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NASCAR's Brian France: Things are looking up, but a few tweaks may be on the way for 2011

  Brian France (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern



   The state of the sport of NASCAR racing, according to NASCAR boss Brian France, is pretty good overall, with great action on the track and an exciting championship race...though he said he would like to see better TV ratings.
   Key points from France's 30-minute Meet the Press here Friday:
   -- No decision has been made on what tweaks to make to the championship points system.
   -- He is planning shorter Saturday Nationwide races, coupled with some cost-cutting rules migrating up from the Truck series, such as using engines more than one race.
   -- He likes ESPN's production package and on-air talent, but he is reconsidering the starting times of Sunday races.


France also conceded the championship chase the last three or four years hasn't been very strong (perhaps one reason Disney moved the chase from ABC network to ESPN).
    But France insisted he was satisfied with the product ESPN was putting out. And he said he liked ESPN's generally younger demographics, an area where this sport has been hard hit (losing some 30 percent of its 18-34 male viewers).  France indicated he had no plans to ask Disney to move the chase back to network TV.
    "ESPN is our partner, and they have been an enormously good partner," France said.
    "But we are going to look -- with everybody at ESPN -- to make sure we have the right (starting) times, the right promotion, the right everything, that puts the sport in the best possible position to have had the biggest audience.
    "By the way, I think the (ESPN) broadcast has been as good as I've seen in a long time. The energy level, the calling of the action, the on-air talent, is top-notch. They have been working at that for a few years to get all of the things just right, and I think they have."

   France, naturally, played cheerleader for Sunday's season finale: "What's really clear to me is when you put drivers in a position where there's a lot on the line, and they just can't have a 'good' run, they actually have to go out and win, or lead laps, or compete high, they do it. 
    "You're seeing that the last several weeks. And I bet that's the case Sunday."
    So what does that tell France about 2011? He has talked about tweaking the championship chase next season, to try to create 'more dramatic moments.'
   Couldn't get much better than this weekend's three-man battle for the title.
   Still, France continued hinting at making tweaks: "That tells us that the more we can do to have incentives, that puts it all on the line more often, that's what we need to be thinking about."
   "What I like is a 'winner-take-all,' if you will. Watching someone not just having to run well but having to beat other people. That's exactly what we want.
   "It's working out that way this year...Year Seven of the chase."
   Yet France doesn't appear to be backing away from any tweaking. 
   "Almost every sports league, including the NCAA tournament last year, is looking around at what they need to do to change their formats -- a little or a lot, to make sure their playoffs or championship runs are what they want them to be," . 
    "And we are no different.
    "We are going to have a championship that puts a lot on the line, that's credible, and that rewards the drivers that have the biggest performances throughout the season.
     "But we are not going to look ahead to 2011 till this weekend is concluded... because this could be a very, very memorable Sunday."
   Indeed it could well be.
   And in an 'about the-season-in-review,' France says his 'Boys, have at it' game plan has worked, out on the track at least.
    However he concedes the lower TV ratings has prompted a lot of talk, though he tried not to dwell on that: "Obviously we would like our TV ratings on an upswing, and when they are not....
   "We are working on all kinds of things, to see what is a better formula for us.
   "I don't expect you turn light switches on and move the needle that way (quickly). All kinds of things are going to happen, over time, to drive ratings and interest level. Our job is to make sure the environment to do that is just right."

    The first thing France mentioned was a broad hint to change next year's starting times. For this season he pushed most races to uniformly start at 1 p.m. ET or 3 p.m. ET for Western races, because fan surveys pointed to that as something they wanted, and because he and the TV networks felt more uniform times would boost ratings, which last season were off from 2008. "We knew that had some risk of ratings erosion," France said. 
    Indeed TV ratings have continued to slump.
   "We took ourselves out of some more homes by doing that...also by switching networks from ABC to ESPN," France said of the chase.
   ESPN is carrying all but three of the races during the Walt Disney second half of the tour, July to November. ABC carried the 10-race championship chase last season, but Disney announced in January the chase would be on ESPN this season instead. The production crew and on-air talent is the same for both ABC and ESPN, but the ratings draw appears significantly different.
    "On the ratings: we did a lot of things, for a while.  Notably we rolled out a car (the car of tomorrow) that was, in the short run, not very popular with anyone," France said. "And we took a long time to figure out how to get past that."
     France said he expected this year's hot action on the track and the very tight championship race to translate into better TV numbers next season.
   "The quality of racing -- going back to the beginning of the season, with the different rules packages, primarily the (old) spoiler (replacing the wing) -- has worked well.
   "If this isn't the best racing we've seen in a long, long time...I would be very surprised to hear anybody say that it wasn't."

