Brian France - NASCAR press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Looking at the 2011 schedule, you talked about that. Is there any consideration to shorten any races, perhaps Pocono? Also, the threat of rain is looming over the weekend. I know that years ago we dragged the tires...

Continued from part 1

Q: Looking at the 2011 schedule, you talked about that. Is there any consideration to shorten any races, perhaps Pocono? Also, the threat of rain is looming over the weekend. I know that years ago we dragged the tires around, now we're using the jet driers. Anything in the wings of maybe looking to dry the tracks quicker or work around some of the rain issues at speedways?

BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, and I mentioned a lot about technology, all the rest. We're looking at some things. People are coming to us with certain ways to dry asphalt faster and better. That would be a welcomed technology advancement. So we'll always try to do that.

You know, the surface out here, I know everybody has zeroed in on that, as well. The track has found an issue, but believe we've fixed it. Of course, they're going to repave beginning next week.

But, look, the job for us is, you know, if inclement weather happens, it's out of our control, but to get the track as dry as fast as we can, but it's got to be in a raceable condition for the drivers. If we can speed that up down the road with technology or anything else, gosh, we'll be the first ones to do it.

Q: We talked with Bernard, the IRL guy, the other week. He liked the idea of doubleheaders with NASCAR Cup racing. That's never been done. Are you for it or against it? Does it sound like a good idea for California or a couple of tracks or is it like, We're NASCAR and they're something else?

BRIAN FRANCE: We won't be doing doubleheaders with the Sprint Cup levels. They've had some of our lower divisions which do about the same in terms of audience and everything else, like the Truck Series has run a time or two with the IRL. That won't be possible because of scheduling issues. We don't have any interest in doing that either.

Q: Talking about the realignment of dates, can you sort of address NASCAR's role in making those decisions when a proposal is given to you? There's a lot of debate about attendance, we fill up this track or not, it's nearer to a city or not. Talk about NASCAR's perspective on the dates when you make that decision and how you make it.

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, first of all, it's got to fit in. One track hoppers effect has an effect, needless to say, across the schedule. We have to take all of that into context. The second thing is we have to look at what a certain thing does across a bunch of different measuring points. You know, it starts with what's best for the fan base in a market, in a region, wherever we're talking about. We'll take a look at that. Then there's the size of markets that obviously matters in some way. Lots of things go into it.

But in the end it's got to work for the track operator. If it's not financially working as well as it could work somewhere else, by definition it's not working for the fans as well either. You know, so we look at all those things. It's why we've got to make the decision on that because we're the only ones that have the entire industry's best interest going with our fans at any one time.

Q: I've been watching this sport for a while myself. It seems 15 or 20 years ago there was more to root for in the sport. You could be a fan of different drivers, so many different car owners, crew chiefs, the car make itself. Somehow it seems like now if you want to be a fan of Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon, you have to be a fan of Rick Hendrick. If you want to be a fan of one of eight drivers, you have to be a fan of Jack Roush. My question is, now that we go forward in this sport, is there any platform in the future that you see where the engine department and a team's ability in particular to have to pay a Hendrick $4 million for an engine program, do you see that going away with kit engines or anything else so the perception from the race fans is that you're not battling four or five car owners? I don't know if that was clear enough.

BRIAN FRANCE: I essential get your point. I would tell you a couple things. One is, you know, on story lines or more people to pull for because they're essentially maybe aligned with one organization or another, well, that's a concentration of power issue that we've always believed is better treated when there was more competition not concentrated in one area. We just generally believe that. We're not always perfectly successful at achieving it, but we generally believe that to be the best way to approach it.

I would also tell you that all sports leagues have periods in time when they don't have their best story lines or best, you know, stable of athletes, they're the most appealing, the most anything. If you look across all the sports, just about, they'll ebb and flow in some major way based on their star power at the time and their story lines and rivalries.

You know, we certainly had a range of retirements and whatnot, some of the younger drivers that are making their mark to get up to a level of success and positioning where they're gonna be more appealing.

