LOUDON, N.H. – Mike Helton, president of NASCAR since 2000, said he has been “pretty pleased” with the 2007 season.
“The introduction of the Car of Tomorrow is going well. It’s doing what we hoped for it to do,” said Helton. “It’ll still take some time for [parity] to be evident. But we’re pleased with the track it’s on right now.”
He said they are currently working on the schedule for next season and it will be released soon. He wouldn’t say if it would be similar to this season’s schedule.
With former Formula One and Indy Racing League star Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia in the Busch and Nextel Cup series this season, having won a race in each already, and with three Mexican drivers in the Busch East series along with a couple of blacks, NASCAR appears to be developing some diversity.
It instituted a Drive for Diversity program several years ago to bring diversity to NASCAR’s various series.
“We feel like our [Drive for Diversity] foundation is making headway,” said Helton. “We’re delighted Montoya opted to come run with NASCAR. We’re also very pleased with his successes, and that will attract attention and get our program in Mexico. Our Corona series [a 15-race series in Mexico] is working really well. They’ve got a good schedule that’s working out good.”
NASCAR has held Busch series races in Mexico City the past two years and will have its first Busch series race in Montreal on Aug. 4.
NASCAR has been under some scrutiny in the aftermath of the suspensions doled out to crew chiefs Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus and their respective race teams.
But Helton said, “From the get-go, we explained to everybody that this is different. This is going to be a whole different process. It’s a different car. We’ve committed to the owners, to the industry, to keep it intact, to keep it inside a closer box. So we’re gradually taking those steps to prove our point and to clarify the definitions of things. It’s part of the process.”
Green likes changes
Jeff Green ran his first Nextel Cup race in 1994.
He was the 2000 Busch Series points champion, winning by a whopping 616 points.
He has seen a lot of changes over the years but likes the direction of the tour.
“I think it’s great, especially with this new car [COT]. It’s a great direction to go in. The car is safer, you know, and NASCAR is policing the car more. So, as a driver, you only want the same stuff as your competitor. I feel like I can beat anybody if I have the same car,” said Green, who is racing a HAAS CNC Machine Tools/Best Buy Chevy and is currently 33rd in points.
“I think it’s good. The sport is growing, the fan base is unbelievable. The tracks we go to are unbelievable. It’s exciting to be a part of it,” added Green.
He feels the television and media exposure have helped the series expand to new parts of the country.
“It’s just unfortunate that tracks like Rockingham and Wilkesboro and places like that that could be great racetracks but didn’t have the opportunity to expand or couldn’t expand,” said Green. “Keeping up with the fan base and keeping up with our popularity… you’ve got to be able to seat 100,000 people or more.”
However, he said any time you go to a track and the seats are full and you also have people watching it on TV, “that means they’re buying Best Buy products and things like that. Hopefully, that’s a good thing.”
Green said Richmond (Va.) International Raceway is his favorite track, but he added, “I enjoy them all. I don’t dislike going to any of them. Richmond is a driver’s dream. It has banking, it has short track [characteristics], you can run side-by-side all night long and get away with it. You run at night. I think running at night is pretty cool.”
He said he hopes they have more Saturday night racing so “you can get your Sundays off.”
He said the one thing he would change about the series is to improve the tires.
“I think our tires need to be a little softer so we can race harder,” said Green. “Now we’re sliding around a lot. I think it would be a little better show for everybody if we had a little bit better tire.”
Marlin says COTs are different
Sterling Marlin has mixed emotions about the Car of Tomorrow.
“They’re real touchy. They’ve got bump stops,” said the Nextel Cup veteran, referring to rubber bumpers on the chassis that limit the suspension travel. “The combination you’ve got to run on these springs and shocks and stuff is touchy. But they drive pretty good.