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CONCORD, N.C. -- Projects such as the introduction of the Generation-6 car and the development of the Air Titan track drying system were big-ticket items for NASCAR officials heading into the 2013 season.
Now that the season is nearly one-third complete -- Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be the 12th of the schedule's 36 points races -- those projects haven't become less important, but are less front-and-center.
As the sport moves forward, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said Saturday, the attention will gravitate toward "getting more separation in ? running the races" and "developing the rules packages of the future."
It's a direction France has mentioned before, the effort to "use more science than art in establishing the thing that matters most."
Safety will always be a priority he said while meeting with members of the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway, "but also putting ourselves in a position to have the closest, tightest competition possible."
The addition of NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development Gene Stefanyshyn to oversee NASCAR's Research & Development Center, France said, was a major step toward hopefully making that goal a reality.
"It's a big hire for us," he said. "He'll work very closely with the existing group in competition. And over time we believe we can make improvements on a central goal (of tighter competition). That's what Gene's task is."
It's an ongoing battle, attempting to provide close, competitive on-track action among teams whose sole focus is to beat the competition as often as possible and by as much as possible.
France said he's been pleased with what he's seen thus far on the track, but that doesn't mean the product can't be improved.
"That's an endless journey for us to be on, to figure out," he said. "You have 43 teams that want to 'game' whatever rules package we bring forward. They want an advantage. ? But we want to see a more fair balance, where the best drivers and the best teams on a given night who race just a little bit harder, make just a little bit bigger effort.
"That's the hallmark of NASCAR. We boldly say that. ? That's the steak on the plate for us. Our fans have come to expect us to deliver on that as much as possible."
? France also said officials with Speedway Motorsports Inc. have not asked NASCAR "to look at realigning an event."
"They certainly could," he added. "That's the process we've had. It's been done."
SMI founder Bruton Smith mentioned the possibility of moving the fall Sprint Cup race at Charlotte to Las Vegas during a television interview May 20.
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