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Brian France Speaks....

  Brian France (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   KANSAS CITY, Kansas
   NASCAR's Brian France -- buoyed by some good news on the TV front, and on his way over to the second turn to check out the latest piece at rapidly expanding Kansas Speedway, the soon-to-open Hollywood Casino – rolled through the Sprint Cup garage and media center Sunday morning, to offer some analysis about the state of the sport.
   And France had a few intriguing things to talk about – like talks going on with the people building that Formula 1 track down in Austin, Texas.

   This is not only an appropriate moment for France to make an appearance (unlike his father, he doesn't routinely spend Sundays at the race track), but a great location.
   Plus, financier extraordinaire Warren Buffett is here too. And if any place on the NASCAR tour can impress, it's this one.
   Kansas Speedway – and give some credit here to Grant Lynch, who launched this project – has become the picture-perfect-postcard track on the stock car tour. It has virtually everything anyone could want in a race track: good traffic flow; excellent location, in a prime market, with skyline clearly on the horizon; and surrounded by a new and fast-growing mini-city of malls and restaurants and hotels and even a spiffy new soccer stadium.
  And now the casino, perched right over the second turn.

 The Hollywood casino, just about ready to open, over in the second turn (Photo: Kansas Speedway)

  Oh, and this track just played its first night race Friday, under new lights.
  Not to mention the gorgeous weather, mid-80s and dry and sunny.
  "This whole facility, and the surrounding developments, are impressive…as impressive as any place we go," France said. "And how fast they're coming on line…"
   -- TV? Ratings are up from last year for the playoffs. However last year's chase ratings were pretty dismal. And compared to 2009 and 2008 things still aren't stellar. It appears that the some six million playoff viewers from 2008 have dwindled to about four million or five million at the moment.
   Still France is upbeat:  "In major sports today – and you're going to see this in the various playoffs and championships that will be decided in all kinds of sports -- it gets down to storylines and match-ups.
     "When you have more of that, good storylines and great racing in our case, you should do better. And we are doing better. 
    "The increase is primarily coming right where we would really want it to be, with the younger demo up 20-something percent. Consistently up 20-something percent."
   However still no more details, like what parts of the country is NASCAR hot and what parts not.


    Warren Buffett (L) and Kyle Busch (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- The downside of things in this sport at the moment, though, are economic.
   The cost of racing at this level has become almost outrageous. There are no salary caps, no limits on what any team owner can spend. And some operations carry payrolls of 500-some people.
   But with sponsorships not only drying up but even vanishing, massive layoffs are anticipated.
   As many as six full-time Cup teams running this season will likely not be running next season.
   And things are even more dire in the Truck and Nationwide garages.
   France couldn't really offer much encouragement, except to point to cost-cutting moves by NASCAR.
   Of  course such talk of cost-cutting may come across flat right, after Cup teams have just completed a somewhat fruitless but quite expensive testing session at Phoenix International Raceway.
   "I've always said I'm not an economist, but I know it's very, very difficult out there for companies and for people in the general economy," France says. 
   "That has impact on us, and it will continue to have some impact on us."
   But France said if some current Cup teams drop by the wayside, some Nationwide teams might be stepping into fill those slots. However that – given the pretty dismal state of economics in the Nationwide garage – seems less than probable.
   "I hope everybody comes back, and everybody gets what they need to compete," France said. "But if the economy is difficult, it does allow opportunities for others, and that's -- I guess -- the only silver lining."
    Yet the Truck series in particular is filled with struggling teams, as it has been the past several years. And it's been a major question – if not one that NASCAR execs really want to hear – if the Truck series itself is even still viable.
   "It's very viable," France insists. "It's a 'franchise' for the Speed Channel.  It's their highest-rated programming every week."
   But France concedes the economy has impacted that series.
   And France says cost-cutting has been a top priority for the Truck tour: "We've done unprecedented things the last two or three years to take cost out of the system for those team owners, and the drivers for that matter.
    "Limiting crew members, and doing all kinds of things on the regulatory side that have proven a great deal of cost savings…It's a lot cheaper to operate a truck team than it was three years ago."
    Cost-cutting, France insists, "is a core principle at the R & D center (in Concord, N.C.) There's a group of people looking at safety, performance and cost all the time. 
    "And we're trying things out in the touring divisions frequently that we don't talk a lot about, to see what can work and what can't."


