CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR will attempt to balance the competition for drivers outside the top 35 this season by grouping them together in qualifying.

It was one of a series of small changes NASCAR announced Monday as it prepares for 2008.

As America’s No. 1 auto racing series heads into a new season, chairman Brian France said he wants the attention to return to the competition after several years of tweaks to the 60-year-old series.

“We want the focus to be on the best product in the world,” France said. “We want the story lines of the sport to be the focus.”

NASCAR has gotten away from that of late, making adjustments to everything from the way the championship is decided to the name of its premier series, which is now called the Sprint Cup Series. It had been called the Nextel Cup Series since 2004, and was the Winston Cup before that.

To emphasize the desire to return the focus to racing, NASCAR was careful to make only slight changes this season.

The new qualifying procedure is designed to send all drivers not already locked into the field onto the track when the conditions are essentially the same. Previously, the order was set by a random draw and drivers could benefit by the time of day they made their attempt. Under the new format, all the drivers will now make their attempt at the end of the session.

NASCAR also said it will provide tires for testing at non-sanctioned NASCAR tests. Sprint Cup teams will be given 200 tires, Nationwide teams 160 and Craftsman Truck Series teams 120.

On pit road, the crew will now be allowed to push the car just three pit box lengths to get it moving after a service stop. And, the outside tires must now be hand-rolled back to the wall once off the car. In the past, the tires could freely roll to the wall. NASCAR also announced it will donate all money collected through fines to the NASCAR foundation as a part of the sport’s charitable initiative. The fines previously were put into the points fund that was split among the drivers at the end of the year. Fines usually average around $200,000 a season.

, but the amount was close to $1 million last year as NASCAR cracked down on violations.

AP-ES-01-21-08 1753EST

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