CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR is interviewing candidates for a new Sprint Cup Series director, and current garage boss John Darby will train his replacement before moving into a managerial role.

Several people familiar with NASCAR’s restructuring plan told The Associated Press that Darby will move into an oversight role at the research and development center. The people all spoke on condition of anonymity because NASCAR will not announce its planned changes for 2010 until Thursday.

There is no timetable for hiring a new director of NASCAR’s premiere series, and Darby will fill the role as long as it takes to hire and prepare a replacement. Then he will transition into a new position that oversees the officials in all three of NASCAR’s national series, as well as focus on the technical aspects of the sport.

Darby replaced Gary Nelson as director of NASCAR’s premiere series following the 2001 season, and is currently responsible for overseeing technical inspections, rules changes and enforcement in the Cup Series. He’s highly respected among competitors, and his no-nonsense approach helped rid the garage of the widespread cheating that plagued the sport from its 1949 inception until the past few seasons.

“John worked really hard at a time when the sport was shifting to more templates, more rules, having to enforce those rules, and that was very hard to do because it was a mind shift and a shift in how things were being done,” veteran driver Jeff Burton said Tuesday. “I think John handled things very well. It was a very difficult task, and it will certainly part of his legacy.”

The news surprised many in the industry Tuesday who were gathered for the annual preseason media tour. Team executives were heard asking others “you hear about Darby?” and longtime owner Richard Childress said he didn’t want to comment until he had a chance to speak to NASCAR.

The restructuring is part of several changes NASCAR plans to discuss Thursday during its stop on the media tour. NASCAR is also in the process of replacing the current rear wing with a spoiler, possibly eliminating the yellow out-of-bounds line at Daytona and Talladega, and giving drivers more control in policing themselves on the track.

It’s part of a concerted effort to listen to feedback from competitors and fans as the sport faces decreasing television ratings and attendance, as well as economic difficulties that have handcuffed many race teams.

Kevin Harvick, a veteran Cup driver who also owns teams in the Nationwide and Truck Series, said the changing landscape of NASCAR will make it difficult for the next series director.

“That’s a hard job because of the balance between trying to protect the integrity of the series for NASCAR – and now, the fans have such a strong opinion of what should and shouldn’t be changed — so it’s a hard balance on the competition side of knowing when to change things,” Harvick said. “I imagine it could wear you out pretty fast.”

Harvick said current Truck Series director Wayne Auton was his recommendation for Darby’s replacement, and NASCAR could also choose to promote Nationwide Series director Joe Balash. NASCAR, however, is looking at candidates from outside its organization

“It’s a hard job, it’s a thankless job,” Burton said of Cup Series director. “Someone is always (complaining) about something all the time. You do one thing, it makes one guy happy and 20 others mad. It’s one of those jobs that’s hard to win in.”

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