NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France addressed the media early Monday afternoon with his State of the Sport address. While last year’s announcement was rife with change, particularly with the sport’s playoff system 2015 appeared to toe the line of “status quo.” One year after a radical Chase realignment, the success of the playoff’s first year means France and NASCAR officials have chosen to maintain the current format without any further changes.
“Teams are trying to win earlier and you will see new strategies coming in and out of those transfer events,” said France. “That is going to make it much more exciting as the teams and the drivers get a better feel for the format.”
Besides addressing the Chase, France also tackled Sprint’s expiring contract. In mid-December, Sprint announced they will not re-sign with NASCAR, allowing their agreement as Cup Series title sponsor to end following the 2016 season. While the search to find a replacement continues, France maintains Sprint will stay on board throughout rather than opt out a year early. The sanctioning body is attempting to sign a long-term replacement, similar to the length of their current TV deals.
Along those lines, most of the focus on 2015 changes was geared toward the broadcast side. NBC is joining the sport after an eight-year hiatus, returning to cover Cup and XFINITY Series races beginning in the second half of the season.
“I want to welcome back NBC, Comcast and XFINITY, and the 10-year relationship that we are going to launch this year,” France continued. “We are an essential part of what is going to happen at NBC Sports.”
France took time to address the on-track changes. NASCAR is introducing new pit road technology, creating safety and precision that will provide more accurate judgments during pit stops. The new pit road officiating system will take away the danger of race officials standing on pit road, replaced instead by 46 cameras. Multiple officials will be positioned away from the pits, watching a monitor for potential violations. They’ll be sent for individual contact with a team should any type of penalty occur.
Also on the officiating side, new rules will govern NASCAR’s side skirts. Following an increased usage of teams kicking out the fenders, used to get an aerodynamic advantage, NASCAR is going to police crews during pit stops beginning at the season-opening events in all three divisions.
“Last year, it was at the end of the season and we made the decision to not change how we officiated the sport,” said Robin Pemberton, Vice President of Competition and Racing Development. “We will start the year out fresh and govern that by any means possible. It was just about getting to the end of the season and making adjustments entering this year.”
The Sprint Cup Series will also be moving to tapered spacers in 2015, an adjustment which has been in place in NASCAR’s lower series for several years. Although there were multiple options to reduce horsepower, the sport’s R&D team came to the conclusion that using a tapered spacer would be the most efficient and least costly change for race teams.
“It was probably the most economical way to lose horsepower,” Pemberton told Frontstretch.com. “We have a history of doing that with the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series. It was actually the work in the meetings that we had with teams and manufacturers along the way that gave us a consensus.”
Finally, with multiple organizations beginning to run out of space in the Sprint Cup Series stable, NASCAR has discussed expanding their four-car limit. A rule that’s been in place since 2009, it keeps teams like Hendrick Motorsports from expanding even though satellite programs, like Stewart-Haas Racing allow them to link engine, chassis, and other deals with those programs in exchange for additional information. Although France stated that it was unlikely to happen this year, they have begun discussions of expanding that limit to five “in the near future.”
NASCAR also anticipates they will have the 2016 rules package announced by May, in time for the Sprint All-Star Race. The sport is working on several initiatives, including long-term deals with individual tracks which would allow them to start planning the future earlier than ever before.
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