SBD/January 23, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Six In One: NASCAR's New Sprint Cup Car Dominates Talk On Media Tour

NASCAR hopes the Gen 6 cars will rejuvenate interest in manufacturer rivalries
NASCAR’s Generation 6 car, which will make its Sprint Cup Series debut at the Daytona 500 next month, is expected to bring tighter and more competitive racing to the sport, NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said yesterday during his annual state of the sport address. He said the Car of Tomorrow, the fifth generation car that ran its final race last year, helped bring cost control and safety to racing, but also hurt the sport. France: “Obviously we got away from some things that historically had worked well for us: The manufacturer rivalry, which we're excited about; the relevance issue with the car manufacturers. And then I think we put a lot more focus in the new car into the rules package surrounding the car that we didn't put nearly -- I can tell you we didn't put nearly as much science into the old car as we tried to achieve better racing.” He expects the new Gen 6 car, which replicates the showroom look of Toyota’s Camry, Chevy’s SS and Ford’s Fusion, to rejuvenate fan interest in manufacturer rivalries and help boost automakers’ sales. But he added that the real success of the car will be measured by the number of lead changes this year, what drivers say about it and how the competition on the track looks. France: “Everything is designed to have closer competition, and we'll see.”

HOT TOPIC: Talk of the car has dominated every session of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour that began Monday, and it was the subject of six of the 15 questions France fielded from media during a Q&A session. That session was far less combative than the Q&A held two years ago. At that time, TV ratings were still in a freefall and reporters wanted to know what was being done to fix the sport. France even rebuffed a question from the AP regarding what else NASCAR considered changing because "the list of things wrong with the sport is very, very long." He said that the sanctioning body was setting itself up to "take the sport in a smart direction for many, many years." Between the Gen 6 car, the launch of a new website, a five-year plan to boost interest in drivers, attract young fans and improve the at-track experience, NASCAR is doing exactly that. NASCAR in recent years even spent time developing a new track-drying system capable of drying Martinsville Speedway in 15 minutes, an innovation that should shorten rain delays considerably.

TUNING IN: France said that NASCAR has begun TV rights discussions with Turner and ESPN, which have the rights to the final 23 Sprint Cup Series races of the season through ‘14. Fox last year renewed its rights for the Camping World Truck Series and 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, signing a seven-year deal through ‘22 that is valued at $2.4B. Turner and ESPN have an exclusive negotiating window with NASCAR through late this summer. If they do not come to terms on an extension, then NASCAR can take the TV package to the open market and accept bids from others like NBC, which said it would be interested. France said he anticipates getting renewals done with ESPN and Turner in the coming weeks and months. He added, “We have great partners now. My hope is that we'll be able to extend those relationships. But those negotiations are alive and well, going fine” (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).

PARKING VIOLATIONS: SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith yesterday began a campaign to prevent start-and-park cars from participating in NASCAR races. Start-and-park teams typically begin a race, run a few laps and then pull off the track. They can collect as much as $2M a year by doing so, and Smith said that their participation in Sprint Cup races damages the credibility of the sport. Smith: “It’s a joke for the race fans that a car runs five laps or 15 laps and parks. ... I’m not gonna use the word ‘fraud,’ I guess you could, but it’s a joke.” Smith encouraged NASCAR to decrease the field of Sprint Cup races from 43 to 36 cars and shift the money being awarded to start-and-park drivers to the drivers who finish in the top 10 (Mickle). Smith added of start-and-park teams, “I'm going to try my best and I hope you'll join me and see if NASCAR can't do something about this. Because it's certainly not adding anything to our sport and it does take away.” Meanwhile, Smith said, "These race cars are too fast. ... If you go back and look, 70, 80 years ago, and I'm mostly referring to what Indianapolis was doing, racing was made better every time we slowed them down." Smith acknowledged that he “has a challenge on his hands with those initiatives.” Smith: "Will I win? We'll find out later. But we're going to certainly try to slow them down" (AL.com, 1/22).
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