NASCAR returning to a contact sport
NASCAR Chairman Brian France was on hand along with NASCAR President Mike Helton to address the media and announce several changes and initiatives the sanctioning body will be undertaking in the coming year.
The changes most discussed during the event – and for much of the week along each stop on the tour – concerned NASCAR’s planned changes to the current car competing in the Sprint Cup Series, the Car of Tomorrow.
The COT, first unveiled in 2006 before making it’s on track debut at Bristol Motor Speedway in March of 2007, was designed with safety and cost effectiveness in mind. The car also features several new innovations intended to help level the playing field and make the cars more uniform in construction and appearance.
While the car has received rave reviews for it’s safety features, among the design elements that has received the most criticism is the rear wing mounted on the trunk of the car, in place of a traditional spoiler.
In developing the new Nationwide Series cars to be debuted this season, NASCAR has again gone back to the traditional rear spoiler, and after extensive testing on the Nationwide cars, plans to implement a similar spoiler on the Sprint Series cars.
“So the move now is to go back to a more traditional-looking NASCAR-type Sprint Cup car, which includes a spoiler.”
Still to be determined are how high the spoiler would be and how it would effect the handling of the cars, especially at higher speeds on the Superspeedway tracks, but France was hopeful that the new design would have a beneficial effect on the level of competition in the series.
“We have not fully determined, and it's important to note, how high the spoiler is going to be. That's going to come out of a future test. We left that a little bit open,” said France. “But if we didn't think the racing would be improved as a result of the spoiler versus the wing, we wouldn't have done it.
“The spoiler is coming on for the look of it to look for like it used to and to drive differently and create better racing. That's the premise of the spoiler.”
NASCAR plans additional tests of the spoiler in the coming months, including a two-day test at Charlotte Motor Speedway in late March.
“We will put it back in the hands of the hands of the drivers and we will say boys, have at it and have a good time, that's all I can say,” said Pemberton.
“Over the past 10 years we’ve dramatically increased safety and that mission continues. However, it’s time for us to allow the drivers to drive.” France. “We don’t want the rules and regulations to get in the way of great racing and fantastic finishes.
“NASCAR is a contact sport – our history is based on banging fenders.”
Among the other topics discussed on Thursday – and throughout the week as well - was the continuing economic climate and it’s effect on NASCAR and the entire automotive industry.
Of the four major manufactures involved in NASCAR, both General Motors and Chrysler have declared bankruptcy in the past year, while Ford and Toyota have also been hurt by the decline in auto sales.
GM and Dodge significantly reduced their financial support to teams in the Sprint Cup - while eliminating support for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series altogether.
But, France says - as have many others for much of the week – that the outlook for the future of the sport is better than had been a year ago.
“I would tell you that while we are not economists, that some things are stabilizing for us and our sport,” said France. “First thing that is stabilized are the car manufacturers. A year ago, there was a whole bunch of uncertainty about their future. They were coming in, going out of bankruptcy in some cases. At that point they were unsure about the funding they might get from Washington.
“We were very supportive on that bill and we were we supportive with our car manufacturers to hope to get them the funding and the resources they need and that has all worked, because largely all four car manufacturers who compete in NASCAR are much more healthier than they were just a year ago.”
The trickle down effect has been felt industry-wide, from tracks owners experiencing diminished ticket sales to race teams facing fewer sponsorship dollars to the motorsports media experiencing a steep decline in advertising revenue.
Still, France says, despite the downturn in the economy - NASCAR continues to offer many benefits for new and existing companies to invest in the sport.
“The rest of the economy is much trickier,” said France. “Companies are, as you now know, are very careful, use caution to invest a lot of money in sponsorships of any kind, and we are dealing with that. And our teams are working with that.
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