NASCAR to Carry Momentum into '12
The bottom line in the state of the sport address delivered Thursday by NASCAR officials: 2011 was such a great year that the big challenge is building on the momentum it generated in 2012 without changing too much.
With that in mind, there were no major pronouncements to be made Thursday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where the 2012 Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway wrapped up as NASCAR chairman and CEO
"A lot of important work was done in 2011 to position us for the future," France said. "That work is still going on."
France pointed to the pick-a-series rule instituted last season -- in which drivers are required to declare and then run for a championship in only one of NASCAR's three national touring series -- as a rousing success. He also lauded the drama produced by the addition last year of the wild-card rule, in which two "wild cards" earned the final two spots in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Having pointed all that out, France did add that there are obvious changes in order for the upcoming season -- starting with the fact that for the first time in the 63-year history of NASCAR, the race cars will be powered by fuel-injection technology.
"Let me tell you something about fuel injection that you might not have thought about: fuel injection excites the manufacturers, it excites technology companies," said France, who added that he expects the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series to go to fuel injection in the coming years. "Between that and the various things we're doing with the 2013 [car], our expectation is that the car manufacturers are going to increase their support for the teams, increase their activation, which is great for all of us. And they're excited to do that because they feel good about it.
"So it's not all what kind of cost we lay in on the front end. You have to look at the entire puzzle over time."
One other change NASCAR is looking to apply to the puzzle is greatly limiting or even eliminating altogether the two-car tandem drafting that suddenly became all the rage last season during restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega. Helton said the recent test at Daytona helped the governing body come up with a rules package that should serve that purpose, although he admitted it may still need some work on the fly during upcoming Speedweeks.
"So we're going to be very careful and not write a rules package that promotes drivers not racing close to each other in Daytona. I also expect there could be some tweaking that has to take place along the way. And the drivers and the teams know that because we're all on the same agenda: to make sure the Daytona 500 is what it deserves to be and what the fans expect it to be."
Finally, France and Helton expressed optimism that the new 2013 cars, to be tested for the first time in a closed session in early February at Homestead-Miami Speedway, would allow the general fan base to identify with individual manufacturers' cars to a degree that they used to enjoy, but that they admitted had escaped the sport's grasp in recent years. The sport's four manufacturers -- Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota -- each is coming up with a new race-car design for 2013, with Ford unveiling its Fusion model amid much fanfare earlier during the Sprint Media Tour.
Each manufacturer will provide just one car for the closed test coming up, to be followed by a more extensive test that might be open to the media around mid-summer.
"The development, the roll-out, the subsequent introduction of the new 2013 Sprint Cup race car has been an ongoing collaborative effort between NASCAR, the manufacturers and the race team. It's unprecedented," France said.