BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. says NASCAR’s brand of on-track action has fallen flat lately, and the sport’s most popular driver believes changes to Sprint Cup’s new car are needed to spice things up.

Speaking before Friday’s practice at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt said NASCAR needs an injection of excitement to entice fans and sponsors to pay attention — even in good economic times, but especially when things are bad.

“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.”

The Car of Tomorrow, or 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 while it’s generally considered a success on those fronts, there have been widespread complaints from drivers that the new car just doesn’t put on as good a show on the track.

Those criticisms seemed to have died down recently – until one of the sport’s biggest stars spoke out Friday.

“NASCAR could be a little more urgent in improving our product,” Earnhardt said. “The ultimate result is to create exciting racing that the fans will enjoy, that the drivers will enjoy so everybody’s happy. And that should be our quest — even when things are good, you know?”

Earnhardt praised NASCAR officials’ recent decision to allow double-file restarts after caution flags, a move that places competitive cars in close proximity on the track, but said the sport needs “more of that.”

“The double-file restarts give us the opportunity to be exciting for only a moment, and we need to figure out how we can maintain that throughout the entire race,” Earnhardt said.

And Earnhardt believes that should happen primarily through changes to the car, although he didn’t offer specifics.

The new car is boxier, providing more room for safety equipment but perhaps making it more difficult to drive than the previous design. It’s also scrutinized more strictly by NASCAR technical inspectors, allowing teams less leeway to experiment with aerodynamics.

And in some drivers’ minds, especially Earnhardt’s, that all adds up to less side-by-side racing.

“I feel like, especially right now, we need to really, really try to turn over every stone, and that includes where we are with this CoT and where we feel like its development is and where we feel like its future goes,” Earnhardt said.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon agreed, saying that the current car is “not the best” for giving drivers the comfort and confidence they need to race hard.

“I feel like the teams are in a box,” Gordon said. “They’re not really able to adjust on the car to fix (handling issues).”

While acknowledging that the car is likely to improve with time and continued development, Gordon said, “I still don’t think we’re ever going to get to where we really need to.”

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

Earnhardt said he wasn’t trying to cause trouble for NASCAR officials or “start a crusade” with his comments – but at the same time, he clearly wanted to be heard.

“I think we need to open our eyes a little bit — everyone,” Earnhardt said. “I think the media could address it a little stronger, and I think the drivers could be a little more vocal about it.”

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