Racing beat

| August 31, 2006

Ganassi Racing crew members work on the Car of Tomorrow during a test at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

NASCAR FORECAST
Expect to see a few changes – some minor, some major – in 2007 Nextel Cup racing

They says if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But when it comes to NASCAR, a little tweaking is always in order.

The Chase for the Championship has been a box office success, and the new Car of Tomorrow is ready to debut in 2007. Still, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France says there are more improvements in the works for what has grown into the most popular form of motorsports in the world.

“A lot of the things that we put into play a year ago, two years ago and three years ago are really starting to pay off for us,” says France, who recently delivered a State of the NASCAR Union address. “Things like the single engine rule. Things like our testing policy, the gear rule. We had 10 (different) winners in our first 16 races. It’s pretty balanced.

“So I’m liking what I’m seeing, and I think that’s a tribute to what we’re trying to really do, which is look down the road.”

And what is ahead down the road?

“We want to maintain safe, competitive racing, which is the heart blood of what we do, so these are the long-term things that we’ve got to put into place,” France says. “Things to ensure, not today, not next week, but two years, three years, five years from now that we get the kind of results on the track that you all think we should and certainly our fans think that we should.

“What I’ve always says about the Chase was that we needed a few years under our belt to see how it evolved, to change the strategy, see how the actual formula that we have, see how it really works, and now we’re in our third year, starting to get that sense, and my view is, we will make some adjustments going into 2007.”

France suggests some changes would include bringing more drivers into the Chase (there are currently 10) and possibly changing which events are part of the Chase for the Championship.

“We’ll be looking at, is 10 the right number, as an example,” he says. We’ll be looking at the 400-point margin. We’ll be looking at the final 10 races.

“I think we have the right mix, and I don’t think we’ll be changing that, but we’ll be thinking about the points structure; you know, should we add a little more to the win in the final 10. Just various things we think will build what we’re hoping for, which are big moments and a bigger stage for the drivers. That’s what the Chase has always been about. It’s about showcasing their skills.”

As for the Car of Tomorrow, France says it’s “97 to 98 percent” ready.

“There are a few tweaks that we’re making with various manufacturers and team owners to get the building of the car correct, the ventilation, exhaust, that kind of thing,” France says. “But the idea of the box in your car, it’s been through the wind tunnel as you well know, numerous times, been on the track now numerous times; the drivers are getting a great feel for it.

As successful as the sport has become in the last decade, France insists NASCAR will never rest on its laurels.

“We want to make sure that the next generation of fans get the same close finishes that we’ve seen this year, get the same balanced playing field where new teams can come in and compete and make a difference,” France says.

“So to do that in our world, it’s not just the labor costs – other sports have to wrangle with that – it’s the mechanical side. That’s very difficult for us, because obviously it’s complicated; various manufacturers now, Toyota coming in, that job’s difficult. So for us to make these adjustments or major changes, like the Car of Tomorrow, takes a long time, takes a lot of runway.”


NURTURING NEWBIES
New program for Grand National Division will make it easier for young drivers to compete

Before the NASCAR Busch Series – and certainly before the Nextel Cup division – many of stock car racing’s future stars spend their formative years competing in NASCAR’s regional touring divisions. But just as the upper levels of the sport have undergone significant changes, so, too have the undercard divisions.

“We’re going to do a multi-faceted new program for the NASCAR Grand National Division, which includes the East and West Series, and the new spec engine will be available for teams in those divisions beginning on Aug. 1,” says Jim Hunter, vice president of corporate communications for NASCAR “The new engine is expected to save teams considerable amounts of money while still delivering outstanding performance.”

The new engine will be available through Provident Auto Supply, a North Carolina-based performance parts distributor owned by former NASCAR crew chief and former Nextel Cup Series Director Gary Nelson.

“In addition to the spec engine, a composite body for Grand National cars is also now available for use in the Grand National Division,” Hunter says. “Composite bodies are currently available from three different sources. The combination of the spec engine composite body and the option of running either 105- or 110-inch wheel bases comprise a wide variety of cost-saving initiatives for the Grand National Division, which we hope will serve as the development series for up and coming future stars of NASCAR.”

The cost is expected to be much less than what teams currently spend on engines. “Composite bodies should also trim cost for the budgets of Grand National races,” Hunter says.

The minimum driving age for competitors will also be reduced to 16 years old beginning in 2007.

The NASCAR Grand National Division has been the jumping-off point for the careers of many NASCAR stars on both the East and West Coasts. The two series meet annually in the annual Toyota All-Star showdown, an invitational event featuring the top 15 drivers in each series. A veteran of the competition is Kevin Harvick, who is running away with the NBS series this year.

Harvick won a track championship in the touring division at the age of 17 and won the 1998 West championship.

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