NASCAR chairman Brian France said Sunday that changes NASCAR made for this season — a simplified points system, adding two wild-card Chase spots, and a new qualifying procedure — have paid off and improved the on-track product.
”All these were viewed as small changes at the time,” France said. “But they actually have had a big impact and added drama.”
NASCAR officials changed to a new points system based on one-point per finishing position. They also added a wild-card element to the Chase, making the final two spots in the 12-man playoff based on victories over the first 26 races. And qualifying was changed to allow the fastest cars in practice to go out last in each qualifying session.
France also mentioned the closeness of the Chase. After Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 eight drivers are within 20 points of each other. “I’m not sure we could be any more pleased with how the Chase has unfolded, and really how the season has unfolded,” he said. “It’s still wide open.
“Our hope always is when we get to Homestead [Fla.] for the finale, we have as many drivers in the thick of it as possible. We’ll see, and we’ll see if Jimmie Johnson can continue to make history, as well, by winning six championships in a row.”
France addressed several other topics that have come to the forefront this season, including how many races have ended based on fuel-mileage strategy.
“That’s part of the game, a part of racing,” France said when asked. “We are not going to over regulate that. And it’s cyclical. There will be times when we have more cautions and it bunches everybody up. Some people don’t like too much of that, but we like to see all the strategies and scenarios play out.”
France also addressed the state of the NASCAR garage as Red Bull Racing will no longer field a Cup team and Richard Childress Racing and Roush-Fenway Racing don’t have sponsorship to field all four of their current Cup cars for next season.
“I know what you know, and it’s very, very difficult out there for companies and for people in the general economy,” France said. “That has impact on us, and it will continue to have some impact on us.
“One of the things that does happen when availability comes forward in terms of if a team or two doesn’t elect to compete next year, we often see in the offseason teams that were thinking about moving up but did not want to because there wasn’t availability, they couldn’t make the event, couldn’t make the top 35 or whatever else, you’ll see where those five or six teams [closing] don’t necessarily turn out to be five or six teams [overall].”
As you will recall three teams-Red Bull Racing, Kevin Harvick Inc., and Germain Racing-have notified the State of North Carolina of layoffs at the end of the season.
“It’s very viable,” France said. “And we’ve done things to take cost out of the system in that series, limiting crew members and all kinds of things that have removed cost. It’s a lot cheaper to operate truck teams than was it was three years ago.”
Another possible economic casualty could be the Nationwide Series race at Montreal. The France-controlled International Speedway Corp. has not renewed its contract to help promote the races there and the local group failed to obtain economic incentives, putting a return to the facility in jeopardy.
“There’s some changes going on in the marketplace with the promoter and otherwise that are happening, how they’re promoting the event,” France said. “But it’s a very popular event, does very well. My hope is we’ll continue to be there.”
France said interest is up this season for NASCAR events. He said the “younger demographic” interest is up 20 percent.
“In all major sports today through the various playoffs, it gets down to story lines and matchups,” France said. “When you have more of that should do better, and we do have that.”