HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France provided a glimpse of the future of the sport in a Saturday press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
That future may entail the use of real-time telemetry during practice sessions of competition weekends, a practice that heretofore has been taboo in NASCAR.
That future likely will include a return to dirt-track racing for the first time since 1970, when NASCAR’s top series competed at the North Carolina Fairgrounds in Raleigh.
That future certainly will include a more scienced-out Sixth Generation Sprint Cup race car that also will provide a broader platform for potential sponsors and greater opportunity for the men and women behind the wheel to make a name for themselves — literally.
First, the cars themselves. In a move away from homogeneity, the Sixth Generation cars that will make their competitive debuts during Speedweeks at Daytona represent a vast improvement over their predecessors in terms of brand identity.
France wants to make sure they’re as competitive as they are identifiable.
“The missing and final piece, which we’re working on now, is to improve on the quality of racing, which, as everyone knows, is a stated goal of ours, to have the closest, most competitive, tightest racing that we can, and that’s what we’re testing now,” France said.
Identity isn’t confined to the car makers — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. The 2013 cars will have a new look in terms of locations of sponsor logos and drivers’ names. Next year, the last names of the drivers will appear on the windshield, giving them a higher visibility.
Sponsor decals and car numbers will no longer be allowed on the headlights and taillights, two of the features that readily differentiate one car make from another. The car numbers will be moved from the lights to the front and rear bumpers.
For the first time, NASCAR will allow one sponsor logo on the roof of the car, underneath the number. Team sponsor decals can extend past the front edge of the “B” post. Because of the slightly smaller size of the Gen 6 cars, numbers will be reduced in size by 10 percent and contingency decals limited to 26 square inches.
All the cosmetics in the world won’t mean much if the cars don’t produce exciting racing. That’s why NASCAR and its teams, in conjunction with tire maker Goodyear, have been testing extensively, both on the track and in the wind tunnel.
That’s also why France opened the door to the possibility of using telemetry in practice as one way to hasten the process of getting the cars up to speed. That’s why France also spoke of the development of a digital cockpit for 2014, an innovation that also might include the ability to interact via social media.
“I think we’re going to try to figure all that out,” France said. “You see it with fuel injection. You’re seeing it with, as I said, digital cockpit. We have Sprint as our lead partner in the wireless business, so they’re helping us figure that out.
“So we’ll manage that differently than we did in the past, but we’ll still have to be careful of if we don’t get some unintended consequences. We’re still race team versus race team, and we don’t disturb that competitive balance.”
France allowed that NASCAR may be going back to the future in terms of its choice of venues for the Camping World Truck Series. Under consideration is a truck race at Tony Stewart’s half-mile dirt Eldora Speedway, where Richard Childress Racing trucks already have tested.
“It’s part of our history at a high level,” France said of dirt-track racing. “It still is at the weekly level. And that hasn’t been completely worked out, but that’s a possibility. That would put a unique twist on the Truck Series if that is able to be worked out.
“We have a lot of fans that that’s what they grew up watching and seeing at their local short tracks. I ran a short track, a dirt track in Arizona when I first got there.
A short-track race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina also is a high likelihood.
Before France took the stage, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, announced a significant change to NASCAR’s eligibility requirements for the Truck Series based on the influx of young talent into NASCAR’s regional touring series.
“We’re going to move the age restrictions that currently exist for the trucks from 18 down to 16,” O’Donnell said, “and that rule will be in place for road courses and any tracks 1.1 mile or less.”
NASCAR on Friday announced the addition of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, to the Truck Series schedule. That will mark the first time in 13 years the trucks will compete on a road course.