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Newz Forum: AUTO: NASCAR looking to simplify rules

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posted on Jun, 30 2004 @ 11:19 AM
(AP) - For the most part, the first 10 months of Brian France's tenure as boss of NASCAR has been a breeze. The changeover from longtime sponsor Winston to Nextel in NASCAR's top series has gone smoothly. A major antitrust lawsuit over a second race for the Fort Worth track was settled out of court and played right along with the expected schedule realignment. And a new way of determining the Cup championship with a 10 race shootout at the end of the season is already generating excitement.

"I've enjoyed the responsibilities and it's obviously action-packed," France said Tuesday during a teleconference. "We have our work cut out for us, but working with the team we've got, developing new ideas and trying to make racing better, it's been a fun first year for me."

One thing that hasn't been much fun, though, is the reaction of competitors and fans to the first major rule change of France's tenure. Last fall, shortly after taking over from his father, Bill France Jr., as chairman and CEO of NASCAR, it was announced that drivers would no longer race to the finish line when a yellow flag came out. Competitors had been complaining about that dangerous practice for years and, after a particularly scary moment in which former Cup champion Dale Jarrett's car was stuck in the middle of the track with nearly the entire field bearing down at top speed, the younger France decided to do something about it.

Unfortunately, the change has caused debate over how to freeze the drivers' positions at the moment the caution flag waves and how soon to open the pit lane during yellows. There have been a series of confusing rule changes, overlong caution periods during some races and several mistakes by officials that prompted NASCAR president Mike Helton to issue apologies. France said NASCAR is well on the way to solving those problems, but he wants to make the rules as simple as possible for everyone.

"The expectations from the drivers, the owners, fans and everybody in the industry is that NASCAR is going to conduct the events in a mistake-free environment," France said. "We all know that that's not humanly possible, although that's our own expectation. We have had several mistakes in the last month that we think we've gotten, for the large measure, corrected. We've obviously introduced a more complicated system in terms of freezing the field, although we simplified that in the last two weeks."

Among the recent changes: pit road is now opened only by officials in the control tower, rather than an official at the end of the service lane, and the scoring of the field when a caution is displayed is being done with electronic scoring that shows where every car is at any given moment, removing the human element as much as possible.

More changes are coming.

"There will be a thing or two that we think will even further simplify it," France said. "It's all about improving our accuracy and our speed."

The next big rule change being contemplated, which could be just as controversial and difficult to police, is how to make sure races end under a green flag. Four of the last eight Cup races have ended under caution, meaning that the drivers did not get to race to the finish but ended the day driving slowly behind the pace truck. That didn't make the drivers or the fans happy.

"We are studying that whole idea of how we might give ourselves more opportunities to finish under a green flag scenario, which is what we want," France said.

Former series champion Rusty Wallace isn't in favor of an idea that would restart the cars with both the white one-lap-to-go flag and green displayed simultaneously.

"I don't agree with that and I'll be the first one politicking that you shouldn't do that," Wallace said last week. "All these race fans drinking beer and screaming and hollering have not been in a helicopter upside down with 30 tubes hanging out of you after going end-over-end 30 times like I've been before because of these green-white starts. I think it's ridiculous and it's unsafe."

The truck series has a rule in place that requires what the drivers call a green-white-checkered finish. With the white flag signifying one lap to go, following a late caution flag, the truck drivers are assured two racing laps to the finish.

"I know that we have (a system) that works in the trucks series but, remember, those are shorter races and we're having to factor in a number of other things," said France, the grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

"We will make a decision if it promotes better racing or safety or anything that we think improves the industry. In 53 years of managing the sport, we know what the drivers are up against in terms of finishing under green. Most of them have said recently they'd support some version of (green-white-checkered)."

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