NASCAR stakes future on new car, eyes improvements at Daytona

CHARLOTTE — In a gathering best described as a media conference sprinkled with bits and pieces of a pep rally, NASCAR officials laid out their vision for the sport, embedded in the hope of a new car energizing the fan base and of refurbishing the iconic Daytona International Speedway .

Much of NASCAR's success is literally riding on the new Gen 6 model, which looks very much like a car anybody can buy — minus the revved-up engine. The adage "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" has been evoked many times during the current NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. It took a stop at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Tuesday for a state of the union address — under the banner "Racing to Innovate" — headed by CEO and chairman Brian France and president Mike Helton.

"So far all the indicators are telling us that we're on the right track," Helton said of the Gen 6 model, which replaces the "Car of Tomorrow."

With the COT clearly in its rear view mirror, NASCAR is hoping the stars align to make the drivers shine as much as the car moving into the new season, starting with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24.

"I think we'll measure [the new car] by lead changes. We'll measure it by how it races. We'll measure it by how the drivers feel about it and — knowing that not everybody will always love every rules package or thing that we do, that's for sure — we'll look at it very simply," France said. "Everything is designed to have closer competition. I'm quite confident that I know we're going to make improvements."

Other elements of NASCAR are in for changes, too. France announced that the sport is moving to a new track-drying system that is more efficient and could improve the time by 80 percent. The system will use compressed air instead of a jet engine and, as Helton described it, a series of "pipes behind a pickup truck that the air is being pushed through as opposed to a jet dryer."

More significant to the sport's so-called Super Bowl in February are plans to renovate Daytona International Speedway. Track president Joie Chitwood provided just a "initial taste" of the project, which is advancingwith the collaborative efforts of Rosetti Architects, a company out of Michigan.

"For us it's charting the course for the next 50 years," Chitwood said. "But this isn't about changing a seat here and there. This is about changing the structure of the front-stretch grandstands. This is about massive gates and entry ways. This is about an architectural skin that is reminiscent of major sports stadiums in this country.

"If we're going to continue to be the world center of racing and host NASCAR's Super Bowl every year, we have to make sure we live up to that from a fan-amenity side and infrastructure side."

Chitwood said he hopes to have more details during Speedweeks next month. The speedway opened in 1959. There are still some original seats in place that date to that time.

Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com

Fans call the shots

NASCAR and Sprint are attempting to take fan interaction to a new level in the first big event of the season —The Sprint Unlimited At Daytona (aka The Bud Shootout).

Fans will determine a number of critical elements in the 75-lap non-points race that will be staged Feb. 16. An interactive component will allow fans to vote on the number of laps in each segment, the type of pit stop a team makes after the first segment, and how many cars will be eliminated after the second segment.

They also will get to vote on which fire suit Miss Sprint Cup wears at Victory Lane.

"Giving fans such a strong voice in the design of the race is a fitting way to launch our 10th season in the sport," said Steve Gaffney, Sprint vice president of corporate marketing. "We are giving them the ultimate access to the sport, the decision-making power to sculpt the type of race they want to see. With today's technology, they can make these decisions in real time as the race is happening."

Votes can be cast on NASCAR's new official mobile app — NASCAR Mobile '13 — or at NASCAR.com/SprintUnlimited. All votes made through the NASCAR Mobile '13 app will count twice. Although the voting window for the race format will close on Feb. 13 at 11:59 p.m. ET, the voting deadlines for the pit stop and elimination will close at various times throughout the race broadcast.

Sprint is encouraging fans to follow @NASCAR and @MissSprintCup on Twitter to engage in the #SprintUnlimited conversation throughout the voting process.

A goody line

While launching a promotional multi-media campaign for Goody's headache powder, NASCAR legend Richard Petty was asked his most memorable "Goody's moment" during his career.

Sharp as ever, Petty alluded to the 1976 Daytona 500, in which Petty and David Pearson tangled on the last lap as Petty passed him to take the lead. Both drivers lost control after slamming into a wall. Petty's car stalled 20 yards from the finish line after skidding into the grass.

"There wasn't enough Goody's in Volusia County to get over that headache," Petty said.

Petty, a long-time spokesman for Goody's, will work with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the campaign.

Hey, baby!

The baby boom continues in NASCAR. Denny Hamlin became the newest proud papa. He announced the arrival of his daughter via his Twitter account. "Introducing Taylor James Hamlin! Born Jan 20 at 20:20! Weighting 6lb 5oz and 20 inches in length." Jordan Fish, Hamlin's longtime girlfriend, is the child's mom.

Hamlin, 32, and Fish, 25, met six years ago at a Charlotte Bobcats game while Fish was performing as a member of the Lady Cats, the Bobcats dance team. Hamlin was sitting courtside and she caught his attention.

CHICAGO

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