NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France isn’t typically prone to make public apologies or express heartfelt regrets about past decisions impacting the sport.
But when asked Thursday while speaking at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon in Dearborn, Michigan, to identify the No. 1 failure of his 12-year tenure as NASCAR’s top executive, France didn’t sidestep the question.
The grandson of NASCAR founder William H.G. France admitted that the much-maligned "Car of Tomorrow," later known as the Gen-5, used by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams from 2007-12, didn’t produce the results he had hoped it would.
"We are going to make mistakes," said France, according to an article published Friday morning on the Detroit Free Press newspaper’s website. "Occasionally, we make a big one now and again. I would say that if there is one thing we could have done better in the last 10 years under my watch, (it) is when we launched what we called ‘the new car.’ It is now called the Gen-5."
The Gen-5 debuted as the "COT" at Bristol Motor Speedway in March of ’07 and was used in select races in 2007 before being phased in full time starting with the 2008 season. Over five-plus years of existence, the model was widely excoriated by fans for its boxy, less-than-aesthetically-pleasing look, while drivers complained about its difficult handling characteristics.
"We just didn’t get the collaboration we needed to get from the industry, the owners, the drivers, the engineers and car manufacturers," France said. "They had a voice, but they didn’t have a loud enough voice, and so we changed that."
NASCAR’s current Sprint Cup Series car — known as the Gen-6 — has drawn less ire from the NASCAR community, despite facing some criticism, since replacing the Gen-5 in 2013.
The few times that drivers have publically scorned the Gen-6, NASCAR has acted swiftly and decisively to discourage competitors from speaking their minds.
"Where we take objection is when there is, even is, and most of the time this is inadvertent, but every once in a while there are comments derogatory towards the racing product. When that happens, we have to draw a line."