|Brian France addresses the media|
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France addressed the media on Monday as the lead off event to the 33rd annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour to lay out his annual "State of the Sport" address, and the biggest change France announced – was no change at all.
In a departure from previous years addresses, where most of the major changes in the sport have been announced, France said everything is status quo for the 2015 season, including no changes to the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format or any radical schedule changes on any of the sports three major touring series.
France enthusiastically called the 2014 championship battle "perhaps our greatest Chase in recent memory" that was "overwhelmingly popular with the most important stakeholder: Our fans."
When it was first introduced during last year's media tour, it was hoped the new "elimination-style" format would increase the excitement level and increase competition in what NASCAR considers its "playoff" in the final 10 races of the season. NASCAR also hoped the new tweaks would give a shot in the arm to sagging TV ratings and perhaps a boost in ticket sales.
Although the new format lead to some exciting moments on the racetrack, TV viewership either remained flat or decreased slightly from previous years. Attendance numbers were also down at most race tracks for the fifth year in a row.
Despite these figures, France said fan response to the new format has been positive, and there are currently no plans to alter the format in 2015.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]"(Fans) like the fact that it tightened up competition. They liked the drama down the stretch. They liked the emphasis on winning," said France. "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."
One new feature on the NASCAR circuit this year is the new electronic pit-road officiating system, which will utilize dozens of high-definition camera and electronic tracking in place of officials standing on pit road.
Instead, officials will monitor the action on pit road from a specialized trailer located in the TV compound. Special tracking software will follow the progress of each car in pit road, and, if the software detects an infraction, will relay that information to the officials monitoring the system to issue penalties to the offending team. Officials can also identify or rescind penalties that may see in the video feed.
NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O'Donnell announced that the sanctioning body will begin policing the manipulation of the side-skirts on the race cars that was prevalent in the Cup Series last season that NASCAR for the most part overlooked.
O'Donnell said teams caught manipulating the fenders would be called to pit road, adding that NASCAR would use the new pit road monitoring system along with "any means possible" to police it.
The new system had been tested at several races last season, and will be used full-time in 2015 starting at Speedweeks next month.
"We think is a real game changer for the sport," said O'Donnell.
France and O'Donnell also emphasized they hoped to have a new rules package for 2016 ready to distribute to the teams by May, giving teams as much time as possible to make the necessary changes to their cars.
"That's helpful in a lot of ways for them to get comfortable with what we're doing. From a cost standpoint they're able to phase in, phase out the old packages with the new, because we're balancing safety, we're balancing costs, we're balancing a whole bunch of different ideas and agendas and opinions," said France. "Whatever we package, we present, and they try to lead every lap and they try to have an advantage, and so 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."
France also touched on the subject of domestic violence in sports, in light of the recent developments involving NFL player Ray Rice and also with one of NASCAR's former champions, Kurt Busch, facing possible charges in an alleged assault on his former girlfriend.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]France said that first and foremost, the sanctioning body would want to wait until all the facts are in before acting on any possible disciplinary action.
"I've said that I think every sport is taking a more than hard look (at domestic violence)," said France. "I'm sure most other leagues, when there are those clear circumstances, have a much more severe reaction to how you deal with those things, and that will be no different with NASCAR.
"We've got to let the facts come in. There would be no reason for me or NASCAR or anybody else to get ahead of those facts given that they may change. Let's let the facts come in, and if there's something for us to react to, you can appreciate that we will be very careful and very aware of what the circumstances are."