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NTM Q&A, Part II: France on the Car of Tomorrow, safety and the Busch Series

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NASCAR This Morning — your prerace show before every Nextel Cup race on SPEED Channel — talked with several guests at Homestead-Miami Speedway, including NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. In the second of two parts, France talks about the Car of Tomorrow, safety and the Busch Series.

Changing of the guard

John Roberts: Hey Brian, what about the changing of the guard (with Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd leaving full-time rides) and the iron-man streak that is just absolutely incredible. For someone that has grown up around this thing, what about those guys leaving this sport now? Brian France: Well, you know, it's bittersweet because those are the guys who, for a long time, have won races and carried the sport. Your brother has been outstanding for a long time. It certainly... Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd, hasn't missed a race in 700-plus. You don't look at it as a race without those guys so it'll feel a little bit different, but that's part of life and it's part of the things that move on. And the new talent that's coming in is pretty incredible when you think about the guys that are moving up, the guys that are already (there) like Jimmie Johnson only in his third or fourth year. Dominant drivers early on now. Carl Edwards, my goodness, a rookie might have a shot at this thing today. Kenny Wallace: He's the Busch Series rookie of the year, Brian. Brian France: I know. I know. He's awful talented.

Car of Tomorrow

Jimmy Spencer: That needs to be changed, but anyway. Brian, you know with the demand on the dates and the fans. Our sport has just grown in leaps and bounds. You hear a lot of this non-competition. The competition isn't as good as it needs to be. So NASCAR's implementing a new car of the future (Car of Tomorrow). How's that coming along? Brian France: The car of the future is coming along really well. There are a couple things. No. 1, it has some big safety emphasis on it. It's a bigger car. We've moved the driver over more to the middle of the vehicle. We've got new crush zones, new things from a safety standpoint that are going to be very beneficial. But from action on the track, I think when it's all said and done, we're going to love it because back will come the slingshot pass. The whole aero-dependency issue that no one really likes, we're going to take a big bite out of that. Much more like the truck-style racing than it is anything else. I don't have to tell anybody who watches that division how fun and exciting it is. It'll be some drivers that have to get used to it and adjust, but a lot of the guys who have tested that car are liking it. They like how it feels. It's on the track now in testing. We should have it on hopefully some time next year for competitive action and then in '07, you'll see a big rollout.

Chase for the Nextel Cup photos
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Round 1: N.H.
Kenny Wallace: Brian, when Dale Earnhardt died, he did not die in vain. NASCAR, you and all the people have instituted a great new safety team. Like Jimmy said, we've got the HANS device. We've got the soft wall. We've got the new Car of Tomorrow. We lost a lot of people five or six years ago. Tell us about the safety crew you have. Who is it led up by? Who is the one doing all this innovating?

Safety

Brian France: Well, we opened the research and development center, 50,000 square feet. Gary Nelson, a long-time NASCAR technical guy, is running that. We've hired engineers, experts, who work only on safety... Kenny Wallace: Thank you. Brian France: That's their sole responsibility. It's totally necessary. If anything with Dale, the tragic death of a champion like him, it pushes your urgency up. It's always important, but it heightens that urgency that you never can be satisfied even when you think things are going well. We have had soft walls. Lots of improvements. A good record. Guys are hitting in situations in the past (that) might have had a problem and didn't have a problem. But that's not the time to relax. That's the time to start pouring it on and continue to make those benefits.

Distinguishing Busch Series

Rusty Wallace: There's a lot of talk about the new Car of Tomorrow and things like that. But one question I do have. Have you guys thought — and I heard a little rumor about — splitting the (Busch) Series up with the Nextel Cup Series? Meaning that right now we're running the Dodges. We're running the Monte Carlos. Stuff like that. Have you ever thought of bringing back the Firebirds, Dodge Stratus, cars like that for the Busch Series that are a completely different line for the Busch vs. the Cup? Brian France: We're not too far down the road of thinking about that, but I will tell you that the Busch Series is now the No. 2 motorsport series in the country. It really is, and it's had tremendous growth. And we would like to distinguish it better than we do now. We'd like to have it... There was 50,000 people (at Homestead). Big crowd. The racing is good. We're happy with all of those things. But we would like to distinguish it differently than we do like another Saturday show before the Sunday show. So we'll be working on that in the next couple years. I don't know what that means yet or whether that's, as Rusty suggested, a car transfer or change over, that would do it. But I'm not sure if that's possible so we'll work at it. But we want to build on the Busch Series because that's a series that we can take to different parts of North America. It's exciting racing where our young drivers and our veterans are finding a place. We're going to do a lot more in the Busch Series in the years ahead. Kenny Wallace: Awesome. Thank you. Rusty Wallace: Brian, some of these things we're talking about. Are these phased-in programs that are going to take two or three years? Are you going to get it on and make it happen pretty quick? Because it appears to me that right now, Dodge, Ford, Chevrolet, these guys are starving for a different type of car to produce and talk about rather than just the same car. If we have a different car on Saturday to run than we do on Sunday, it makes a lot of sense to me. And I've heard your answer there, but I'm concerned that it's a long-term down the road thing before it does happen. Talk about that more? Brian France: Well, a couple things. A lot of priorities that we have all the time, I'm not making excuses, but we've got three of the four top national divisions (in the country). Not one. So a lot to do. We've got the Car of Tomorrow. We've got the safety issues. We've got television contracts. With all the things to do — and I'm not complaining that's what we get paid to do — so things might happen a little bit slower in those kind of strategic places that you want to end up. And then the final thing I'd tell you, Rusty, too is we're finding out with the Car of Tomorrow, while it's great on paper, there's plenty of tweaks that we're having to do. Spoilers, different aero packages where it's set up to make sure that the racing on the track will be as good as we think it is. So if you switch over to a whole new car with the Busch Series, that would be no small task to make sure that with the Firebirds or Mustangs or whatever you might think about going to that — the safety components, the aero issues — that we didn't get the product tripped up unintendedly so we've got to be careful with that. Any time we make a change on the track of that significance, that takes longer than one might think.

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