By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
CONCORD, N.C.-- With the tightest competition possible the overriding goal of NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, the sanctioning body has increased the separation between the competition side of the business and the research-and-development side.
"What we've decided to think about is, as we go along, getting more separation between in inspecting the cars, running the races every weekend, and developing the rules packages of the future and other related items," France said Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Vice president of competition Robin Pemberton heads the competition side of the equation, with senior vice president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell overseeing the R&D end. NASCAR recently hired veteran automotive executive Gene Stefanyshyn as vice president of innovation and racing development.
"We're excited about Gene's appointment," France said. "It's a big hire for us. He'll be taking control of the R&D center (in Concord, N.C.); already has.
"We'll be going in a direction that I've told everybody, which is we're going to use a lot more science than art in establishing the very thing that matters most, which is safety, of course, but also putting ourselves in a position to have the closest, tightest competition possible."
France said he has been pleased with the quality of racing the new Gen-6 car has delivered noted there's always room for improvement.
"Do I think we can improve the quality of racing in terms of our core goals?" France asked rhetorically. "Sure. Gene Stefanyshyn, his team, that's an endless journey for us to be on, to figure out. You have 43 teams that want to game whatever rules package we bring forward. They want an advantage.
"If you ask any driver, they would like to win the race by 10 seconds. But we want to see a more fair balance. ... 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."
RALLYING FOR OKLAHOMA
Whether it's Super Storm Sandy, the Newtown, Conn., shootings or the Boston Marathon bombings, the NASCAR community as a whole is quick to come to the aid of those who need help.
Such is the case once again with the recent tornado outbreak in Oklahoma, which devastated the town of Moore, near Oklahoma City, and killed 24 people.
The NASCAR Foundation is actively encouraging fans and members of the racing community to donate directly to the relief efforts headed by the American Red Cross. The Foundation also has asked teams for donations of VIP experiences and memorabilia for a charity auction, with all proceeds earmarked for the Red Cross.
NASCAR president Mike Helton, drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson, along with Johnson's wife and Oklahoma native Chandra Johnson, filmed a public service announcement in support of the Red Cross.
Love's Travel Stops, sponsor of David Ragan's No. 34 Front Row Racing Ford, is donating $3 million to support Oklahoma relief efforts.
"Anything we can do to help, we're obviously happy to do it," Ragan said. "You feel so helpless when you watch the footage on TV, and you wish you could do something more for those folks. The best way to help is to donate money and we hope NASCAR fans will follow in Love's footsteps in doing so."
Michael Waltrip Racing is running decals on all three of its cars in support of Oklahoma-based Feed the Children. A Feed the Children decal also will appear on the No. 30 Toyota of David Stremme, fielded by Swan Racing, which also ran a car in the Daytona 500 supporting the victims of the Newtown shootings.
The AARP Foundation, which sponsors Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet through its Driver to End Hunger initiative, has established a relief fund for Oklahoma victims. Johnson's sponsor Lowe's has announced a $1-million donation for Oklahoma tornado relief, and Johnson said Saturday at Charlotte he will visit the devastated area after Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.
MENARD HAPPY TO STAY PUT
Paul Menard confirmed Saturday at Charlotte he has signed a deal that will keep him at Richard Childress Racing for three more years.
Menard's crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe re-signed with the organization last month. Through 11 races this season, Menard is tied with RCR teammate Kevin Harvick for 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
"(Team owner) Richard (Childress) has put a lot of resources into getting better, and it's showing," Menard said. "It might not be as visible to you guys (the media), but being inside the company, it's pretty visible. It's exciting to be a part of it."
Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne had engine issues in Saturday's practice session and will start from the rear in Sunday's Coke 600 after changing engines. ... Jeff Burton had a problem with a leaking oil cooler in Happy Hour but didn't have to change the power plant. ... Kasey Kahne dominated Saturday's practices, posting the top lap speed in both sessions and the fastest 10-lap average in Happy Hour.