NASCAR’s Helton responds to Earnhardt’s complaints

  • By Chris Jenkins Associated Press
  • Saturday, August 15, 2009 3:07pm
  • SportsSports

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — NASCAR president Mike Helton agrees with Dale Earnhardt Jr. that the sport should always be looking for ways to improve. Where he differs is over Earnhardt’s suggestion that NASCAR’s redesigned race car needs wholesale changes.

Speaking at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday morning, Helton said officials are looking at potential improvements to the new car, which was referred to as the Car of Tomorrow, or CoT, in the run-up to its 2007 introduction.

But Helton says officials aren’t considering major or hasty changes — something Earnhardt deemed necessary in an interview session Friday.

“I think where we are right now, the consensus in the garage area — which leads us to our consensus — is that there’s not going to be a major change to this car,” Helton said.

On Friday, Earnhardt said that NASCAR’s brand of on-track action has fallen flat and needs an injection of excitement. He pointed to the new car as one area in need of an overhaul, although he did not suggest specific changes.

“We’re not really where we want to be, I don’t think, as a sport,” Earnhardt said. “We need to do things to excite corporate America, excite the fans. And we need to be proactive immediately, because we haven’t.”

But Helton doesn’t think springing major technical changes on cash-strapped racing teams is a good idea. And he doesn’t see anything wrong with NASCAR’s on-track product.

“Urgency could create more havoc or more expense that we don’t need,” Helton said. “And oh, by the way, I’d make the argument that the racing we’ve got on the racetrack is as good as I’ve seen it in a long time. So a reaction from us could interrupt that.”

The CoT made its debut in a handful of races in 2007 and was used full-time in 2008. It was designed to save teams money and improve safety, and is generally considered a success on those fronts. But there have been complaints from drivers that the new car just doesn’t put on as good a show.

It’s also worth noting that Earnhardt hasn’t performed well in the new car and enters Sunday’s race 25th in the points. Asked Friday about the car, series points leader Tony Stewart wasn’t nearly as critical.

Helton gently suggested that Earnhardt wouldn’t be complaining if he were running as well as Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

“(Earnhardt’s) expression was more broad about things in general, that we need to be working on things to make the sport better in general, and I agree with that,” Helton said. “As it comes to the car, he and his (No. 88) team in particular — not his organization, because others in his organization are having a better year with it — (are struggling) and so there’s some frustration there that I think contributes to his comments.”

Which, in a sense, reminded Helton of Earnhardt’s late father.

“His dad would come in, when he was having a bad stretch, he (would say), ‘Man, I’d like to change something right now because I’d like to change my own performance,’” said Helton, a close friend of Dale Sr. “And I think that’s what (Junior) was talking about.”

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