DOVER, Del. - Changes are coming to NASCAR.
No one can say how many or when those changes will take effect, but it's all but certain that the Sprint Cup Series will have a new look when the circuit returns to Dover International Speedway in September.
The sport's governing body convened a pair of town hall-type meetings on Tuesday in Concord, N.C., and the topics of those wide-ranging discussions filtered northward, fueling talk throughout the garage here over the weekend.
While opinions among the drivers were as diverse as their race cars' paint schemes, the overriding belief is that the meeting of the minds led to productive debate - and there's reason for continuing dialogue.
"I went into the meeting thinking we needed more downforce," said three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson. "Once the discussion opened up, everybody - the teams, drivers, and NASCAR - started talking about the pros and cons. Tony Stewart and other guys with open-wheel racing backgrounds talked about how if we put more mechanical grip in the cars, we wouldn't have to rely on downforce. That 30-minute discussion changed my mind."
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford, said, "I think it was great for NASCAR to have an open forum. I came away thinking, 'In this time when all sports and the economy are down, what can we do to deliver the best product and make sure the fans and sponsors are getting the best value for their money?' "
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston was particularly upbeat about the meetings, saying they accomplished "100 percent" of their intended goals.
"This was a new and better way of communicating with the drivers and owners, and we plan to do more of this in the future to get more direct input," Poston said. "Everyone left the [meetings] with the feeling that this was a first step toward making the sport even better. There were some concrete ideas that we need to look at and see if we can come up with a consensus that the changes will be good for the fans and for the sport overall."
Among the ideas that have been bandied about are alterations to the car, the tires, and even the way the race is run - with sentiment leaning toward double-file restarts, which would move lapped traffic to the back of the field. But consensus is hard to come by.
Kurt Busch believes that bigger, wider tires would make his new generation No. 2 Dodge perform better. Jeff Burton, on the other hand, believes that wheels are the least of his concerns for his No. 31 Chevrolet.
"I believe Goodyear has done the best job that I have ever seen them do in bringing us a tire that creates more grip," Burton said. "They've made huge improvements and come a long way over the last eight months, and that has helped the cars" perform.
Despite missing the meetings because of a scheduling conflict, Jeff Gordon showed he was not out of the loop when he said, "I think we'll see some changes coming up that the fans will appreciate."
Yet, Poston cautioned, nothing - including the date and site of the next town hall confab - is set in stone.
A prime example of an in-season rule change by NASCAR, Poston said, was the decision to freeze the field under caution, which eliminated the practice of drivers racing back to the finish line under caution and granted a free pass for one car to get back on the lead lap.
While that rule change was largely due to safety concerns, Burton isn't eager to see the sport adopt new procedures in the quest for "improving" the product on the track.