   Still, all is not as healthy as it could be here. Races are no longer routine sellouts, and some tracks have cut seating capacity to reflect that.
   But France points to NASCAR's "very strong fan base," and insists that "if we keep the racing as good as it's been the last half of the season, and we do our jobs right, I'm not worried about a thing about the popularity of this sport."

   One hot-button issue for NASCAR is the Saturday Nationwide series. France says he wants it to have a distinct personality, not just be seen as 'Cup Lite,' a series dominated by Sunday Sprint Cup stars, as it has  been for several years.
   How to get that, France concedes, may be tricky. First, he points out that the Nationwide tour is the second-most watched racing series on TV, with much higher ratings than Indy-car and Formula One.
    France says he'll announce any changes in January: "We want the Nationwide series to have its own identity --- very similar to what college football does for the NFL.  That's a great analogy for us. 
    "We don't want to see Sunday and Saturday homogenized, just completely homogenized.
    "We also want to make sure the Nationwide series is helping us find stars who stay there for a little while, earn their stripes and then move up.
    "It's delicate, how to do that. But we have been at this for a number of months, studying.
   "We have to be careful we don't want to throw out too many things that are working properly."
   The man in charge of that is Steve O'Donnell, who has become France's Go-To man for big issues, such as the shape of tour schedules.

    Bottom line, to the chase format question: France says he's still made no decisions on all this: "I don't know what we are going to do, if anything. 
    "I wouldn't assume that we are just going to make some changes because we are talking about looking at things.
    "If we can make it simpler to understand, that's a good thing for us to do. 
    "If we can have incredible big moments, where the best teams have to elevate their performance...that's what excites us, that's what excites our fan base, and it excites casual sports fans who are going to look to this sport one day and enjoy as much as we do. 
    "If there's a plan for us to accomplish that, we will consider it over the winter. 
    "Right now we are obviously thrilled with where we are at and looking forward to Sunday."
   And France repeated one of his main themes for this season: "This is a contact sport. You're going to get shoved around a little, if somebody is trying to get by, and you're trying to win – and a championship is on the line."
    Of course there is more here to consider than just the three title contenders on the warpath --  each man has several teammates, and those teammates can be useful for not only blocking and generally aggravating rivals but also filling enough positions ahead of those rivals to help determine the champion. And how all those players interact could create some controversy.
   Nevertheless France indicated he was going to leave it up the three men to determine their own fate, without any NASCAR action: "Despite how much is on the line, they have got to settle it on the track."

   And then, while there have been questions about this Miami market and how NASCAR plays, or doesn't play, here, France says in the big picture the finale at Homestead works:  "This is a great championship market. This is a great market for our fans, to come down and spend a few days. There's lots to do."
    In fact two of Richard Childress' teams are doing some deep-sea fishing here, for example.
   France also pointed out the track itself "is a competitive place" now that the new progressive banking has given drivers and crews a wide variety of lines to run.
    "So we are pretty comfortable with this market," France said.  Then he added – perhaps with a indirect nod at promoter Bruton Smith's bid to move this season-ending weekend to Smith's Las Vegas track – "We'll obviously look at it as we go down the road."
    Keeps leverage over local politicians, and keeps area power brokers from getting too complacent.


It's horrifying how out of

It's horrifying how out of touch with the fans NASCAR management is. I shudder to think what they'll mess with next.

Good luck finding a new series sponsor and TV contract!


If NASCAR/ISC/SMI concentrated more on giving back to the fan more locally (within 50 miles), you'll probably have more in attendance. Go back to TV blackouts and be firm on them. What do they have to lose vs a nationwide audience?

