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France tinkers with new system

Published January 16, 2004

DAYTONA BEACH - New NASCAR CEO Brian France tried on Thursday to temper some of the complaints from fans and drivers about a proposed system that would change the way Nextel Cup points champions will be determined. He hinted that the cutoff for championship eligibility might not be determined solely by position in the standings, but in points relation to the overall leader.

The system, expected to be announced during a media tour next week in Charlotte, would allow the top several drivers to compete for the title based on points gained in the last 10 races. France wants to avoid a scenario in which someone eliminated from contention could overtake the leaders.

"We have to find a way to solve it and we have solved it," he said.

One proposal would involve taking at least the top 10 and any driver within a certain number of points of the leader.

The vast majority of Nextel Cup drivers do not favor a change, many because it would erode the value of the kind of consistency that helped Matt Kenseth win the 2003 title. They will not find compromise in one of France's favorite parts of the new plan.

"If more drivers have an opportunity to win a championship every year, it's a great thing," he said. "We have a (current) plan that's too much balanced on consistency. We want consistency. It should play a big role, but we think it plays too much of a role and we're looking for balance now."

France insists that the new system not be called a "playoff." There will be no elimination of drivers even though it is expected that only a small number will compete over the final 10 races for the championship. Oh, and he wants you to know a lot of thought has gone into this contentious idea.

"We will see the results as early as this year, and we'll see it year after year," said France, who succeeded his father, Bill France, as NASCAR's top executive last fall. "We are largely confident that the plan that I know of that is on the table is going to work and will grow the sport. Period."

TESTS: Ken Schrader had the fastest speed over Daytona International Speedway's 2.5-mile track on Thursday at 187.793 in the No. 49t Dodge during afternoon testing. Ricky Rudd's 188.198 set Wednesday afternoon was the fastest in six testing days over the past two weeks.

IROC: Crown Royal was announced as sponsor of the four-event International Race of Champions sports car series, which will begin Feb. 13 at Daytona.

Crown Royal, which owns several alcoholic beverage brands, has pledged $1.9-million in purses. The series champion's share will quadruple to $1-million.

In IROC, 12 drivers from various series compete in similarly prepared cars over a 100-mile course with points awarded for each place. Committed drivers are Nextel Cup regulars Kurt Busch, the defending champion; Kevin Harvick; Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and 2003 truck champion Travis Kvapil; the Indy Racing League's Scott Dixon, Scott Sharp and Helio Castroneves. Jeff Gordon declined.

RISE AND SLIDE: Johnson, the second driver on the track during morning testing, hit a slippery spot on the high line in Turn 3 on his first lap and crushed the front end of what would have been his Daytona 500 car. Casey Mears, out first, reported trouble but made it through.

"Without a doubt, there was something on the track. ... It's really hard to spin a car out here, especially when you're by yourself," Johnson said. "I wasn't even up to speed, on my warmup lap."

Shadows or morning dew could have contributed. A drier truck was on the track Tuesday morning, followed by a street car.

Michael Waltrip, who hit the wall on the first day of testing Jan. 6, was the only other driver to have an accident.

[Last modified January 16, 2004, 01:33:00]

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