CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Since the system isn’t broken, NASCAR officials have no plans to change it -- at least nothing radical.
The sport enjoyed one of its most exciting seasons ever last year, culminating with Tony Stewart winning his third Sprint Cup championship in the final race of the season. NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said the sport is “in a very good place” as it moves toward another season beginning next month with the Daytona 500.
But France also believes it can be even better.
So while NASCAR will pretty much leave well enough alone, they will make a few minor tweaks including taking some measures to address reducing two-car tandem racing at Daytona and Talladega.
“We have had a breathtaking number of close finishes at those tracks, but the fans want a mixture of styles including a return to a more traditional ‘pack racing’ and that close side-by-side competition that’s unique to Talladega and Daytona,” France said Thursday at NASCAR’s annual preseason news conference. “NASCAR and the teams are working hard on this and based on the test earlier this month, we’re encouraged that we’re making progress.”
France said the two-car tandem racing “evolved into something that no one saw coming, and now we’re going to deal with that.”
NASCAR’s vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said some changes will be made to the cars including adding a slightly larger restrictor plate, a smaller spoiler and softer springs.
Those changes will be made beginning at Daytona next month.
“All of these combinations will help the qualifying be more exciting,” Pemberton said. “The changes we made in the cooling system and the aero package we believe will aid in getting back to the more traditional style pack drafting that we’ve come to expect at Daytona and Talladega.”
Pemberton also said NASCAR will be implementing some similar adjustments to the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series.
“We know that the fans want to see more of the traditional style pack drafting, and so do we,” said Pemberton. “We won’t be able to totally eliminate the two-car push. It will be a valuable tool that the teams will be able to use from time to time. However, we do believe that we’ve come up with a rules package that will help it be the exception rather than the norm.”
Pemberton said test results at Daytona earlier this month were productive.
“We’ve received great feedback from the teams, and it was unprecedented, it really was,” Pemberton said. “The communication was second to none.”
While the 2012 season will be one of continuity rather than major change, NASCAR will introduce electronic fuel injection into the Sprint Cup Series.
“EFI excites the manufacturers and technology companies,” said France. “To attract new companies (to the sport), we’ve had to take a little different view of that.”
France said NASCAR is “very encouraged” by increased television ratings across its three national series -- the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series.
He also pointed to attendance gains at a number of venues.
“While we are still in a tough economic climate that is still difficult, we are pleased with some positive steps we saw last year,” he said.
NASCAR did make some changes off the track this week.
They announced Wednesday they’ll make all fines public in the future, a change from past years where they were kept secret.
The big changes for NASCAR will come in 2013.
That’s when the re-styled NASCAR Sprint Cup cars from Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota will make the sport more relevant to manufacturers and technology companies. Ford earlier this week unveiled its 2013 Fusion prototype with the other original equipment manufacturers to follow in the near future.
A closed test of the cars is scheduled early next month, with additional testing to follow before final specifications are drawn.
“This is certainly a milestone in our sport,” Pemberton said. “We’ve worked very closely with the manufacturers on the new car, and the four new models are simply outstanding. I think the fans are going to love them, and it is going to be such a positive step in helping our race cars become more and more relevant with our fans past, present and future.”
France pointed to initiatives begun a year ago including a simplified points structure in all three national series and a “wild card” twist in the Chase for the championship that placed a greater emphasis on race victories.
All of that culminated in what France called “a championship battle that will be talked about for decades to come.”