First Posted: 12/6/2013
LAS VEGAS — NASCAR continues to work on improving its on-track product, an endeavor chairman Brian France takes so seriously he plans to attend Monday’s test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The test at Charlotte will be the second as NASCAR continues to seek a rules package that could enhance the competition.
“Obviously, we want to get more lead changes, we want to get closer, tighter competition,” France said Thursday in a briefing with reporters. “I’d love a photo finish every weekend. The point is that we’re going to be working all the time on (improving) the competition and … lead changes are going to be a huge part.
“I think that is a big measuring stick. But it’s not the only one. Safety is in there in a high place, acceptance, all kinds of things.”
Once that Charlotte test is complete and NASCAR has a better grasp of its 2014 rules, the focus could be turned to other areas of the product: France hinted Thursday there could a larger emphasis placed on winning and changes coming to the qualifying process.
“Do I think we have it perfect in terms of the right incentives to win? I don’t think we do,” he said. “I’m not willing to say exactly what it’ll be, but I think we can do a little bit better. I saw some things that I thought, not that they weren’t trying to win, but that maybe the risk might have outweighed that, and we’ll be looking at that. I think the first thing for us is to get the rules packages in the best place that we can . but after that will be some format discussion.”
For qualifying, NASCAR told competitors it is considering moving away from single-car qualifying for the group formats used on road courses.
“It’s the one format that we will deal with, because it’s not part of the race-day event,” he said. “Our goal is to make that a little more exciting, a little more interesting for the fans.”
France also downplayed an overhaul to the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule when NBC takes over the second half of the NASCAR television package.
“Most tracks with a couple of exceptions don’t like to give up a date that’s worked for them and so on that they’ve had for a long time,” he said. “So there might be a change or two, but I wouldn’t predict any significant changes.”
Other topics covered by France:
—The Richmond scandal: France said he was personally “pissed off, to be honest” when it became clear that Michael Waltrip Racing had manipulated the end of the regular-season finale in its attempt to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
But France supported NASCAR’s handled of the situation. Severe sanctions were levied against MWR, Truex was kicked out of the Chase in favor of Ryan Newman and the field was expanded to 13 drivers to accommodate Jeff Gordon. France also ordered all drivers to give 100 percent at all times going forward.
“I was very angry about it,” France said. “But I also knew that . if we dealt with it really straight on, that we wouldn’t have a long-term blemish. It was going to be really tough, especially for the teams that got penalized, losing sponsors. That was no fun for anybody. But I knew that our credibility would be preserved if we did the right thing and we acted swiftly.
“I wasn’t ever worried about that. But of course we were disappointed. But that’s just the nature, I guess, of competitive sports. You’ve got human beings trying to do their best, and sometimes they cross lines they shouldn’t cross.”
—Formula One’s scheduled race in Austin, Texas: The F1 schedule released this week placed the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin on Nov. 2 — the same day as the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, a three-hour drive from Austin.
“Well, I wouldn’t have done that myself,” he said about F1’s race date. “I’m sure they had the same kind of scheduling challenges that we do. They go all over the world, and that was what they chose. It wouldn’t be my first choice.
“I expect them to suffer a lot more than Texas will suffer. I don’t think it’s good for either group or either series. That’s their prerogative to schedule events when they want to and see how it works out.”
—Iowa Speedway: NASCAR last week announced it had purchased the track, but has no plans to add a Sprint Cup race to Iowa. The track has hosted Nationwide Series and Truck Series races since 2009, and IndyCar also races at the facility.
France said NASCAR’s ownership gives the track some stability.
“It’s an attractive asset in a region of the country that is very NASCAR-centric, and they run multiple events for multiple series, they’ve had a lot of success,” France said. “We’ve got a lot of talent through our system that we’ll be able to deploy to promote, run, operate and execute that facility, and we’ll try to do our best to position it.”