NASCAR’s France says top priority will be ‘closer, tighter’ races

NASCAR chairman Brian France anticipates ongoing improvements to the sport in the future but the on-track product by far tops his list.

After a rough launch with the COT (Car of Tomorrow) in 2008, for which France accepts “a lot of the responsibility,” he acknowledged Thursday that the initial challenge with the Generation 6 cars was “acceptance by manufacturers, the teams and the drivers.”

The next stage for NASCAR is concentrating on the aerodynamic package to make the racing as competitive as possible.

“Obviously we want to get more lead changes, we want to get closer, tighter competition,” France said. “I’d love a photo finish every weekend if I could pull a lever up in the tower to create that. I’m obviously kidding.

“The point is that we’re going to be working all the time on (improving) the competition and … lead changes are going to be a huge part. I think that is a big measuring stick. But it’s not the only one. Safety is in there in a high place, acceptance, all kinds of things.”

Through NASCAR’s research and development center, France’s team began refining the Gen 6 in May by altering the rules package and the inspection process. His hire of new vice president of innovation and racing development Gene Stefanyshyn was to provide a fresh approach to technology.

The next step in NASCAR’s quest to improve the car will be on Monday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway test. France, who will attend the test, says the sanctioning body is “after some interesting changes to the rules packages.”

“We’ll be validating some of our beliefs, a prior test and other things, and I’m liking what I’m seeing,” France said. “It’s tightening up competition, and that’s hallmark. We wake up every day and try to do that. Forty-three teams probably do just the opposite.

“They try to get up in the morning, look at our rules package and want to lead every lap and game the system. That’s how it works, right? So we’re trying to figure that out in a bigger, smarter way, and hopefully we will accomplish that.”

With all the changes among drivers and teams for 2014 and the influx of rookie talent, France also hopes that competitors will have the opportunity to get acclimated before the season starts in February.

Here are some of the other ongoing issues France addressed:

Changes to qualifying: With qualifying losing some of its appeal of late, France says his goal is to make it “a little more exciting, a little more interesting for the fans” and provide a better package for the tracks. While France would not get into specifics, he expects the rules to be released shortly.

Changes to the schedule: France says there might be a change or two but nothing significant.

The acquisition of Iowa Speedway: With the quality of competition that the Newton-based track has enjoyed since 2009, France says the timing wasn’t right for the previous owners but it was for NASCAR to operate Iowa and bring stability back to the track.

“It’s an attractive asset in a region of the country that is very NASCAR-centric, and they run multiple events for multiple series, they’ve had a lot of success,” France said. “We’ve got a lot of talent through our system that we’ll be able to deploy to promote, run, operate and execute that facility, and we’ll try to do our best to position it."

The Daytona Rising project: With Daytona International Speedway providing the launching point for each season, France says the venture is significant.

Attracting new manufacturers: Considering that the most attractive teams are spoken for, France says it’s challenging for new brands to come in and be competitive out of the box. He added that what the sanctioning body has learned from Toyota’s entry into NASCAR and the “strategic relationships” in sports cars could eventually transfer over.

Formula One competition: The F1 tour decided to schedule its Circuit of the Americas’ date in Austin opposite the Texas Motor Speedway Chase Race. France says he “wouldn’t have done it" and expects the F1 event to suffer more than the NASCAR race.