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Brian France says he and his men are braced for the challenges from GM's cutbacks

NASCAR CEO Brian France: "Confident" (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   NASCAR's Brian France stepped to the plate here Sunday morning and delivered a crisply upbeat analysis of the job ahead for this sport, in the face of General Motors' cutbacks.
   The sport's CEO concedes GM's cutbacks in stock car racing may hurt, and hurt more than NASCAR people may have anticipated. But he says he's ready to deal with it, and he and his men are developing a new game plan for the road ahead.
   "Obviously every program is being affected, and we're no different," France said about GM's big shakeups and planned racing cuts.
   "We were hoping to have the most minimal impact. The details aren't all out yet what that would mean for us, but we are affected. Our job now is to figure out how to be good partners with them.
  "They are trying to restructure their entire company, and be a different company…and for us to be a part of that. And I think we will.
   "I am very confident they'll be in the sport for many, many years, because it works well for them. But under different terms.
   "Our teams are affected, more than any of our tracks. Now individual teams at all levels are going to feel it. That's not the best-case scenario for us, but we'll deal with it.
   "We're the best opportunity to help a 'new' company sell cars. I've always felt good about that, and they have too. It's just a matter of their restructuring across the board. And they said when they get through reviewing that there would be some hard choices, and this is the result of those hard choices."
   Will France be heading to Detroit to talk big-cheese to big-cheese with the new GM and Chrysler bosses about the whole situation?
  "We have been," France said. "We've been talking with them all along. I went over to talk with all the manufactures last fall, with Mike Helton, and Jim France and others. We've been in constant contact with them. They are an integral part of what we do."
   As a defensive play, might France now be stepping any talks with other car makers, like Honda and Volkswagen, two major racing powers.
   "We have been talking with people, off and on, for a long time," France said. "These are decisions – in terms of a new manufacturer joining the sport – that would take a long time to evaluate and actually enter. That's not something we can just turn the light-switch on.
   "But we are the preeminent place in North America for car manufacturers to build their business with an auto racing group.
  "So clearly there are some companies that are going to look at opportunities that might not have been there in the past but may be in the future.
   "Now listen, we'll have our own philosophical approach to that – when a new company comes in, like Toyota, it is under a very clear set of circumstances. And that will not change.
   "I won't name names, but we have companies that are interested in developing the North American market as robustly as they can. And there are lots of foreign manufacturers producing cars in North America….like Toyota.
   "And we are the pre-eminent place to promote that."
    Can France, in light of the current economy, really stick hard to that four-team limit he proposed? That rule was aimed at Jack Roush, the only man with more than four teams. However Roush has argued for economics of scale and other sponsorship positives in having more teams.
    France says "The four-team rule (limit) was made several years ago, and this is the timing of it...it may not be the perfect timing, given the circumstances.
    "But the conclusion we want to get to is the right one.
   "We have given Jack an enormous amount of runway, and we will continue to work with him…and if there is anything we can do to make that easier we will, and Jack is aware of that.
     "The four-car limit is designed to increase new ownership, and if you had seven, eight or nine teams under one roof it would be too daunting for a new car owner to come in.
   "The issue now is, with falling revenues in every sports league, what are you going to do to find a way forward. We are of course hugely interested in the sponsorship model; we are more dependent on it than anyone else. So it will be to help our teams and members to find new companies wanting to build their brands and new technologies.
    "We've been talking about the 'green' industry, and we want to be part of that, in some intelligent way, and we will be.
   "So we'll be looking at how to create new opportunities for new companies in NASCAR…because some companies that our teams have relied on are changing."
   One major issue raised by NASCAR teams and drivers for more than a year now is the difficulty in working with and driving the new car-of-tomorrow. Fans too have weighed in against the new model.
   France has steadfastly insisted that the new car will eventually work out fine, and he has declined to allow any tweaks.
   Now however France appears to be changing his mind, perhaps in the face of slumping ticket sales and sluggish TV ratings (Pocono last Sunday, on new network Turner, was down significantly from 2008, with a 3.4 rating, meaning about 5-1/2 million viewers, the smallest TV audience of the season for a regularly scheduled NASCAR race).
   Is this new car really doing the job?
   "We believe it has," France insists. "But that doesn't mean that, in our town hall meeting with teams, that there aren't adjustments we can make to do even better.
   "That meeting was very good for us, very effective. You can hear a lot of things in individual conversations, but when you hear them all together….
  "But the new car is putting on great racing. Now it's always debatable, when you try something new, if it will be better. And there has been fair debate.
    "But as drivers get more comfortable with this car, which has been no small thing, because this is so different than the old car….that takes some time.
   "We think we can make some adjustments to make things better for the drivers. And they will be 'adjustments,' not wholesale changes."
   Hanging over the sport at the moment is the specter of last summer's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, where tires lasted only 10 laps, turning the race into a fiasco.  A dozen teams will get to test at Indy this week, and drivers and crews realize how critical it is for the sport not to have a repeat of last summer's 400. But there are big worries that fans are not being swayed to return to the Brickyard.
   France pooh-poohed worries of an Indy 400 crowd of may only 150,000 at the 280,000-seat stadium.
   "That's overstated by far," France said. "I don't know what the attendance will be. But we know our fans are waiting much longer in the cycle before buying tickets. They are all nervous, and I understand that.
   "They are also waiting to see if we can get the track correct, in terms of tires issues – which we will.
   "We will have some modest attendance dips, and that's to be expected. The whole country is down.
   "The Brickyard is a spectacular venue for us, and it has been since 1994. And there has been some great racing there, great tradition, and that will continue.
   "But sometimes things all line up in the reverse of what you'd like to see. Like here in Michigan, probably the hardest-hit state in job-loss.
   "The idea that NASCAR can cruise around and do business in every state and not have some affect from this economy…and be so tied to sponsors and be tied to the manufacturers the way we are, that would be unrealistic.
   "But we are doing better than most. And I look at this every day. We are doing better than most industries and most sports.
   "We're not perfect, we have our issues, and we have some spots to improve on, a lot of spots to improve on.
   "But we will get through a tough time. And our fans are the most loyal in sports. And we will do what we've always done – put on the best racing in the world. And that's what will be the deciding factor long after the economy turns the corner."






Roush's arguments about

Roush's arguments about ecoomies of scale etc. are BS because they're only about letting him keep everything. The field is supposed to have more than 20 different owners, not Roush and a few others controlling over 20 cars. The sport is supposed to be about multiple owners, not multi-car owners. The four-team limit is too large as it is - it needs to be narrowed to three cars and immediate retraction by Roush, Hendrick, etc. is necessary, not giving them runway.

What is Brian France looking for with the COT? Where has it "done its job"?

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