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NASCAR's Brian France: What's next?

  NASCAR's Brian France: But what's he really thinking......(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)   


   By Mike Mulhern

   NASCAR CEO Brian France, in an unusually long press conference of 45 minutes Friday, offered little insight into anything -- if anything -- the stock car racing sanctioning body might do to change things up for the 2010 Sprint Cup tour in light of declining TV ratings, smaller race crowds, that single-file racing at Talladega, the Jeremy Mayfield case, and Jimmie Johnson's looming fourth straight NASCAR championship.
   However France accentuated the positives, said the season has gone "reasonably well" all things considered. And he did hint at possible Cup tour scheduling changes in 2011, looking at Kansas Speedway and Kentucky Speedway, but not pointing to what tracks might be cut to make room on the 38-race schedule.
   While the third-generation NASCAR France may be much more formal and reserved than his famously feisty father Bill Jr. and legendary grandfather Big Bill Sr., Brian France is considered one of the most open and direct of the current crop of national sports executives...though typically much less accessible on any weekly account than his father, and apparently more comfortable in a mass press conference session than in any one-on-ones.
   In the lone moment of emotion, France pointedly declined to say much about the possibility that he and his ex-wife might be asked to testify or offer depositions in the Jeremy Mayfield  case, except to say "I have had a lot of experience with trial lawyers…more than I would like. But with trial lawyers I've never been surprised with what they will say, to get some outcome for somebody they're representing.
   "We're going to deal with it (the Mayfield case) like we said we would. We have made all the comments we can make….and we will go forward.
    "It is regrettable; our preference is never to be in litigation.
    "If you get a trial lawyer, that's out of our control. At that point all we can do is the best we can to represent the entire sport's interests in matters that affect it. And we will continue to do that.
   "Nothing amazes me with trial lawyers in the 21st century. They are an amazing group of people."
    France is involved in a civil case with his ex-wife in a Charlotte court and his lawyers are attempting to keep that courtroom closed and to keep all documents sealed, in a rather remarkable legal point.
    France was more comfortable talking about the sport itself rather his own issues or his family's problems. Responding to complaints that the 'chase' format for determining the championship has become boring, that it might be time to scrap the chase and try a different championship system, France said Johnson's domination this season was a surprise:
      "What I wouldn't want to do is take away from the achievements Jimmie and his team have made. In this format, to dominate four straight championships is incredibly difficult. We could not have predicted anyone could have done what Jimmie has done…therefore taking away some of the things the chase will deliver in normal circumstances…
   "It depends on how you want to look at it. Some of the teams that you would expect to be closer, we're missing that, yes. But we're getting a performance that is historic.
   "We look at adjustments in the format every year any way, and we'll be looking at that again, to see what we can make better. But we love the purpose of the chase. And specific performances dictate how it plays out."
   Whether that means France will wait until after the championship celebration before making any rules changes is unclear.
   And what to make of France's own criticism of the critique of the sport by TV broadcasters Larry McReynolds, Jimmy Spencer and Kyle Petty? France basically blasted the three for daring to talk about some of the sport's problems.
   What actually is France's stance about the media, and is some retribution in the wind for anyone calling out things?
   "No, we don't operate with retribution," France says. "And we don't have a 'policy' for our broadcast partners. They have an enormous involvement in the sport; they're professionals and they cover all sports. And they understand how to cover individual sports better than we could tell them how to.
    "But that doesn't mean we don't have differences; we do. But there is no policy in NASCAR that demands they do one thing or another."
   The declining TV ratings?
   "Ratings go up and down, and there are a dozen different things that factor in," France said. "You want to be mindful of all those things, to help drive interest in the sport, and we want to do all those things and more.
   "And it's important to remember that on any given weekend we have the second or third most popular sport. While we always want our ratings up, that's not always possible. You will have peaks and valleys….so you measure it over a longer time.
   "And you work on the things that create more interest, more viewers, more people going to events, more people buying merchandise….more people just interested in NASCAR in general. That is core, that we take very seriously. And we're going to spend a lot of time in the off-season to see how we can improve."
    As many as five Sprint Cup teams may either drop off the tour next season or cut back on the number of races. How worried is France about the economy's effect on this sport?
   "We had this same conversation this time last year, when the economy was even worse," France pointed out. "Clearly the sponsorship market is tougher than it's ever been in my memory. And I don't anticipate that getting remarkably better, although we are starting to feel the ice thawing and getting inquiries in our New York. And in the off-season I think you'll see some joining us at some level.
   "The tracks are working hard to renew their sponsorships, and they're doing a pretty good job of that
   "It is going to be difficult, but it's going to be fine. We still have the best value proposition in sports. We are the only place where you can brand on the playing field, in the manner we do. And we are very proud of that and have always built around that."
    Containing costs has been France mantra, though sometimes it's difficult to see the actual effects. He concedes the no-testing rule doesn't work quite as well as he might like, that it has a downside of its own.
   "There is some balance between no-testing at all – which is the best savings for the teams – and the way testing was done in the past, which was a lot of testing," France said. "There is more publicity for the markets when teams are testing. And teams and rookies who are behind can make up some ground when there is testing.
   "But we have chosen to take the route of the cost-savings, knowing it has some consequences.
   "As we can dial it back, as the economy gets better, we will.
   "But I don't think we'll dial it back to the level  two or three years ago, when it was too much cost."
    Overall, though, France seems rather pleased with the way the season has gone, in the face of a bad economy:
   "One way or another this weekend we'll make a lot of history, with Jimmie or Mark Martin….and when Rick Hendrick wins his ninth championship and ties Richard Petty. This will culminate a good season of racing.
   "The big thing obviously is the dominance of Jimmie and his teams. I don't think anyone could have predicted how successful they would be.
   "On balance we have had a very good season. You would expect me to say that, and we have had our ups and downs, in a long season with as many races as we have. But we are very pleased with a lot of things we did accomplish in this difficult economy, very difficult on our race fans.
    "And we are very pleased with the initial promise to the teams that we would react in an accelerated fashion if we could, in testing and rules changes, to take additional costs out of their racing budgets. And we'll continue to do that…because 2010 doesn't look to be an awfully lot better.
   "The sponsorship front is getting better; there are companies joining the sport. But it's not like we hope it will be in the future.
   "When we talked in February (about the season ahead), there were a lot of questions.  On balance we got through things fairly well…if not easily.
   "And now we're poised to head into the off-season and give everyone a much-needed break."



