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NASCAR's fan-pleasing formula beats F1's technology

Former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve crashes his number 7 Tide Ford Fusion in the second turn of the first lap in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Tide 250 at the Autodrome in St.-Eustache, Que., in 2009.

Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/CP Photo

Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon knows that NASCAR's technology isn't up to snuff compared to open wheel racing, and it's perfectly fine with him.

That's because NASCAR may not stack up to Formula One in areas like technology, but it delivers the goods in other ways.

"I think our racing's still unbelievable," Gordon said at a NASCAR Hall of Fame event on the weekend celebrating DuPont's 20 years of sponsoring his No. 24 Chevy.

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"There's no doubt that the competition has been brought closer, and I don't think that's ever going to change. It's only going to get tighter and closer."

NASCAR's stats back Gordon up after the series just ended the most statistically-competitive season in its 63-year history. On average, there were 27.1 lead changes and 12.8 leaders per race, both the highest since NASCAR's top series began in 1949. In addition, a record 23 of 36 races featured a margin of victory of less than one second.

Its formula has also made NASCAR the runaway motorsport leader in the U.S., claiming about 40-million hard core fans. NASCAR is the second-most watched sport in the U.S. behind the National Football League, while F1 battles with championship darts for TV ratings.

And NASCAR does it without blown diffusers, drag reduction systems, and kinetic energy recovery. In fact, the series is still trying to sort out fuel injection after continuing to use carburetors for the past three decades or so despite more advanced technology being available.

Nevertheless, Gordon also warned that NASCAR also risks being caught up in the same technology trap as F1.

"If you look at other forms of motorsports and the evolution of technology — and I mention Formula One — yes, we're behind them in technology and cost and all these things," he said.

"We're heading in that direction, because that's just evolution. It's going to happen. Once you learn, and you create knowledge, you can't take it away. In Formula One, what's important? Qualifying. Qualifying becomes extremely important, because it's almost impossible to pass. Strategy and how you strategize your pit stops. Speed of pit stops. And I'm saying that's the extreme. That's where we're headed."

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It's a message that F1 might want to take to heart as its latest attempt to win fans in the U.S. begins with a race in Austin, Tex., this fall. That race will be followed by another U.S. stop in 2013 in New Jersey across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

But whether the sport will finally take off remains anyone's guess, since previous attempts to break into the lucrative U.S. market fell completely flat.

F1 raced on a specially-built road course at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway between 2000 and 2007. The novelty of F1's return after an absence of more than a decade saw the grandstands at the Brickyard packed for the first race. From there, it attracted smaller crowds every year before the promoter, Tony George, pulled the plug.

Although a disastrous 2005 race where only six drivers took the green flag due to a tire issue that saw all the Michelin cars pull out of the event certainly didn't help, many fans already decided that felt F1's closed paddock and highly restricted access simply did not appeal. U.S. motorsport followers are conditioned to the NASCAR and IndyCar open approach where drivers and fans mingle and the cars are on display for all to see. Plus, many F1 races are decided by the time the cars reach the first turn, leaving all but die-hard fans yawning well before the chequered flag arrives.

Unfortunately, it seems those in the F1 paddock continue to think that it can wow the U.S. with its trick cars rather than the actual product on track or openness with fans. That view was put forward at a Formula One Fans forum in Montreal last summer, where key F1 personnel on the panels expressed their belief that the sport's technologically advanced cars would sway fans in the U.S. to the sport.

This month in a photo spread in GQ magazine, 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton repeated the idea that all F1 needs to do is show how cool it is when asked what the sport needs to do to get U.S. fans interested in grand prix racing.

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"It's really a matter of getting the car in front of people," the McLaren driver said. "Once you hear it and see it, feel the noise — then maybe they'll turn out for a race."

On the other hand, Gordon and his NASCAR Series keep looking for ways to ensure that the on-track action stays close and competitive. As it has in the past, NASCAR continues to tinker with the aerodynamic components on the cars to help keep things interesting.

"I'd like to see us get downforce off the cars in general. If we don't start to do some of that, then we are continuing to head towards that direction of high-tech downforce cars that you don't see any passing," Gordon said.

"The less downforce you have, the more passing you're going to see."

Carl Edwards in Toronto

The Canadian Motorsport Expo announced last week that 2011 NASCAR Sprint cup runner-up Carl Edwards would appear at the show on Feb. 11 to sign autographs and meet fans. The No. 99 Ford driver will also take part in a question and answer period.

While a full-time Sprint Cup driver, Edwards also raced in the second-tier Nationwide Series and was the season champion in 2007. He also won Montreal's Napa Auto Parts 200 Nationwide Series event in 2009.

Fans at the Expo will also get their first chance to get close up look at the new 2012 Dallara DW IndyCar, named for the late Dan Wheldon who was killed in a crash in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas.

The 6th Annual Canadian Motorsports Expo goes Feb. 10-12 at the International Centre near Toronto's Pearson Airport.

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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About the Author
Motorsports columnist

There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More

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