DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR chairman Brian France wants to stay away from gimmicks when it comes to improving the on-track product.
But make no mistake, France wants to figure out how to ensure NASCAR has the best racing in the world. He just doesn't think that track promoter Bruton Smith's idea of implementing mandatory cautions during races is the way to go.
"It's a very clear line to us — what we're not going to do are gimmicky things," he said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "I've heard we ought to throw a caution every 10 laps. That's nonsense. We won't do gimmicky things. But we'll do things that incentivize performance, incentivize wins. That we are open to."
The real project is going on behind the scenes, though, as France has dispatched senior vice president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell with repurposing the North Carolina research and development center.
In an interview with The Associated Press, France said he's focused on splitting the R&D department from the competition department with an overall goal of getting the rules package correct before the 2013 cars debut next season.
"We want to improve the racing as well as we can, and that's a stated goal of ours," France said. "From time to time, we'd be the first to tell you, we don't always have it perfect. When we rolled out the (Car of Tomorrow), you could make the argument that the racing was not what it needed to be. What we're committed to doing is using a lot more science in the future because it is important that the '13 car, important that we get as many of the things we can in the car that are going to produce more close racing than what exists today.
"What we wouldn't want to do is put something out there, and then make changes to the car after that. That would be not the best approach. So that's what we're working on now."
The AP has obtained a letter NASCAR officials sent teams about its R&D project. The letter explains NASCAR's intent is "improving the racing product at the intermediate (1.5-2.0 mile) race tracks," and they would like input from the teams' engineering departments.
"Specifically we would like to gather your thoughts and recommendations on what changes to the cars you think would have the greatest impact to increasing mechanical grip — regardless of the current rules package," the letter read. "This can include changes to springs, shocks, sway bars, track width, cambers (front and rear) inspection heights, etc. We will be working with Goodyear on tire development concurrently, so we are seeking race team controlled changes only from your organizations."
Any suggestions from teams were due back to NASCAR on Friday.
France was open about NASCAR soliciting help from race teams.
"Let me tell you what's happened, the teams in the past, when we would go to them for information on how do we make the racing better here or there, we would get a lot of self-serving suggestions," France said. "We are not getting that now. We are getting really good input from their engineers and their experts and putting an emphasis on all that stuff and that's going to be good for NASCAR.
"It's a very tough thing for us to get the racing product at all these different speedways as good as we want it to be, that moves around, and it's hard to get it perfect at every moment."
Although the storylines are heating up as the push begins to set the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, fans have been split on how they view the racing this season. There was a stretch of racing through the spring that had very few cautions and long green-flag runs.
Many fans grumbled the lack of on-track action made the race difficult to watch.
That led Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., to call last week for mandatory cautions, which would bunch the field and presumably create action on the ensuing re-starts.
"You just can't sit there and nothing is happening," Smith said at Kentucky. "It ruins the event. It's damaging to our sport. Look at some of your other sports — they have a mandatory timeout, TV (commercial) time and all these things, and that creates things within the sport. If you have (cautions) every 20 laps, I don't care. It adds to the show. Someone once said we were in show business — if we're in show business, let's deliver. Let's deliver that show. Right now, we're not delivering."
Drivers panned the idea, as did France and NASCAR President Mike Helton.
But, France was aware of fan frustrations over the amount of commercials shown during television broadcasts. Fans have been extremely outspoken the last few weeks about the difficulty to follow a race because only a few minutes of on-track action are shown before it cuts away to a commercial break.
"That is a fair point," said France, who added all the television partners have strict parameters on how many commercials they can air. "I say most of our action is live action. There aren't TV timeouts, per se, in our sport. So it's understandable where our fans can miss something, feel like they're missing something and be frustrated by it. I understand that."