NASCAR to overhaul rulebook

Updated: July 15, 2013, 9:51 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR hopes to make gray areas a thing of the past, improve its outdated appeals process and make the sport more fan friendly through technology with a new wide-ranging initiative introduced Monday.

The proposal to eliminate gray areas will begin by overhauling the rulebook with specific pictures and guidelines on every part and piece of the car. The rulebook will be available to teams -- and maybe one day fans -- online so they have no excuse for using an unapproved part.

In conjunction with that, the governing body will come up with a specific set of penalties that says a violation in a certain area will result in a certain amount of monetary fine, certain amount of point deductions and certain amount of crew members suspended or placed on probation.

In the past it has been subjective, often different penalty to penalty.

NASCAR also plans to revamp the appeals process that over the past two years has been successfully challenged several times by putting people more qualified to make rulings on the panels that hear the arguments.

Instead of track promoters and retired drivers with little to no knowledge of today's cars and technology, there will be industry engineers and experts.

From the technology side, NASCAR has a goal of making the car on the track more closely resemble the car that comes off the assembly line beyond the outward appearance. It has a goal of giving fans a more up-close look at things on cellular devices and tablets that the driver sees inside the car.

The initiatives -- 11 in all -- are part of a mandate issued by chairman Brian France 18 months ago. A few will be implemented by 2014 with the majority in place by the 2015 season.

The goal is to improve the overall competition on the track and experience of fans and viewers.

"First and foremost, when you look at innovation in the sport, when you look at all sports, I would say we are best poised to take advantage of all the data that comes from a race car -- pit stops, inspections, whatever it may be,'' NASCAR vice president Steve O'Donnell said from the Research & Development Center.

"Ultimately, if you can put the fan in the race car, and if someone can experience what Jeff Gordon experiences, see what he's seeing, we feel we have more to deliver than every other sport.

"That goes against where we've been in the past. We've embraced that now through social media and apps and have the best fan experience possible.''

O'Donnell said this has to be done in a way that will allow teams to keep competitive advantages.

"It's a balance,'' he said. "There's a lot that they give out right now that we have not had access for the fans which we can do. The timing is right with all the emerging technology, the ability to put things in different apps.

"The race teams also realize we have to do this to attract a younger fan base. They're all on board.''

Among the changes that will be implemented by 2015:

•  Rule-making will be shifted from the officiating group at the track to the Research & Development Center.

•  Enhance the effectiveness of the appeals process by redefining the process and appeals board criteria.

• Simplify the rulebook and increase objectivity by replacing written rules with CAD designs.

• Enhance parts approval by formalizing the submission and approval process.

• Increase the consistency of rule interpretation across all three national series.

• Strengthen the deterrence model to reduce inspection required to ensure competitive racing.

• Increase the use of technology on pit road.

• Maintain the rigor of inspection while creating greater efficiency in the entire process.

• Improve efficiency of the process by creating a race team inspection scheduling system to the point a fan can know when his or her favorite driver is going through tech.

• Enhance the effectiveness of inspection through data collection and trend analysis.

• Create a unified inspecting and officiating model across the three series, meaning there no longer will be separate officials for Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Trucks.

Officials also said they are looking at changes to qualifying that would enhance the fan experience.

NASCAR came up with the proposed changes after an eight-month review headed by O'Donnell, former Chevrolet executive Brent Dewar and New York-based consultancy McKinsey and Company.

Also included in the process were NASCAR president Mike Helton, chief marketing officer Steve Phelps, vice president of competition Robin Pemberton and Gene Stefanyshyn, the new vice president of innovation and racing development.

Few specifics were given during the announcement, but it was clear one of the first things to be implemented was the improved appeals process.

Hendrick Motorsports had most of the penalties issued to Jimmie Johnson's team overturned last season. Joe Gibbs Racing was successful at significant reductions in its appeal of penalties against Matt Kenseth's team this year .

NASCAR also has been questioned more as social media has emerged about being subjective with its penalties.

"Ultimately, all of this that we're looking at is to make it more clear,'' O'Donnell said. "We still want our teams to innovate. That's not something we're going away from. But we just want to paint a clearer picture.''

The goal for all the initiatives was consistency.

"The vision for us as you look at the future is we want to position NASCAR ultimately for the future,'' O'Donnell said. "We want to be more nimble in what we do from a technology standpoint, be able to quickly react to the emerging technologies that are out there.

"And finally I think, and just as importantly, we want to be a proving ground. We feel like no better sport is better positioned to really take technology, showcase it in front of some of the toughest conditions that exist in the world, and we think we're poised to do that.''

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter