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France: NASCAR studying ways to improve racing
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - NASCAR Chairman Brian France is aware of the fan debate surrounding the last two months of racing, and acknowledged the sanctioning body is studying several areas to ensure the on-track product is entertaining.
But France indicated it's difficult to judge where NASCAR is based solely on the last eight races.
"You just can't snapshot and give a grade like that," France said Saturday night before the Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Fans have been voicing disapproval since the March race at Bristol, which lacked the short-track punch people have come to expect. Then came California, which went green until rain brought out the only caution of a race that was called not long after the yellow.
Texas had only two cautions, Kansas had three and Richmond didn't heat up until the very end. Although ardent fans are insistent they don't root for wrecks, there seemed to be some satisfaction after Talladega, which was the first race in a month to feature multi-car accidents.
France seems to have heard the frustration with the long green-flag runs.
"We are very attentive to the fan base," he said. "We look at it a lot of different ways. You can look at lead changes and cycles of things and more green flag laps than at other times. But we look at it overall and look at things very carefully, and we have a hard job, and it's hard to put the rules forward that allow the best competition to come forward. That's what we've done for 60-plus years.
"It's not getting any easier with all of the technology and great teams and great innovators but we're zeroed in on what we have to get done."
All four manufacturers will introduce new cars in 2013, and France called it an opportunity to "make the racing better."
He has tasked senior vice president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell with repurposing the research and development center, which should help NASCAR "increase our focus on things that can make the racing better."
With that comes taking a hard look at aerodynamics, which many drivers have said is what's effecting the racing. NASCAR this week added a side skirt to the cars, which four-time Jeff Gordon called "a baby step" in addressing aero issues.
France said NASCAR is looking at everything.
"We're zeroing in on if there's an aero issue," he said. "From time to time, there's going to be other issues that we're able to get at those faster."
NASCAR JOINS BEYOND SPORT: NASCAR officials announced Saturday that it would join Beyond Sport, a global organization that promotes, develops and supports the use of sport to create positive social change.
"We're obviously very honored to be a part of what's going on at Beyond Sport," France said. "The idea is that teams, leagues, athletes come together to share best practices of what they're doing. It puts us on a big stage, which we're excited about. And frankly, it matches perfectly with directionally where we're going. We're investing a lot with kids. We're certainly focused on the environment and giving back to different communities."
NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya also attended the announcement.
"Pretty much every driver has a foundation or does something to support other charities and other drivers' foundations," Johnson said. "This is a perfect fit. I'm very proud of the effort and the work the Jimmie Johnson Foundation has done, and I look forward to sharing our best practices and just trying to give back. There's a huge void out there, and if it wasn't for the nonprofit world, there would be even a larger gap."
Beyond Sport Founder Nick Keller officially extended the invitation to NASCAR prior to the start of the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"We are very excited to welcome NASCAR to Beyond Sport and look forward to promoting and supporting the NASCAR community's collective efforts to make a difference in the world," Keller said. "Sports are one of the most powerful platforms in any culture to promote good, and the combined strength and collective commitment of these leagues is coming together to drive important change. NASCAR makes the movement even stronger."
EARNHARDT SPONSORSHIP AT RISK?: Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Jack Kingston are pushing for an amendment that would stop government funding of sponsorship in NASCAR and other professional sports as part of the fiscal year 2013 Defense appropriations bill.
The amendment passed on a voice vote and will now go to the House floor as part of the $608 billion defense spending bill.
That obviously isn't good news for Dale Earnhardt Jr. because the National Guard is one of his primary sponsors. Over the past five years, the National Guard paid $136 million to sponsor Earnhardt's ride, including $26.5 million last year alone, McCollum said.
McCollum cited numbers Friday that claimed not one recruit has been generated from that sponsorship.
"The Pentagon's NASCAR sponsorship program is an outrageous waste of taxpayer money and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta should terminate these sponsorship programs immediately," McCollum said.
Earnhardt sees it a different way.
"I would encourage them to do more homework, get more facts, understand the situation a little more," Earnhardt said. "I know just talking to the (National) Guard they can't express to me enough about how much this program helps their recruiting. They are committed to the belief it has a profound effect on their recruiting and their ability to recruit."
When asked if he'd invite Kingston to a race, Earnhardt laughed and said, "Yeah, just because he's a Republican from Georgia he should have seen a NASCAR race by now."
Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart has the U.S. Army as sponsor of Ryan Newman's team at Stewart-Haas Racing, and in IndyCar, JR Hildebrand is sponsored by National Guard.
Stewart insisted there's a value in sponsoring race teams to any company.
"All you have to do is turn around and look in all these garage stalls _ there are a lot of Fortune 500 companies that realize the value of this sport and realize the marketing value to it," Stewart said.
"I think the U.S. Army and the National Guard have seen that value as well. They are not in the habit of spending money to spend money. I think they see the value in it, whether legislature understands that or not, they may not be familiar with all the things and how it benefits those programs."
BOWYER WINS BURNOUT CHALLENGE: It took five years, but Clint Bowyer finally won the fifth annual Burnout Challenge.
Fans voted for the top two burnouts before a panel of three celebrity judges voted Bowyer the winner. The judges were Miss Sprint Cup Jaclyn Roney; Colby Donaldson, a veteran of television's "Survivor" and Kim Spradlin, 2012 winner of the "Survivor."
"I can't believe they let us come out here and tear these things up a little bit," Bowyer said. "That's pretty hard on equipment. Who would have ever thought that all of those years of snow-packed parking lots back in the Midwest would have ever paid off at a burnout contest at Charlotte in a competition at the All-Star race.
"That's how I won this, a lot of years under the radar in parking lots doing doughnuts! I was watching Kasey (Kahne) and we were all talking about how to get the car in second gear, because that is where you get the most smoke. I got the car in a drift and got it in second gear a little quicker than the other guys, and I think that was what gave us the most smoke."
Bowyer is donating the $10,000 first place check to his charity _ the Employee Community Foundation in his hometown of Emporia, Kan.
DANICA'S IMPACT ON NASCAR: Danica Patrick has brought more visibility to the sport _ not that NASCAR Chairman Brian France expected anything different.
But France said Patrick's true impact at stock car's top level won't be known for some time.
"That will be determined by how well she competes and that is what will determine the impact at the end," France said. "Nobody knows that better than she does... Most importantly, I think she's made improvements and that was her stated goal and she's getting better and better."
GROW ONE, SAVE A MILLION: If Kevin Harvick starts looking a little scruffy in coming weeks, forgive him. He's doing it for a good cause. Harvick and his crew pledged not to shave as part of Budweiser's "Grow One. Save a Million" program, which is designed to help save one million gallons of water for World Environment Day on June 5.
By Bob Dole
The industrious island has proved itself worthy of U.S. inclusion
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