Following a successful season, it seems as though the outlook is pretty strong for NASCAR. The Sprint Cup Series boosted high ratings in the final weeks of the year, with exciting booming around the championship. It’s no wonder that NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France is in good spirits heading the year.
He also believes that his fans are in agreement with me based on the research and data that NASCAR collected, showing “loud and clear” that NASCAR fans enjoyed the Chase.
“They like the fact that it tightened up competition,” he stated. “They liked the drama down the stretch. They liked the emphasis on winning. And one of the things they told us that they really liked is the idea that we weren’t going to change anything, and they strongly suggested that we didn’t, and we’re not going to.
“It’s not because there aren’t a tweak or two here that we didn’t get good suggestions on, but one of the magical parts of this Chase, and we want to make sure we keep it this way, is the simplicity of it: Win and you get in; be in the top eight, top four, whatever it may be, and move on; coming down the stretch, beat the other three drivers and you win the championship. So whatever we would do into the future, we want to make sure that simplicity is right there.”
He added that he feels it should be even more exciting this year, with teams looking at what strategies to employ to get into the Chase, and qualify sooner.
While the Chase will remain unchanged, NASCAR is making serious changes to pit road with implementing cameras, versus the previous official system.
“I’ve said over the last four or five years, we are going to be on a — I call it a steady march towards innovation,” France commented. “We are going to balance that with the cost and the benefits to the individual teams and to the sport, but given that the car manufacturers in particular and everybody else has innovation on their minds as part of their DNA, NASCAR needed to follow suit with that. We also want to be in a place that if you bring some of the greatest technology companies into our sport to look around, I want them to look around and see that we’re a relevant place for them to market their technologies, their own innovation.”
There’s also the new rule package that will be debuted this season, along with the addition that the side skirts will no longer be allowed to host adjustments.
“As many of you know we deliberately decided against any changes near the end of last season, so in 2015, teams manipulating the fenders or flares during a race will be asked to come back down pit road, and we will use any means possible to police that; particularly, though, our new pit road officiating system,” NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said. “Again, we’ll look at that through video and any means possible during the race season.”
The announcement is just another step in continuing to build on the rule package and getting them exactly where NASCAR wants them, France explained. He notes that they’re making progress on that with doing the tests that they have done, and seeing what works.
“We said we’re going to be earlier than ever at getting the rules packages to the teams. That’s helpful in a lot of ways for them to get comfortable with what we’re doing,” France added. “From a cost standpoint they’re able to phase in, phase out the old packages with the new. We’re targeting sometime in the spring, which would be an historic thing for NASCAR to do that early, with the ’16 rules package. But that’s clearly the hardest thing we do, by the way, because we’re balancing safety, we’re balancing costs, we’re balancing a whole bunch of different ideas and agendas and opinions, and so our — but at the end of the day, that’s what makes NASCAR safe, unbelievably tight competition, and we can do all the format things that we want to do and that we should do, but nothing takes the place of rules that are relatively inexpensive. I say relatively, and most importantly creating safe, exciting competition.”
Whether the new package is the right way to go, that is yet to be seen. NASCAR will determine whether the package works on a simple critia that looks at “lead changes, how close race winning is, how many different winners, how each car manufacturer is able to have a fair shot at competing”, along with whether it’s close competition leading to close finishes. France did note that that they will not do “in-season tweaks” to the package unless due to “safety” as a result of keeping the costs down for the teams.
The rule package is something that will always be evolving, though, as France says they need to stay on top of it due to teams always looking to gain an advantage.
“Our job is to make sure that the playing field is level and that more teams have a good shot at competing at a high level, and given that it always changes, we have to change, too, and circumstances change,” he stated. “Tires change, tracks wear down differently. We change tracks from time to time. So there are other variables outside of what even the teams do that will always keep us looking ahead.”