CEO puts on positive spin

When the biggest news in the offseason is an announcement that NASCAR will no longer keep fines to teams and drivers hush-hush, the sport appears in strong shape for the long run of 2012 that begins shortly in Daytona Beach.

Nothing is broken, so why try to fix it?

The revised Chase for the Championship format was fabulous. Cup drivers were prohibited from competing for championships in lower divisions, allowing for younger stars to emerge on the scene. And the organization is working diligently to eliminate — or at least strongly discourage — the two-car snoozefest of tandem racing that was deemed unacceptable by a majority of fans.

"We don't always obviously react to every request that the fan base would like to see because some of them are either not practical or wouldn't work properly," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said recently in Charlotte, N.C., where the media gathered for France's state of the union address at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "But it's kind of real simple for us: We've been doing this for over five decades, so we have a pretty good feel for ... the values of NASCAR in terms of close, competitive racing. So if we think there's something that we can do that enhances that promise that we have and it matches up with cost and all the other things, relevance and all the things you hear so much about today, then we try to do that.

"And if it's something like tandem racing where they just don't like that style of racing, they like the old style, naturally we will try to — by the way, that's consistent — because we like the old style ourselves better. It evolved into something that no one saw coming, and now we're going to deal with that."

As good as prospects appear to be, there remain the proverbial bumps in the business model. Teams still are scrambling to fill a number of sponsorship slots for races. As of mid-January, primary sponsorships were still available for 90-plus races this year in the Sprint Cup series.

They include top-tiers teams and drivers, notably Kasey Kahne, who moves over to Hendrick Motorsports. The team still needs to sell 12 races on his No. 5 Chevrolet.

Farmers Insurance has agreed to be the majority sponsor for 22 races.

Crown Royal dropped out all together, leaving former Cup champion Matt Kenseth in a sponsorship bind. Aflac, Best Buy, Caterpillar, U.S. Army and UPS all decreased the number of primary races they will sponsor this year.

There has been contraction, with Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing cutting back their operations by one car apiece. It also has raised concerns about whether the standard 43-car fields will be jeopardized.

"The economy will do that," France said. "It will have an effect on the sponsorship model, the funding of the teams, and various reasons teams also move around or get smaller. I don't anticipate short fields, but obviously a very difficult economy that's lasted so long has had an effect, and that will continue at some level."

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