You know, we can do more. NASCAR is going to do a lot more in that area. I said earlier I met for a while today. We're going to be doing a lot more, you know, positioning ourselves, getting more aggressive at marketing the sport. There won't be any doubt about that as the next two, three, four years go on because we need to and it's important.

Generally speaking, though, the other thing in the concentration of power, what we would prefer not to see is because it's a barrier to entry for new owners, new drivers, new team owners. You're likely to see us make some changes in the Nationwide Series as a result of that phenomenon because there's such a concentration of Cup drivers which we like on one hand, but we want to make sure that that division is our version of college football; that there's drivers, owners, crew members all building their identities and careers through that channel, and there needs to be a big enough place for them to do that.

If it's just narrow, if there's not many seats available because we don't accomplish a lot of things, so you're gonna see from us a policy standpoint begin to deal with that issue beginning in 2011. That's something that we'll do carefully.

You know, I've given you a long-winded answer, as I typically would - sorry about that. But generally agree and generally we can do more and we can do more with our policies to help on that.

Q: (No microphone.)

BRIAN FRANCE: No, I didn't say that. I said we like Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide Series. We need to make sure the stage is not crowded out so much so that we can't give opportunities to Nationwide young regulars who need that experience.

And you know what, in my discussions with the Sprint Cup drivers, they agree with us. They think just that way, too. The owners certainly agree with us. So there are going to be some things that we can do.

Frankly, a lot of people you don't see, led by Steve O'Donnell and others who you do see, who are working at the R&D center, setting these policies, looking at all the things we can do to effect either the car or the policy of how we organize things, and they're taking into account all of the ramifications that come if you do this, then five other bad things might happen or 10 good things or whatever the look forward can be.

That's the difference between us having invested a lot of money, and still do, in research and development and in policy to be able to not just run the races and be on the treadmill, but to be able to look around the corner on what's important. That group has been instrumental in saving the industry 10s of millions of dollars by pulling out, starting with the Truck Series a few years ago, all the way up from testing policies, you know, to what parts and pieces go in the car, what limits are here and there.

If we pull a lever, what we can do, there's always -- unfortunately, you might have unintended consequences downstream. We're trying to have a group of people that are smart and serious about looking way down the road so that we get all this stuff right. We won't get it all right, but we'll try to do as best as we can.

Q: My question concerns the COT chassis and Sprint Cup races on the 1.5-mile, 2-mile tracks. Do you believe there are tools you can provide the teams, as far as the chassis go, that will increase the ebb and flow amongst the leaders during long stints of green?

BRIAN FRANCE: I don't know if there's ever been a situation we can change situations on long runs of green if somebody gets hooked up, that they'll have an automatic way to catch that person that's hooked up. That's not racing.

But we certainly have seen the spoiler play a nice effect in that. Most of the drivers think it's easier to pass, on the margins, but it's easier to pass. We actually feel like the stuff on the mile-and-a-half, you know, has been pretty good. The racing has been pretty good.

There's not any silver bullet we can do to emulate a perfect racing scenario every weekend. But by and large, we're pretty happy where we're at.

Q: I wanted to ask you quickly about the drug testing policy. There's been a steady stream of violators. I'm wondering if that has surprised you and if you find that troubling or more a case of this is working.

BRIAN FRANCE: Probably both. I think it is a policy that what you don't really think about is how many crew members are in all four national divisions, how many people. It's in the thousands who get tested virtually monthly. I don't know the exact numbers, but it's a lot. We, of course, did this enormous amount of additional testing a couple years ago. We said very surely, Listen, these are very, very, very thorough tests. They're very, very not only accurate but thorough.

You know, I don't know about surprising. You know, it's always disappointing. What I'm really encouraged about is the vast majority of people that stumble are working back in the program and going through the program, getting reinstated.

One of the things that happened, we all remember the saga of another driver in a courtroom, what was missed in all that is there's a road back for almost any infraction of our substance abuse policy. That's our wish, to work with somebody to get them pointed in the right direction, where they're out enjoying a career with us, whether it's driving, being a crew member, tire changer, you name it. That's our goal that was missed in the saga of the court battle.

But the vast majority of people that have an infraction are jumping onboard and getting some help. I wish that would happen with everybody.

