Source: USA TODAY
LAS VEGAS — NASCAR announced sweeping changes to its Hall of Fame eligibility rules, and chairman Brian France hinted there could be more modifications coming to the points system.
Asked whether Sprint Cup drivers have enough incentive to win races, France hedged Thursday.
“Do I think we have it perfect in terms of the right incentives to win? I don’t think we do,” he said. “I’m not willing to say exactly what it’ll be, but I think we can do a little bit better. I saw some things that I thought, not that they weren’t trying to win, but that maybe the risk might have outweighed that, and we’ll be looking at that. I think the first thing for us is to get the rules packages in the best place that we can … but after that will be some format discussion.”
Concrete adjustments will be made to the Hall of Fame selection process, which will elect its sixth class in 2014. A list of 20 nominees (five fewer than for the first five classes) will be culled Feb. 21 in Daytona Beach, Fla., by a committee that will meet in person for the first time to vote on the list.
In the past, drivers who have competed for at least 10 years and been retired for three years were eligible for the Hall of Fame. That now will expand to include drivers who are at least 55 and have competed for 10 years, and drivers who have competed in NASCAR for at least 30 years, regardless of age. Drivers will be allowed to continue to compete after reaching those milestones and remain eligible.
That means Mark Martin, who said he was retiring from Cup after the 2013 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, immediately becomes eligible, as are past champions Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, both of whom have competed in recent seasons.
NASCAR already had announced the reigning Sprint Cup champion will have a Hall of Fame vote the following year. Members of the voting panel who are on the ballot the previous or current year will be recused from the process, which will take place on May 21.
NASCAR will add a Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions that will be selected from an annual list of five nominees. Winners must receive at least 60% of the vote and won’t be considered Hall of Fame inductees.
Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes said NASCAR had serious discussion about reducing the size of future classes from five and adding a veterans committee a la other professional sports. He said both concepts will be revisited after NASCAR inducts its 10th class.
That was the most significant news during a low-key state-of-the-sport address tied to NASCAR’s Champions Week at the Wynn hotel, where a relaxed France proclaimed the 2013 season as a success.
The debut of the Gen 6 car delivered more green-flag passes, and its aesthetically pleasing look drew a warm reception in stark contrast to its much maligned predecessor.
“Arguably, we didn’t get it right in 2008,” France said of the debut of the Car of Tomorrow. “We changed that in a big way, getting the manufacturers and teams on the same page. The heart of it is getting closer, tighter and then always safe competition.”
The next step is a test with more than 20 cars Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that France plans to attend as potential changes to the car — such as reducing speeds and altering aerodynamics — are weighed for next season.
“It’s an important test,” France said. “We’re after some interesting changes to the rules packages. You’ve heard me say this for a while now, and we’ll be validating some of our beliefs, a prior test and other things, and I’m liking what I’m seeing. It’s tightening up competition, and that’s hallmark. We wake up every day and try to do that.”
France said the ultimate goal is increasing green-flag lead changes. While there were 17,398 more green-flag passes than 2012, lead changes increased only slightly (from 679 to 700).
France kidded he’d “love a photo finish every weekend if I could pull a lever up in the tower to create that” but added lead changes weren’t the only criteria.
“The No. 1 thing we had to judge in the Gen 6 car was acceptance by the manufacturers, the teams and the drivers,” he said. “And then obviously we want to get more lead changes, and we want to get closer, tighter competition. I think that is a big measuring stick. But it’s not the only one. Safety is in there in a high place (and) all kinds of things.”
France addressed several other topics during a 45-minute session with the media:
–After the team orders scandal at Richmond International Raceway that marred the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, France said he “was pissed off, if you really want to know the truth” but said he wouldn’t have changed anything about how it was handled. During a six-day period, NASCAR changed its rules on digital communications, banned team executives from the spotters stand, issued the largest penalties in history to Michael Waltrip Racing (ejecting Martin Truex Jr. from the Chase) and added Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon to the 10-race title playoff.
“I just think we moved swiftly,” France said. “I think we sent an undeniable message that we were not going to tolerate that. Every sport, hopefully it’s very rare, has a moment where these things happen. I like what our group did.”
–France said he anticipated no major changes to the 2015 schedule as many have speculated. “Most tracks, with a couple of exceptions, don’t like to give up a date that’s worked for them,” he said. “So there might be a change or two, but I wouldn’t predict any significant changes.”
–France expressed disappointment that the Sprint Cup Series (at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth) and Formula One (at Circuit of the Americas in Austin) will compete head to head in the same state Nov. 2.
“I wouldn’t have done that myself,” he said. “I’m sure they had the same kind of scheduling challenges that we do. They go all over the world, and that was what they chose. It wouldn’t be my first choice.
“I expect them to suffer a lot more than Texas will suffer. I don’t think it’s good for either group or either series.”
–The recent purchase of Iowa Speedway by NASCAR was driven by the chance to provide stability to an 0.8-mile oval that has established a niche in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. France said it’s possible that the track could be sold to a public track ownership company such as International Speedway Corp. in the future.
“It’s an attractive asset in a region of the country that is very NASCAR-centric, and they’ve had a lot of success,” he said. “The public (racetrack) companies, the timing wasn’t right for them, but the time was right for us. We’ll get to give some stability to a facility that needs that. 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 (for the future).”
–The 2014 reduction of officials in the pits will mark another step in NASCAR’s commitment to making technology more prevalent.
“We didn’t reduce the staff just because,” he said. “Over time you’re going to see pit road technology. I mean cameras. I mean different ways that we’re going to inspect the cars using technology as much as possible, and we’ll be using that data and information for fans.
“Our hope is to do two things: One is to be either more accurate in how we inspect the pit stops (and) pre- and post-race inspections. We also want to be more relevant to technology companies. We’re not as relevant as we can be right now.”
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