    NASCAR demographics (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- The intriguing:
   That new $100 million Formula 1 track in Austin, Texas. "There's a new facility on the horizon, if you believe what is being written, down in Texas with a big road course," France said. "We have some road racing product that might be possible too.  So we'll take a look at that for sure."
    Nationwide? Cup? Trucks? 2012…2013?
   "We are having conversations," France said. "We have conversations at one level or another with all the major motorsports facilities.
   "Remember, we've got Grand American road racing -- arguably the best road racing product in this country. When you look at how these events play out at Sears Point and Watkins Glen, there's not a better road course show in this country."
    France did rule out a Cup race at Austin: "Cup is full; we're not having those conversations.
   "But we have a lot of motorsports products…"


    Kansas Speedway: This place has just about everything right (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Diversity?
   France pointed to Darrell Wallace and Sergio Pena as two promising diversity drivers, "really top-notch talent that I believe will make it into the Cup level and certainly the Nationwide level shortly. 
     "Darrell Wallace has the attention of a lot of owners. And Sergio Pena is another talented driver winning races in a tough environment. 
    "We could (soon) have what we've been hoping for -- which is to spotlight some talent that will be with us at the highest level for a long time.
    "And obviously Danica (Patrick) coming over and competing full-time next year in the Nationwide and some Cup events is another positive thing.  She's talented, and I hope she does well."


     Kansas fans offer the sport a little extra twist (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   -- Series sponsor Sprint is in the eighth year of its 10-year contract with NASCAR, and this is Sprint's hometown. What's the scoop on NASCAR and Sprint renewing? Sprint got the current deal for about $70 million a year (plus add-ons that could run it to as much as $100 million).
     "The relationship is very good," France says. "It's a program that's worked extremely well for them.
     "We're having discussions about extending the relationship.  My hope is that we will.  That's always a goal when we have a really good incumbent sponsor who's done such a good job."

  -- Too many gas mileage finishes? And what could NASCAR do?
   "Well, that's part of the strategy, it's part of the game, and it's part of the racing," France insists. "We're not going to try to over-regulate that. 
    "That's cyclical too. There are going to be times when there tends to be more of that for whatever reason, the way races play out.
   "And then there will be times when there are cautions, like Saturday in the Nationwide, late in the race and bunches everybody up. People say you don't like too much of that either, do you?
    "We like it all.  We like to see all the strategies and scenarios play out."

  -- Montreal? That's been a major stop on NASCAR's Nationwide tour for several years now, a key market.
   But the Nationwide schedule still hasn't been released from Daytona.
   Is Montreal the holdup? Or is there more here – some wonder if some promoters might not be balking at paying the sanctioning fees NASCAR is demanding.
    Will Montreal be on the NASCAR calendar in 2012?  "I believe it will," France says, pointing to what he termed "some changes going on in the marketplace with the promoter and how they're promoting the event.
    "But it's a very popular event, does very well.  My hope is we'll continue to be there."
   However NASCAR executives had expected to have something to announce about the Montreal stop in early September. And some of those following the issue are not optimistic about a successful re-negotiation, because the government has balked at spending $500,000 to promote it.

  -- What about that X-Games rally stuff that Ford executives have been pushing? Certainly something like that could work to improve demographics.
    "There's no update because….well, we look at all kinds of motorsports that we could have an impact in or a marketing opportunity. 
    "You've seen some cross-over drivers; so that's not anything new. We'll continue to be opportunistic to see when we can expose NASCAR to a different audience.
    "But there are no plans for us getting into rally or any other business like that."


    Brian France in the center of this year's crop of diversity drivers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

So a reason to keep the truck

So a reason to keep the truck series is it's the highest rated program on Speed? Diversity? Seems also based on a report CNN(http://cnnmoney.mobi/primary/_jMu1MA-ityxd7wANX) Sprint may not be back. And he doesn't want to fix fuel mileage racing

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