On Wednesday’s show, Helton discussed a variety of topics that have made headlines in the 2014 NASCAR season, including the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format; the "Dale Earnhardt Jr. effect;" race attendance; the youth movement in the NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES; and the possibility of limiting NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES drivers in the lower series.
Below is a transcript from the interview:
ON WHETHER HE HAS BEEN PLEASED WITH THE CHANGES IMPLEMENTED IN 2014, INCLUDING THE NEW CHASE FORMAT AND KNOCKOUT QUALIFYING:
Helton: "I think we have. Yes. Obviously the qualifying format has grown a lot of interest at the race track, on TV and the ‘water cooler talk,’ as old folks would call it. Now it’s social media, I guess. And it’s fun. It’s fun to watch, which a sport should be fun. The Chase format was an element to put emphasis on winning. I think that’s happened early in the season. The new format is yet to come but leading up to it has been very exciting. So we’re pleased so far."
ON WHETHER RACE ATTENDANCE IS A CONCERN, DESPITE THE ON-TRACK PRODUCT:
Helton: "Obviously the product is a priority, and I say ‘product’ for everybody. But the viewership and the live attendance is something that the whole industry uses to judge successes, and that’s something that we’ve all collectively been working on ever since the swing through the economy. We think we see signs of that. We’re encouraged by the uptick. We’re encouraged by the enthusiasm that seems to exist among the community now."
ON WHAT EFFECT DALE EARNHARDT JR.’S SUCCESS THIS SEASON HAS ON THE SPORT AS A WHOLE:
Helton: "Certainly for the ‘Junior Nation,’ they’re very happy. There’s a large following there, and we’re well aware of that. But I think it’s the tried-and-trued mixed with the young blood that’s always been good for NASCAR, so as we cycle through and we look at the generational changes of the drivers and their ages and fending off the guys that come behind them and looking over their shoulder … it wasn’t that long ago, it feels like, that they were the ones that the older drivers were looking over their shoulder trying to figure out how to stay in touch with them. So, when you have a season where a veteran now, who is so very popular, has success, that brings the whole sport with him."
ON WHAT THE SUCCESS OF YOUNG DRIVERS IN THE NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES DOES FOR THE SPORT:
Helton: "It offers up a lot of hope. We’ve seen a cycle of drivers come through the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series into the Cup. We’re still looking at even back into the K&N Series, the drivers who get into NASCAR sooner learn the NASCAR style of competition and move into the Truck Series now as a steppingstone. Darrell Wallace Jr., John (Hunter) Nemechek, Ryan Blaney — those personalities we’ll get to know sooner. The motor sports fan will know who those drivers are, which we think is good for the sport."
ON WHETHER NASCAR IS CONSIDERING LIMITING THE NUMBER OF STARTS THAT CUP SERIES DRIVERS CAN MAKE IN THE NATIONWIDE OR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES:
Helton: "It’s a conversation point that doesn’t so far go very far because NASCAR is open-minded. It’s open-field, too. We don’t believe it’s correct to tell someone they cannot compete somewhere. We have NASCAR drivers who go compete in IndyCar or ARCA or a weekly track or a weekly show or open-wheel racing in different programs, and that’s the culture of NASCAR to be open-minded about who participates. No one is excluded from participating. You can earn your way in. We have, however, changed some of the rules and regulations around in hopes to encourage and get attention to the ones who are competing on a fulltime level in the Nationwide. It happened a couple of years ago. We had the drivers to select what series they would gather points in … We saw some signs of being successful there. We’re just not of the mindset to exclude somebody from participating. We’d rather encourage everyone who wants to participate to participate. So, if we said, ‘You can’t play over here,’ it’s kind of contrary to our culture.’"