't just play on and race on. It starts there."

He said his advice for drivers who think they might have a concussion following a crash is quite simple. "Follow Dale Earnhardt's exact plan," he said. "He's in the Chase, he's Dale Earnhardt, he could have taken all kinds of different approaches. But he took the right one.

"So we're going to continue to look at it, but it's obviously an individual driver or team that must figure out those early symptoms."

O'Donnell, meanwhile, said that lowering the minimum age requirement for drivers who want to compete in the Truck Series will enable more rapid development of potential future stars of the sport. He pointed to Friday's truck race at Homestead, which was won by Cale Gale as James Buescher secured his first series championship, as an example for why the change is being made.

"One of the things I thin that was evident to everybody was the influx of young talent that we've got coming up through the ranks," O'Donnell said. "We announced previously an age limit change in the [lower-level NASCAR touring series] where we went to 15. And based on the opportunities for a lot of young drivers out there that are coming through our system faster and faster, you're seeing it in the tours; you're seeing it in our [Drive For Diversity] program."

O'Donnell added that the Truck Series will run next season at at least one new venue at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. France later addressed earlier reports that the series will run a race on dirt at the Eldora Speedway owned by Tony Stewart, saying that running on dirt "is part of our history. ... So it would be fun. It will be fun to see if it happens."