Earlier today NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France announced the first of what he deemed to be many changes for the Sprint Cup Series in 2011.
"We have emulated many of the popular sports in this country," France stated, "With little of the desired success we expected. We have since decided it is time to start using the lessons learned in similar disciplines throughout the world."
The change France discussed at length was an overhaul of the number system currently employed by the sport. As it stands this season, each number is assigned by NASCAR, but that particular number is generally chosen by the individual team.
"Obviously the pinnacle of motorsports is Formula One," France continued. What the FIA has done all around the world should be the model to which all other motorsports are compared."
France then outlined the first change to be implemented for the 2011 season: All car numbers will correspond to the driver’s finish in the points standings the previous season.
For instance, this year Jimmie Johnson would drive car No. 1 instead of car No. 48, Mark Martin would drive car No. 2 instead of car No. 5, and so on. New drivers to the series would be assigned the next remaining number not used based upon the order in which a new driver is announced.
The key is that the number stays with the driver, not the team. Jamie McMurray would run car No. 22, not car No. 23, which is where his 2010 team finished the year before.
Teams will be allowed to stylize the number to their liking, but under no circumstance are teams are allowed to lobby for a specific number. The only exception to the rule is that only an RCR car or Dale Earnhardt Jr. is allowed to use No. 3. Any other driver who would normally be required to use three will have to use the number "π" (pi).
"As a governing body we think that this will help new fans of the sport better identify who the star drivers truly are," finished France over the murmurs of nearly everyone in the room.
"I think it’s total and complete bull (expletive)," fumed driver Tony Stewart. "I chose to the drive the No. 14 car because I idolized AJ Foyt growing up. Right now I’d be driving the No. 6 car this year. Do I freakin’ look like David Ragan to you?"
"Personally I think it’s a great idea and will only further the acceptance of the sport," four-time and reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson explained. "While I have had a lot of success in the No. 48 over the years, I would be honored to have the No. 1 bestowed upon me this year."
"Maybe it would give more motivation to the other drivers," concluded Johnson with a grin.
The feeling across the sport is generally situated within either of those two camps. Some thought it was a great idea, whereas others started referring to NASCAR as "Big Brother."
"I have enjoyed driving the No. 99 my entire career so far in the Cup series. But...aw, shucks, I’d be proud to drive the No. 11 considering the magnitude of drivers that have raced that number over the history of the sport. Denny Hamlin notwithstanding, of course," Carl Edwards was quoted as saying upon learning of the announcement.
Many fans have stated that this change was only made to increase merchandise sales, which have been sagging significantly in recent years. The ferocity of comments listed on the NASCAR.com Web site after the announcement echoed this sentiment.
Junior4Life wrote, "Seriously, what the hell, NASCAR? I already had to have my No. 8 tattoo converted into a No. 88. Now you’d want me to change it to something else already next year? Big E would not approve!!"
Track promoters seemed most keen to the idea and are already implementing changes for races in the 2011 season.
"We believe this will only encourage the shopping that occurs during the race under the grandstands on race weekends," Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker stated. "I mean, we have even more of a reason to explain away the empty seats in the stands now!"
Despite the strong feelings in both sides, France clearly indicated that this new rule will not be changed for the 2011 season.
"We hope this will give even more motivation to do well in the chase for the Sprint Cup later this season," France concluded to light applause.
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