Once again, NASCAR is embracing big changes for 2016. Tuesday morning at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Brian France, the sanctioning body’s chairman and CEO, addressed some of the new ideas and procedures coming to the sport this year.
Here are seven major changes to look for in 2016:
Chase format: The NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will each adopt the Chase playoff format this year. The XFINITY Chase will feature 12 drivers and seven races, while the Truck Series Chase will be eight drivers and seven races.
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All three series will have winner-take-all final races at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with four drivers in each series contesting their respective championships.
No drivers running for Sprint Cup points will be allowed to race in the XFINITY and Truck events at Homestead.
“It’ll make them better prepared to handle the next level,” France said of the XFINITY and Truck Series drivers having to race in the Chase.
Charter system: France said he was “very optimistic” that NASCAR and the Sprint Cup team owners would complete talks to institute a charter system that would give team owners more economic security. Details would be revealed soon, France said, “but not today.”
“There has been a lot of talk about a new charter system for team owners and how that can work to make a team ownership model better,” France said. “ …We wouldn’t do anything that we didn’t think in the long run would make racing better, would field more opportunities, create an environment for more owners, more capital in this very expensive sport, to have a better experience in fielding the race teams week in and week out.”
New title sponsor: Sprint’s sponsorship of NASCAR’s premier series ends this year. France said he is confident that a replacement for 2017 and beyond will be introduced.
“We’re in a good spot,” he said. “We have a lot of interest. We’ve got our TV deal set for the next decade or so, and I suspect, my sense is that we’ll get something done here. We’ll see, but it’s good. We’re in a good place.”
Digital dashes: All Cup teams will be required to run NASCAR’s new digital dash in 2016. Among the information available to drivers are their lap times, which will be a huge change. France said more innovations will follow, but at a measured pace.
“We’re going to embrace technology and innovation,” said France. “We don’t want to break the bank for the track operators, the team owners, or other stakeholders, but we’re going to need to figure it out as we go along.”
Low-downforce package: The rules remain unchanged at Daytona and Talladega, but at all other NASCAR Sprint Cup tracks, the series will run a new, low-downforce package that should improve passing, especially at the front of the field.
NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said further tweaks could be forthcoming.
“This is what we’re going to put in place for the year and see how it goes, and then know that we’ve got some great formats to look forward to as we head into the Chase and drivers going after wins,” he said.
Phoenix, Richmond next: With the Daytona Rising project nearly complete, International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy said Phoenix International Raceway and Richmond International Raceway were the two tracks next on the list for significant upgrades.
“It’s so important to continue to modernize these tracks and to be able to bring the modern-day amenities and comforts into these tracks,” said France Kennedy. “And I can tell you that we’re taking a look at Richmond and also in Phoenix, those will probably be some of the next tracks that we look at.”
Twenty-minute breaks: If a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race goes 20 consecutive minutes under green, NASCAR will throw a competition caution, using something it calls a caution clock.
“Here’s how that’s going to work,” said NASCAR’s O’Donnell. “Green flag comes out, starts the race. If after 20 minutes a caution has not come out, we’ll display a competition caution, we’ll run through the caution laps, we’ll go back to green, caution clock will reset. We’ll do that throughout the race until the end when we get within a window obviously where there’s less than 20 minutes, we’ll turn the clock off.”