At the direction of NASCAR President Brian France, the sanctioning body began what it called “a careful evaluation of competition” in 2012, working with the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company and long-time automotive executive Brent Dewar. A steering committee led by NASCAR President Mike Helton, O'Donnell, NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton and NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps guided four internal ‘working teams’ to create a blueprint for transforming competition in those four critical areas.
NASCAR’s O'Donnell said one of the major tenets of the move is “to take a lot of the assets available to us and put even more money back into our R&D efforts. What that will allow us to do is get ahead of things in a much more advanced way." In an effort to accomplish that goal, rulemaking will be overseen by NASCAR’s Research and Development Department, under the guidance of Stefanyshyn. A major focus of that plan is to rewrite the rulebook with an emphasis on concrete measurements and computer-aided design specifications.
"We want the rule book to be more reflective of what teams have now with CAD drawings," explained O'Donnell. "Some of the reasoning for that is to make it more clear what parts are approved. So when you go to the track, in the event that you have a penalty… the part is clearly illustrated. If the rule book is better understood not only by the race teams but the entire industry, we feel that's a better, more transparent way to go forward.
"We want to eliminate as many gray areas as possible," he said. "But our sport is also built on innovation. We want to clearly define the areas where teams can go out and innovate, because at the end of the day, that's what our sport was founded on."
NASCAR and its working teams have developed blueprints for 11 initiatives. They include:
Governance· Move rule-making from Officiating to R&D / Innovation
· Enhance effectiveness of appeals process by redefining process and appeals board member criteria
Rules· Simplify rulebook and increase objectivity by replacing written rules with CAD designs
· Enhance parts approval by formalizing submission and approval process
· Increase consistency of rule interpretation across National Series
Penalty / Deterrence· Strengthen deterrence model to reduce inspection required to ensure competitive racing
Officiating / Inspection· Increase use of technology on pit road.
· Maintain rigor of inspection while creating greater efficiency.
· Improve efficiency of process by creating a race team inspection scheduling system.
· Enhance effectiveness of inspection through data collection and trend analysis.
· Create unified inspecting and officiating model across National Series.
A number of ideas will be implemented in time for the 2014 season, with others requiring more time. NASCAR officials said their goal to have the full scope of changes in place in time for the start of the 2015 season.
NASCAR’s Stefanyshyn also spoke of bringing NASCAR technology more in-line with that is seen on the street, saying, “We need to move in the direction the world is moving. If we don’t, we’re essentially disenfranchising ourselves" from the next generation of fans.”
Pemberton said there could be changes made to the qualifying format in NASCAR’s three national divisions, as well. He declined to discuss specifics of that plan.
O’Donnell stressed that the initiative remains a work in progress, saying, “We're out talking to the race teams now. We've received some real positive feedback, (but) we've still got a number of conversations to have.