Didn't say much did he? He

Didn't say much did he? He and Gary Bettman, the NHL commish, would make a great tag team. Gary keeps saying how wonderful everything is in hockey despite many teams taking a financial pounding (Phoenix to lose over $50 million this season), dropping TV rating and attendance problems. Sounds familiar, right? Brian France either has his head in the sand or is too tied up with his personal difficulties to see what is actually going on. Wait 'till 2011 is the motto! But projecting a year ahead with the status quo I see more TV and attendance challenges, JJ going for his fifth championship in the Chase (or as I like to call it, the "Rick Hendrick Experience"), and more talk about Danica than Kyle or Jimmy or Tony or Dale's next crew chief. Brian should take his hand off the replay button and press the reboot button! 2010 will be a very pivotal year for NASCAR and Brian doesn't want to be the Fonz jumping the Shark.

My gosh,the guy just doesnt

My gosh,the guy just doesnt have his hand on the pulse of his leagues real situation. As long as this guy is running things,longtime fans like me who left will not return. so since he's more about the bottom line,let's talk in real dollars here. 2 Dover races gone-$700,1 infield Michigan trip with 5 buddies gone-$2,000,About $2,000 in souveneirs/merchandise a year gone. Yup,there ya go Brian. On the one hand,thanks for the savings there thus allowing me my new toy Sports car to mess with. Thanks Mike for the forum,I enjoy it immensely seeing as how it's my main window into Nascar these days! Enjoy the offseason,you deserve it!

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What they can do about those

What they can do about those three periods of single-file racing at Talladega is to increase race winner points to 300 and most-lap-leader bonus points from 10 to 100. They can also stop policing the yellow line and drivers pushing each other through the corners - if two cars lock together and break the draft, the rest of the draft will line up and run them down (this and points-racing is why there was so much single-filing at Talladega), and letting them pass below the yellow line will open more lanes to race.

The Jeremy Mayfield deal is blowing up in Mayfield's face so I don't have much concern there.

They can start addressing the decline in teams by capping team spending and actually attacking the multicar monster.

reading between the lines, it

reading between the lines, it looks like that whole secret court case may be about trying to stop the ex-wife from testifying for jeremy. if that's the case, and it can ruin france, can you see what is behind the curtain. hello, think about it.

Why would the ex-wife testify

Why would the ex-wife testify for Mayfield, who isn't even relevant to that whole debacle?

i have no idea. someone just

i have no idea. someone just asked france about that at homestead, and it seemed to strike a sore spot. i thought it was all rather odd. remember when he started talking about lawyers......

"You can't stay the size that

"You can't stay the size that you are: you either grow or get smaller," Bill France Jr said. Brian has been too happy with the status quo for too long, and now it's starting to bite him and NASCAR in the behind and they're too blind to see it. Give points for each lap that is led by a driver; whenever track condition allow it, the race should end under green, even if we have to add more restarts then just the one green-white-checker; get rid of the yellow line and bump-draft rules at Daytona and Talladega; require the drivers to spend time each week at the track doing fan-friendly stuff, and not just sponsorship fan-friendly stuff; get rid of the testing ban, it does not work, and Jimmy and HMS are more likely to win with it in place; fix the COT; and give the fans more say in the sport. Maybe sit down and do some town halls with them. Do some of these things at least and maybe 2010 will be worth watching.



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