An interview with: Brian France, NASCAR Chairman & CEO
BRIAN FRANCE: In addition to an exciting weekend, the industry is really celebrating the fact that they're here in South Florida, and doing some great things. So with that I'm happy to take some questions.
Q. Brian, in particular light to your comments about the winning. Eight years ago Matt Kenseth won the championship before the Chase, had one win for the season which seemed to cause an uproar, and thus the Chase format was developed. Carl has an opportunity on Sunday to again win a championship with only one race week win in the entire season. Why should that be looked on any different as what Matt Kenseth did in 203?
BRIAN FRANCE: Because we didn't change the point system because somebody had one win or a few wins. That was never the emphasis. The emphasis was that we could create bigger moments if we had a more playoff style atmosphere as opposed to a complete consistency model in the years past. And we've achieved that goal, not all the time because it's obviously out of our control.
I would tell you the one win that Carl had might make the difference though. He only leads by three points. The one win in Las Vegas may well make the difference tomorrow. I don't know.
Clearly we cannot make winning the only thing. There are 43 teams racing at every weekend. So this is not -- however, we can make sure that we emphasize that. We can make sure that we reward that. And we're pretty happy that that translates into better racing.
Q. Not taking anything away from Jimmie's great accomplishments of five straight there. How much do you think an uptick of interest that there's been to have a new face fighting out for the championship this year?
BRIAN FRANCE: I don't know. But I do know that this will mark the end of one of the historic runs in all of sports with five consecutive championships. I would have never thought I would witness that.
Jimmie it's just a marvelous achievement, and Carl and Tony both are very popular, so they're creating new moments and we'll have to see how it all plays out.
Q. There's been an uptick in the television ratings. I'm wondering is that what you expected? Is that a slow surge to what you think will be more? Is it less than you thought it would be? What are you working on in the off-season that would be your main goals for next year?
BRIAN FRANCE: We've always said that ratings go up and down because of many, many things. The things we can control are showcasing the racing, telling our story, and giving the drivers some big moments to race for. That will help us. You never know how it all percentage- wise what really matters the most.
But we know that that's the NASCAR we want. We want to see these elevated performances, and they're just fun to watch. We want to see what's happened. I'm confident if we do that, and do a lot of other things, we will have better ratings and better attendance.
Q. NASCAR has fined, at least four times that we know of, drivers for disparaging remarks they've made, and NASCAR did not go public with those fines. Other leagues do. They do publicly say you can't talk about the officials. You can't talk about this or the league. Why does NASCAR take the position that these matters should be private and not public? Are there others that we don't know about?
BRIAN FRANCE: There could be. That's why they're private, right? Well, let me tell you what we've done in the last couple of years. In the last couple of years we've taken a position that drivers are going to be able to speak their mind and criticize the sport way more than any other sport would allow. So let's start with that.
However, there have to be some limits. We thought those limits were being exceeded in the last couple of years because you can't denigrate the sport. You just can't do that. We're not going to accept that.
You know what is interesting, almost every driver has come up to me at one time or another and said I'm glad you did that, because I don't like it when somebody just says something that is irresponsible about the sport.
Let me say one other portion of this. They are perfectly fine to criticize anything we do, any call we make. They can say they don't like it, they disagree with it. We didn't make the right call. That's fine. But we're not going to let anyone denigrate the sport, and that's going to continue.
Whether we make the fines public or private, we didn't see a benefit to making them public. If there is some benefit to that, we'll take a look at it. But that is the reasoning behind the penalties.
Q. But don't you think there is harm when it comes out after and fans take the stance of why did they do this in secret? What else are they doing in secret? In fact we're talking about secret fines today instead of your big game seven moment?
BRIAN FRANCE: That's up to you to what to write and be interested about. I can only tell you that I take every question. I never say no comment. I've explained it. If there's a better way -- sort of this idea that there are a bunch of things going on behind the curtain. We've never been more transparent. We've never had more of anything, and that is the way it should be.
If there's a benefit to announcing them to the public and the media, we'll take a look at them. We just didn't see a benefit at the time. Maybe there is a benefit.
Q. How much did the Kyle Busch situation at Texas concern you? How do you balance boys-have-at- it in retaliation with what appears to be a non-definitive line?
BRIAN FRANCE: That's not accurate. It was very concerning to all of us. There was a swift and very is he penalty on that as you know. There is a line and the drivers, and they may walk around and say sometimes that they're not clear about it, but they know the line.
We have these conversations with them all the time. What you've got to remember is this is a contact sport. So you're going to -- we thought a couple years ago that we were overregulating the events. We wanted to give more authority back in the drivers' hands, and that's been good for NASCAR.
But there is always a limit. You can't do anything you want. We will look at it. We talked to the drivers. If they're close to the line, we have a conversation that day. If they go over the line, we'll deal with that too.
So this idea that there is no -- nobody knows where the line is, not true. Not accurate.
Q. Brian, corporations all across the United States have been raising funds for the last years or so while you guys are looking for sponsorships. What is NASCAR doing to get corporate treasurers to open up the purse strings and become sponsors at a time when NASCAR really needs the employment?
BRIAN FRANCE: If the President of the United States is not getting them to do that, I'm not sure what we're going to be able to do to figure that out. But having said that, obviously we just held a green summit. We were doing things that attract new companies, new technology to validate in our sport. We're renewing a lot of companies, and some companies -- and it happens all the time, every year for us, will pull back their sponsorship or commitments or leave all together.
That is just the reality of having hundreds of companies involved in this sport. But we're working harder than ever with the teams and their business groups to tell the NASCAR story and the value that it brings to sponsors. We're having success with that.
I think if you ask the individual team owners, we've never had a more offensive strategy doing it together to bring in as many new companies as possible.
Q. After the test you ran this week in Daytona, what are the goals you're looking for for Daytona in February, and is one of them a virtual complete elimination of the tandem drafting? Is that one of the things you're after?
BRIAN FRANCE: It is one of the things we are after. We would prefer to eliminate tandem racing in the manner it exists today. There is no question about that. We are working on rolling back the clock to traditional Daytona, Talladega races. We'll have to see how that goes. I think the majority of fans would like to see that and so would we.
Q. You mentioned that you answer every question and you don't duck anything. There was a time when your grandfather and your father attended every race. They did these press conferences almost every Saturday or Sunday behind the hauler or whatever. We don't see you very often. We wonder why is it that you think the sport that you're not needed at every weekend or just why are you not around more often for these press deals?
BRIAN FRANCE: I frequently say, and I've said this before, if I thought that I was the last one out of every event and I turn the light off on the way out that that would grow the sport in some way, I would do it.
What we have is a different sport than it was 10, 15 years ago, and that's real clear. I don't publish my schedule, but it's pretty busy. We feel like we're managing the sport. We know we're managing the sport the best way that we need to to grow the sport.
Q. Could there come a time in the future where all the penalties are transparent? That they're all black and white so it can be reported as normal rather than just finding things out on the internet secondhand? Secondly, Bob earlier mentioned the Kyle Busch incident. Can you explain to me other than Brian Vickers' situation last week where he was not under caution as Kyle Busch was with Ron Hornaday at Texas, why Brian Vickers, something wasn't done about him when he, in fact, just came out of nowhere and plowed into Matt Kenseth for no apparent reason other than retaliation?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there is something being done about that. We're having a conversation about that, and they are very different circumstances. One was on a mile and a half track, a lot faster. One was under caution, which is very significant different.
Racing accidents under green are always subjective. Even though you may say this one wasn't, but typically there is always a debate about who went where. Ron Hornaday was racing for a championship, and you know we value that greatly.
So there are lots of differences. It doesn't mean though that we didn't think the line was almost met or somewhat close, whereby, we would have a conversation to explain that. We will be having a conversation with both Brian and Matt regarding really what happened in Martinsville the week before, which is a short track.
A lot of contact happened in that particular race. Like I said earlier, there is a line. The drivers know where the line is. If we should be guessing about that for some reason, we're happy to sit down and walk them through it.
Q. Ricky Stenhouse is probably going to win the Nationwide championship tomorrow. The decision NASCAR made to limit drivers to one championship run, has NASCAR gotten what they want out of that or is that policy going to be reviewed at any point?
BRIAN FRANCE: All policies are reviewed, but I think it's worked the way we want it to. We want to showcase the young drivers in their own series and still have the participation with drivers with a lot of experience. That's exactly what we've gotten.
I think it's been good for the young drivers to get some different notoriety. The honor and prestige of winning a championship and the money that comes with that and all the rest has been a good thing.
Q. Going back to the driver fines things. When you say you don't see a benefit to that, can you explain why there is no benefit to that? It would seem like if you're punishing somebody for disparaging the sport, you would want to let people know we're punishing this guy because we don't like what he said. In this room, you're monitoring social media, all the fans want to know more about it and want to understand why. It just feeds to the perception that you're an autocratic regime that doles out punishment in a capricious manner. Why would you not want to tell people here's why we're doing it?
BRIAN FRANCE: Sure. I'll explain it. We went for 50-something years and never had a system to fine anybody for disparaging remarks in the sport. We're the only sport on the planet that had that. So we simply really in the last couple of years changed that policy because we thought we needed to.
. So it's a new policy. It's not something that's been around for a long time. But like I said, we're happy to look at that in the off-season. See what benefit there would be. When it comes to social media, nobody is investing more, doing more, encouraging the drivers and everybody in the industry to participate on social media. Say what you want and all the rest.
So, you know, we ought not look at one policy and try to define how NASCAR approaches things.
Q. What's the primary benefit to not telling people?
BRIAN FRANCE: The way we looked at it, what would be the benefit? The drivers know exactly what we're after. We have these annual meetings with them, right? And then we have semi-annual meetings with them, and we meet with them every weekend at the track. We have formal meetings in the off-season.
So they know exactly what we expect out of them. When they don't handle that, the only way we can control that is obviously a fining system. But look, don't panic over this. We'll look at it in the off-season, if we need to change it, we'll change it. Not a big deal.
Q. You mentioned earlier about the Chase format and that you're always adjusting. Is there a good chance that the Chase format will be tweaked yet again for the following season?
BRIAN FRANCE: It's possible. I don't know. We take those ideas throughout the year. We really look at them as carefully as we can. Then what we do is we run them past the team owners and drivers and other -- everybody else in the industry in the off-season before we would do anything, and that's exactly what we did last year going into this year.
We looked at all kinds of things and settled on this as a nice step forward to simplifying the point system. Hopefully getting what we have, which is a more competitive Chase, and we'll look at it again. I don't know where we'll end up.
Q. As far as the Chase goes, it's been a really exciting Chase. As far as when you came up with the idea of the chase and then you tweaked it. Did you expect that kind of result what do you feel about the future?
BRIAN FRANCE: I actually expected more years like this, frankly. I couldn't imagine somebody as incredibly dominating as Jimmie has been in a five-year run, so you have to give him an enormous amount of credit.
But our expectation is that given the balance of things that we have 43 cars at every event and given the nature of auto racing and how it unfolds and some of the traditions that you have to obviously respect, I think the current system and more tweaks will always come and we'll just have to see what they are.
Q. We're here for the first time actually, so we're growing interesting in NASCAR covering, and I would like you to talk about the growing of NASCAR in other countries than the USA, like Brazil with Nelson Piquet and Miguel Paludo?
BRIAN FRANCE: I think it's great. I was in Singapore Wednesday and Thursday working on that very issue. We've got a Hispanic driver from Mexico running in the truck race this weekend. Our diversity program is focusing on that.
So any time we are able to attract a talented driver, Juan Pablo being an example or anyone else, I think that broadens up the sport. Makes us more relevant to whatever home country that they're from, and we view that as a very good thing.
Q. Specifically in terms of what Brad said as far as EFI goes, what was it about that that NASCAR thought crossed the line? It wasn't a case of what Denny did in impugning the integrity of the sanctioning body, but more or less expressing opinion on the technological direction of the sport at that particular point. Could you at least elaborate on that?
BRIAN FRANCE: I can't elaborate on that because we didn't issue a public fine on that. You can read into what people say just like I can. When you cross a line that denigrates the direction of the sport or the quality of the racing, we're not going to accept that. Not going to accept it.
Happy to have any other criticism, any other complaint, happy to hear them all. If I own a restaurant and I say you know what, the food in my restaurant is not very good, we're not going to accept it. It's as simple as that.
Q. In light of that, will you be issuing a secret fine to Jaime Allison of Ford Motor Company for saying almost the exact same thing as Brad Keselowski did this week?
BRIAN FRANCE: Jaime Allison doesn't participate in NASCAR. I mean, he does in his corporate role, but come on.
Q. Sort of following up on that. One of the problems with the EFI, the electronic fuel injection topic, I think is the economy's bad and it's going to be expensive or be another expense. I think that's what Brad was talking about and we've been talking about in here and engine builders have been talking about. It is an extra expense at a bad time. Is it something that could be postponed for another year or so? Does it have to be right now?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we announced it several years ago. These are not the things that you can just pull off the shelf and put them back on and off. We have agreements with suppliers that have to be met.
You've got to remember why are we doing that? Because we want to be more relevant to the car manufacturers and other green technologies as well. We always said that we will do that in a balanced way. We're not going to be like some other divisions around the world that are heavily emphasized on that on technology.
But we're going to have to do more than we did in the past. It's not because we feel like doing it or want to put additional costs on anyone, but because they're accepting a lot of money from the car manufacturers, and that's what's under the hood on cars today, and we have to be mindful of that as we make policy.