TV blackouts do nothing but

TV blackouts do nothing but alienate people.

France is so out of touch and

France is so out of touch and in denial about the state of the sport.

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With the poor economy and

With the poor economy and more people at home with lack of alternatives, NASCAR TV ratings should be going up. Not down. This coupled with rapidly declining attendance at the track shows that core interest in NASCAR is off considerably. The heavy erosion of sponsorship also demonstrates this clearly.ABC didn't move the Chase off network TV for nothing...it is because they do better with other cheaper properties whereas a few years ago, viewers were glued to their sets for NASCAR. Brian France has made some changes but seems to not accept that NASCAR has a problem with its core audience. If the biggest drop off is in the Southeast, the sport is in real trouble. Right now, NASCAR needs a strong new marketing person who can identify the problems and create solutions to start the turn around. Here's a question for Brian...if you put the three Chase contenders in a line up, how many casual TV fans could correctly identify the names? I'd be surprised if more than 20% and that's scary!

Impeach Brian France, Look

Impeach Brian France,
Look what happened in Indycar with Tony George,His own family had him step down,and now new manufacturers are coming in and they are thriving without racing on any ISC tracks.Big Bill built a loyal audience by focusing on raCing not raTings. The chase and the lucky dog are the lamest things ever to happen in auto racing.Instead of racing like Hell for first place,we can lag around in 12th place in points most of the season and still be the series champion.And the lucky dog thing is so messed up.Its just not racing when a car can be on the verge of going 2 laps down, and a caution comes out and wham he's back on the lead lap again.I can agree with freezing the field when the caution comes out. But it was more exciting watching a car actually race to get back on the lead lap.The Nationwide series had a more loyal following when the bullrings such as South Boston, And Myrtle Beach were part of the series.How about letting the Truck series have the Saturday races on the west coast tracks,That would cut costs more than trimming races. Or trim the fields from 43 cars to about 36-40 cars. I am sure the teams that actually race would appreciate the thousands you pay out for start and parks.Keep it up Brian and we are going to be reduced to watching Cup races on Spike TV. think about it B.

This guy is really clueless.

This guy is really clueless. If he thinks I'm going to nationwide races that are shorter than they already are he is dead wrong. If he thinks the on air talent is great he must not watch TV if I watch a truck race it is with the volume off. Just stop all the gimmicks and get back to a real race season format.

brian france is

brian france is delusional......the cot is a joke.....all of the safety innovations could have been applied to the existing car and the manufacturers would still have a stake and an identity....if one manufacturer's body style was better-so be it-..the pressure is on the other manufacturers to step up and compete...so much for race on sunday and sell on monday!.... the cot is not where nascar should be bodywise.....they are now all just big fat heavy 3500lb iroc cars....a joke! the chase is also a joke......stop messing around ...soon it will be 15 cars then 25 cars then what? the whole field? .....put it all back to performance and consistency.....maybe a points bonus for qualifying and points deduction for being an ass on the track and off the track in the pits......dont know anymore.........not good old nascar racing like it used to be.........

Could it be that ratings are

Could it be that ratings are influenced by ABC being on air and ESPN requiring cable. People are dropping cable because of being required to take all the junk along with the higher price on cable just to get ESPN. I dropped cable 6 months ago and haven't really missed it. The last 10 laps is all I want to watch and I can find out at mikemulhern.net what happened anyway. Radio is still there with it's commercials too. The chase or the championship never meant much to me anyway since the winning car doesn't get any advantage over finishing second, third, etc.

BZF is out of touch with

BZF is out of touch with reality. The play-off format is a dismal failure. Fabricating drama and close finishes is what professional wrestling does. It's pretty obvious that BZF needs to be running an NFL team. If you want to improve things, dump BZF and his lackies, bring in Humpy and some folks who know and care about racing, and go back to stock looking cars and the 2003 rules. Maybe then the grandstands won't look half empty and the ratings wouldn't be in the basement.

nascar has different rules

nascar has different rules every week,enough already lets stop changing every week and get down to racing

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