NASCAR’s Brian France looks back and looks ahead

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NASCAR CEO Brian France mentioned lots of accomplishments for his organization during the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season this morning in Las Vegas, but noted that it’s also preparing diligently for the year to come.

In a wide-ranging session with reporters, France talked about the ongoing testing for the Gen-6 cars that debuted this past year (he’ll be in attendance for Monday’s second session at Charlotte Motor Speedway) and also disclosed that NASCAR is looking into making changes in qualifying to make it more exciting for fans.

The Gen-6 is a work in progress for France and NASCAR, as it didn’t appear to boost the on-track offering on the intermediate tracks despite setting qualifying records on numerous occasions in 2013. As far as judging the car’s performance in Year One, France insisted that while lead changes were an important part of evaluating the car, it wasn’t the only criteria.

“There’s never one thing we’re going to judge,” he said. “The No. 1 thing we had to judge in the Gen-6 car was acceptance by the manufacturers, the teams and the drivers. And then obviously, we want to get more lead changes and we want to get closer, tighter competition…

“Lead changes are going to be a huge part. I think that is a big measuring stick. But it’s not the only one.  Safety is in there in a high place, acceptance, all kinds of things.”

Additionally, France touched upon the matter of putting more of an incentive on winning races compared to garnering consistent results.

While stressing that NASCAR wants to lock in the rules packages for 2014 first, he seemed to indicate that adding emphasis on going for wins could be addressed later on.

“…Do I think we have it perfect in terms of the right incentives to win? I don’t think we do,” he said. “I think we can do — I’m not willing to say exactly what it’ll be, but I think we can do a little bit better. But I saw some things that I thought, hey, not that they weren’t trying to win, but that maybe the risk might have outweighed that, and we’ll be looking at that.”

Like France said, things aren’t “perfect” going into 2014. But things could have been much worse for NASCAR if they’d been unable to weather the controversy surrounding the race manipulation incident at Richmond International Raceway in September.

Following those events, NASCAR acted swiftly by issuing a series of penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing for its role in the scandal and adding Jeff Gordon – one of the drivers most directly affected by the events at Richmond – as a 13th Chase competitor.

France admitted to being “pissed off” over the situation at the time, but said he felt that the series could survive without major, long-lasting effects to its reputation by dealing with it head-on.

“It was going to be really tough, especially for the teams that got penalized, losing sponsors; that was no fun for anybody,” he said. “But I knew that our credibility would be preserved if we did the right thing and we acted swiftly, and over time. So I wasn’t ever worried about that.

“But of course we were disappointed. That’s just the nature, I guess, of competitive sports. You’ve got human beings trying to do their best, and sometimes, they cross lines they shouldn’t cross.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III