France: NASCAR to discuss changes to 2015 schedule
By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Saturday "robust" discussion will go into setting the 2015 schedule.
A revamped format to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship this season, coupled with NBC taking over the second half of the television schedule next season, gives NASCAR an opportunity to make scheduling changes.
"There will be a robust discussion that will be for those reasons a more comprehensive look at what the best schedule will look like," he said.
France also noted multiple weather delays this year at several race tracks as reason for considering tweaks. Saturday night's scheduled race at Daytona was postponed until Sunday because of rain, and the season-opening Daytona 500 was stopped for more than six hours.
Bristol had a significant rain delay in March and Texas was postponed a day in April.
"There's been some weather issues, as you well know, in the last several years at Bristol as an example, and then some other things that we would naturally look at as we go along in the schedule, and now that the Chase format is changed, there's additional interest to move from one place to another," he said.
But, France said there are no current plans to award a coveted Sprint Cup race to Iowa Speedway. The track was acquired last year by NASCAR sister company International Speedway Corp., but only hosts the Nationwide Series, Truck Series and IndyCar.
"We're working with the state representatives and others to help us build racing in Iowa to the highest level that we can," he said. "But they've got a nice full schedule with IndyCar and Nationwide, and I think that's where that remains."
France also indicated the season finale is staying put for the "foreseeable future" at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The track recently extended its sponsorship agreement with Ford Motor Co. through at least 2019, with an option to extend through 2024.
"We've liked the fact that to do it in South Florida, the weather is great that time of year, it's a good market for us," he said.
Here are five other things France touched on Saturday at Daytona:
DRIVER LIMITS? Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch has won all five Truck Series races he has entered this season and been nearly as dominant in the second-tier Nationwide Series, posting 12 top-five finishes in 13 starts. Fans have taken notice, with many of them crying foul play. But NASCAR doesn't sound as if it's close to limiting Cup drivers to a certain number of starts in lower series.
Although NASCAR officials talked about potentially implementing a rule in February, France said Saturday that nothing is on the horizon.
"That's always a question," he said. "When a Cup driver gets in and has a lot of success — Mark Martin did that for a long time in the Nationwide — and there's always that balance. But where we usually come out on that is that the younger drivers gain valuable experience even if somebody gets on a run and tends to win more events than is normal.
"So we try to balance that out, but we lean on the side of the greater experience for the younger drivers to get a chance to compete against, and also for our fans to want to watch the elite drivers not just on Sundays. We tend to let the events unfold the way they unfold."
France also doesn't think the issue is specific to Busch, who seems to draw the ire of fans whenever he wins in the lower divisions. Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne won the last two Nationwide races and there wasn't the same fan uproar.
"It's never an individual issue," he said. "It's true that if a Cup driver dominates in a lower division, it's understandable why people will shake their head. We balance that against the idea that fans like to see the younger drivers with the veterans, and the younger drivers, most of them, almost all of them, like to figure out where they're at on the skill curve."
CHASE CHANGES: France is so far pleased with the on-track competition and credits the emphasis placed on winning for an uptick in action. There have been 10 winners through 17 races, and NASCAR this season has set a win-and-get-in model for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
The 16-driver field will be set following the September race at Richmond, so there are nine more opportunities for drivers to gain berths into the field.
"I think we can all see the benefits of changing the winning importance, and it in fact has changed the racing on the track," he said. "The drivers are telling us that. They're taking different kind of chances. They're going for wins when they would have played it safe otherwise.
"I think that's just going to get more intense as we close in on Richmond and we seed the field here."
DOVER DILEMMA: Dover International Speedway had swaths of empty seats last month, continuing a trend of declining attendance at the Delaware track. Longtime observers said the crowd was the smallest in years, and France acknowledged that Dover is a market that's under "a lot of pressure."
Dover has two races annually, and with attendance sagging, it's unclear how long NASCAR will continue with that model. Several other tracks, including Las Vegas, Iowa and Road America, would love to add a Sprint Cup race.
"Well, we don't have a timetable on that and we don't like to think of it that way," France said. "We like to think that historically important events work themselves out over time, and some of that is on us, too. We've got to constantly figure out how to make our racing tighter, better. I mean, that's why I spent so much time telling you that we are zeroed in on that.
"I think we don't put a timeline on that. We're working with our track operators, the ones that have more challenges than others, and we'll just have to work through it and try to get a good outcome."
SOUVENIR SALE: France acknowledged NASCAR is exploring new ways to sell souvenirs, which are done at race tracks in rows of haulers located outside of the facilities. Reportedly under discussion is overhauling the entire experience and creating a sort of super store — a tent that would include all driver memorabilia in one spot.
"We really want to have higher quality merchandise available in more places and make it more convenient for our fans," France said. "We do think there's probably some newer, better ways that we can merchandise to our fans."
WORLD CUP LESSONS: France, a noted sports fan, has taken in some of the World Cup action as the tournament captivated Americans. But he wasn't sure there was a takeaway that could be applied to NASCAR or how the sport could resonate the same way with fans. He called the fervor surrounding the World Cup "organic," which makes it impossible to copy.
"There's sort of a wave of energy that gets created, and the Olympics brings that and certainly the World Cup," France said. "Good for them. It's been fun to watch."Associated Press