Q: You touched on the track issues a little bit earlier. How concerned are you that there could be more issues this weekend? Now in hindsight, have they waited a year or two too late to repave this place?

BRIAN FRANCE: It's easy to say based on a perfect storm they had in February, how cold it was, it rained, done a bunch of things, and the track was just time to have been repaved. That's easy to sort of look back.

I've got a high degree of confidence that the track here at Daytona are very prepared for what might happen under virtually every scenario. They had an issue yesterday. They were right on it. So I have a high degree of confidence.

Anything can happen. But, you know, I think they're as prepared as you can be. I have confidence in that.

Q: There's been a lot of information here today. I don't want to sort of try to interpret it. I want to give you the opportunity. Is it fair to say on the Chase stuff, you keep talking about big impact, big moments, are you guys looking at potentially eliminations or a different points system or different emphasis on winning?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I would tell you that the base of the Chase in terms of 10 races that decide it, resetting of points, we like the Chase format. We've always liked it. But I can't tell you exactly what because there's a number of things that we are looking at. So we haven't made a decision.

Some of those are more dramatic. We may think that they are not either necessary or would go against this balance that we've always told you that we want to have, which is the continuity of going week in and week out is always important. So we're not going to lose that.

But on the other hand, if there's some high-impact changes to the Chase that we think we can make, and we've also digested a lot of other things over the last several years, we're in a position to do that.

We're talking to people now about what some of those ideas are. You know, we haven't made a decision. Like I said, I think you saw that get played out with the NCAA tournament, as a matter of fact. A lot of things were discussed on their end. I won't speak for them. They ended up doing something that they thought worked for them, which was a lot less than they had originally considered.

We're no different than that. We're looking at that. It's their tournament, it's our Chase. So we'll look at what we think can make the biggest impact, managing the either unintended consequences or certainly the integrity of the format itself, compromising it.

Q: You touched on the ratings earlier. One of the things I hear a lot from people is they're kind of confused about the smorgasbord of networks they have over the course of the NASCAR season, TNT, ESPN, ABC. When the contracts come up for renewal, is that something you're going to be looking at hard in terms of maybe going back to a single network or two? Part of the changes you're talking about for the Nationwide Series is limiting the amount of Cup drivers that race in the series. Is that something that's on the table?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I'll take the first part of your question.

You know, that group that you mentioned should have been with us 10 years ago when virtually every week was different on what network partner. We have a long season. We're going to have and we need a number of the right television partners. I don't think that's likely to change.

On limiting Cup drivers, we tend to like more competition, so policies that we put in place tend to create incentives rather than, you know, try to put hard caps or regulate.

What I can say is we've got to have the rules and the requirements for the Nationwide Series much more tilted to new drivers, giving them a greater opportunity - that would include new owners, by the way - than we do now. There's several ways to get there. I think you're going to see us start down the road to get to that place, knowing that we need to have Cup drivers. That's part of a little bit of the magic of it, too. You get young guys in a different car to have a chance to compete head-to-head with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

We like that. We just think we have to get the balance a little bit better.

Q: We just completed the Grand-Am Rolex qualifying. Can you talk about the plans for Grand-Am? We have a new team here from Colombia this weekend, the international flavor that may be coming in, FIA, with Grand-Am racing.

BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, it's important to note that that is a division that we put a lot of emphasis on in the last few years because we think road racing is underserved, has been for a while, not to mention that internationally you're right, it's certainly what people race in terms of the circuit and whatever else, is mostly road racing.

We'll want to keep making sure that division is prominent and achieves that for any international growth that we have in the future, I would expect that division would play some role.

We're happy with the road racing component. We put a fair amount of resources and time on it. It does give us an international flavor. It also gives us a chance to attract different car manufacturers where there's a better fit, like BMW, who is in the series, and others. It gives them a chance to get the NASCAR flavor of how we go about things, but fits into their makes and models a little bit better. We like that a lot. It's also a very good product for the SPEED Channel. So we're very committed to Grand American Road Racing.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time, Brian.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup , NASCAR
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon