NASCAR Chairman tackles a variety of topics with Eli Gold on the Motor Racing Network.
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France appeared more visible in 2014 than ever before.
It wasn’t unusual for the third-generation steward of the sport to pop on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and chime in issues affecting NASCAR.
And it wasn’t unusual for France to appear in the media center for multiple state-of-the-sport question-and-answer sessions in addition to the traditional season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
On Tuesday, when he joined Eli Gold on MRN’S NASCAR Live for their annual interview, France wasn’t short on answers as he took calls from race fans and tackled the Chase format, rivalries between competitors, rules changes and pit road technology for 2015.
If it's not broke...
Despite the success of the Chase in 2014, there are always dissenters to any process, and the new format was no exception. Still, one of the most beautiful aspects of the Chase was its sheer simplicity, and France sees no reason to change that.
What we have today is a very, very understandable format based mostly on performance – but not all – and it worked extraordinarily well.
“One of the challenges is whenever we do something – even if it’s small – it adds to people already trying to figure out a new system," France said. "Even if it can make it better, if it makes it a little more complicated, then it doesn’t really matter if it makes it better, because it’s too difficult for people to understand.
“What we have today is a very, very understandable format based mostly on performance – but not all – and it worked extraordinarily well. It doesn’t mean that we can’t find some ways down the road to make it better.
“I think you’ll see college football do that and they’re doing it right now with their own version of a new playoff structure. We want to be open-minded, but we want to balance making sure that whatever format we have, everyone understands it.”
The initial premise of win-and-you’re-in to qualify for Chase needed no explanation for the initial teams qualifying for the playoffs. Ditto, setting the remaining Chase field based on the point standings.
Certainly once the Chase began, fans needed a score card during the three elimination races to ascertain which drivers transferred to the next round but there was plenty of reporting through the broadcasts or social media to keep everyone up to speed.
The season finale posed the most simple equation of all – the top finisher won the title regardless of what happened in the first 35 events. And as many anticipated, the race winner (Kevin Harvick) became the champion.
Boys will be boys
Perhaps what pundits did not anticipate was some of the roguish behavior among the competitors. While NASCAR enjoyed tremendous exposure from the dustups with Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski at Charlotte and Jeff Gordon, Harvick and Keselowski at Texas, the buzz didn’t stem from the competition on the track.
But we can expect – and everybody should expect – high emotions late in the race with a lot on the line, drivers getting more aggressive. That’s a good thing.
“We’re always disappointed when things escalate to that level,” France said. “Having said that, the emotions were high, the stakes were unbelievably high for several of the drivers competing on that night in Texas, even in Phoenix, back in Charlotte or wherever we had it. But we’re going to have more of that. I’m not saying we’re going to have more physical fighting – we’ll deal with that. We were very aggressive in making sure that the proper people who contributed to that were punished effectively. We’ll do that.
“But we can expect – and everybody should expect – high emotions late in the race with a lot on the line, drivers getting more aggressive. That’s a good thing. That’s what NASCAR’s historically been about and we will balance making sure that things don’t escalate places no one likes.”
The pit road police
France also touched on the new electronic pit road officiating that NASCAR will introduce this season. He acknowledged the move is in response toward a more technologically-driven sport. France said the sanctioning body “spent a lot of time and a lot of resources” over the last few years to make sure the process is “highly reliable”.
“What it basically is, is cameras that are custom-designed with innovative technology that will be in every pit stall recording every movement that happens,” France said. “While we’re pretty effective with our inspectors today, we will be much more effective at figuring out what goes on inside of a pit stop to make sure it all works properly.
“We’ve been very careful to beta-test this over the last many months and we’re very confident it’s going to be good.”
NASCAR has scheduled a thorough explanation of the program for the media next Wednesday at the R&D Center in Concord, N.C.
Other subjects France responded on included: cost-saving measures for race teams, the benefit beyond sponsorship that Xfinity will bring to the former Nationwide Series, being selective with a new partner to replace Sprint for the Cup tour, shortening races or adding mid-week events and attracting new race fans. On the latter, France said the key is having “a robust digital platform…from an outreach standpoint”.
Although the younger fan base has been a challenge due to multiple choices of entertainment, France said today there are more avenues to attract enthusiasts to the sport.
“We’re all over this, it’s a big opportunity,” France said. “We want to make sure we get it right.”