Brian France likes Sprint changes

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France said Sunday that changes NASCAR made for this season -- a simplified points system, adding two wild-card Chase spots and a new qualifying procedure -- have paid off and improved the on-track product.

''All these were viewed as small changes at the time," France said. "But they actually have had a big impact and added drama."

NASCAR officials changed to a new points system based on one-point per finishing position. They also added a wild-card element to the Chase, making the final two spots in the 12-man playoff based on victories over the first 26 races. And qualifying was changed to allow the fastest cars in practice to go out last in each qualifying session.

France mentioned the closeness of the Chase. Nine drivers are within 19 points of each other entering the race Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

"I'm not sure we could be any more pleased with how the Chase has unfolded, and really how the season has unfolded," he said. "It's still wide open.

"Our hope always is when we get to Homestead [Fla.] for the finale, we have as many drivers in the thick of it as possible. We'll see, and we'll see if Jimmie Johnson can continue to make history, as well, by winning six championships in a row."

France addressed several other topics that have come to the forefront this season, including how so many races have ended based on fuel-mileage strategy.

"That's part of the game, a part of racing," France said. "We are not going to over-regulate that. And it's cyclical. There will be times when we have more cautions and it bunches everybody up. Some people don't like too much of that, but we like to see all the strategies and scenarios play out."

France also was asked about his concerns that several teams are downsizing for next season, and some may not exist in 2012 because of sponsorship problems.

"I'm not an economist, but we all know things are tough," France said. "It's very, very difficult for companies and people. It has an impact on us and will continue to impact us.

"But one thing we often see is some teams think about moving up [from the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series] when this happens. They didn't before because they didn't see the availability and feared they couldn't make the [Sprint Cup] events. When some teams leave, others come in. In a difficult economy, it allows opportunities to others."

France was asked if the Truck Series remains viable in a down economy.

"It's very viable," France said. "And we've done things to take cost out of the system in that series, limiting crew members and all kinds of things that have removed cost. It's a lot cheaper to operate truck teams than was it was three years ago."

The 2012 Nationwide and Truck schedules are expected to be released this week. There have been doubts about the future of the Montreal road race in the Nationwide Series. Will it continue?

"I believe it will," France said of the Montreal race. "There are some changes going on in the market, but it's a very popular event and it does very well. We hope to continue to do that."

France said the Cup schedule is full, but NASCAR continues to look for new venues for the feeder leagues, along with the Grand-Am sports car series, which NASCAR owns.

"There's a new facility on the horizon in Texas [the F1 road course in Austin] with the big road course,'' France said. "That might be possible, too."

France said interest is up this season for NASCAR events. He said the "younger demographic" interest is up 20 percent.

"In all major sports today through the various playoffs, it gets down to story lines and matchups," France said. "When you have more of that should do better, and we do have that.''

Senior writer Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com.