Brian France: NASCAR not looking at limiting Cup drivers racing in lower series

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NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers coming in and dominating Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events always seems to rile up a fair portion of the sport’s fan base.

But NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France has indicated that there’s no movement coming from the sanctioning body to limit participation from Cup drivers in the lower two national series.

“That’s always a question, when a Cup driver gets in and has a lot of success – Mark Martin did that for a long time in the Nationwide – and there’s always that balance,” France said to reporters today at Daytona International Speedway.

“But where we usually come out on that is that the younger drivers gain valuable experience even if somebody gets on a run and tends to win more events than is normal. So we try to balance that out, but we lean on the side of the greater experience for the younger drivers to get a chance to compete against, and also for our fans to want to watch the elite drivers not just on Sundays.

“We tend to let the events unfold the way they unfold.”

Cup star Kyle Busch, who also competes semi-regularly in Nationwide and the Truck Series, holds the Nationwide Series’ all-time wins mark with 66 – his most recent coming in May at Dover.

During today’s conference, a reporter at DIS noted that fan animosity over Cup drivers racing in the lower series tends to spike when the polarizing Busch is at the front in those events.

However, France insisted that the idea of a cap was not “an individual issue.”

“It’s true that if a Cup driver dominates in a lower division, it’s understandable why people will shake their head, and we understand that,” France said. “As I said, we balance that against the idea that fans like to see the younger drivers with the veterans, and the younger drivers, most of them, almost all of them, like to figure out where they’re at on the skill curve.

“So that’s good for them to compete against, and it’s unique to motorsports.  That’s how it’s always been.  But we have to balance all this, and we’ll do the best we can as we go along.”

Last night’s Nationwide race at Daytona was won by Cup regular Kasey Kahne. Six of the 16 Nationwide races this year have been won by non-Cup drivers (Regan Smith, Daytona 1; Chase Elliott, Texas and Darlington; Elliott Sadler, Talladega; Sam Hornish Jr., Iowa; Brendan Gaughan, Road America).

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”