Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: Brian France & Bruton Smith Tell Us… What, Exactly?

This weekend, Brian France was in Indianapolis to meet with Bruton Smith and Ron Dennis of McLaren on various topics facing the sport. After the meetings, he took the time to address the media on multiple topics. Bruton Smith was also stopped outside of the NASCAR hauler to answer a couple of questions as well.

France spoke first about Dennis’s presence and the fact that he would like to provide quite a bit of advanced technology to the Cup Series. “I met with him this weekend,” France explained. “Look, we’ve been real clear. We’re on a steady march to more technology in the cars, which is historically unlike us in some respects, provided that it doesn’t burden the teams with additional costs that don’t translate to our fanbase and obviously that we can enforce whatever new technologies. The final thing is to make sure that it makes racing better.”

“No question about it, fuel injection is something we’re going to evolve to here in the short run. You said tire pressures and so on. If there’s ways to use technology that are enforceable and sensible financially, of course we’re going to do that.”

“It’s our slow, steady march. Fits into the green economy. Fits into where the manufacturers are obviously going. So any number of things you’re going to be able to look at. But they’ll just have to fit our criteria that I’ve laid out. That’s where we’ll end up.”

France then spoke about the reported schedule change requests by ISC and SMI and when the schedule changes will be known. “All requests are in,” he said. “They all have lots of effects, as you can imagine. When anything moves around of significance on the Cup schedule, it has consequences for the second part, whatever part of the schedule you look at.”

“We’re digesting that, making sure it fits into our TV partners, fits into the track operators that have made the requests, all the other partners who count on the schedule to be done sort of correctly.”

“I hope we’re on the final throws of that. We had meetings this morning on that. I sense that we’ll be close to wrapping that up here in probably a week or two. There will be some changes as I look now, that could not quite materialize, but I sense it will. We’ll have some pretty impactful changes to the schedule that I think will be good for NASCAR fans.”

“Historically, we put our schedule out as early as we can, usually no later than September. We’ll meet that deadline. The question is, we may do it slightly different. By the way, when you agree on a schedule, then you have to have sanction agreements that are executed, everybody has to agree on that. That process is simultaneous to the schedule.”

“My sense is that will all be wrapped up here shortly. I don’t know how it will get released, but it looks like there are going to be some interesting, good changes for the schedule in terms of how fans get to events, which events they’ll attend. There’s been a big cooperation. Everybody has a slice of the pie that they want to make sure fits them perfectly. And so we’ve had to adjust that around where it fits everyone in the industry. That’s gone fairly well. Almost ready to announce something shortly.”

France then immediately transitioned, commenting on changes to the Chase. “Let me tell you two things,” he said. “One is, we’re going to make changes in the Chase that we think would serve us well for many, many years. If that means it’s not something we’re reacting to, whether it’s lower ratings than we want, something like that. And I would remind you we look at these things annually. Looked at it very hard last year, almost a similar format change that is being proposed.

“There are few, but one in particular that we didn’t think the timing was right. Making changes in lots of other areas, there’s only so much you can do from a change-all-at-once approach. But whatever we do, it will be with the industry having lots of chances to weigh in, and us, in the end thinking this is something that we can build around that enhances winning, enhances the championship, gives us more of a playoff field than we currently have now – if that’s where we end up.”

“We haven’t made a decision. We may not think the timing is right. We’re doing some research. I’ll be in some focus groups myself on the 11th of August listening to fans directly as they hear the idea. Today, for us to do anything major requires a lot of buy-in, which we get. It requires a lot of input, which we get. So it’s not surprising that when we’re getting that input, some people haven’t heard it all, don’t like it, how it may affect them.

“They’re competitors. I don’t know if there’s anything we could present to Jimmie Johnson – I don’t blame him, by the way – on a championship format that he thinks is as good as what we have now. That’s not surprising. We take all that into consideration.”

“The second bigger issue is – it kind of fits into what we’re doing now anyway in looking over the long run in the sport – how does it fit in when the economy and other things we were doing were creating so much demand? A lot of those things are different today – different not just for the economy, but different because there’s better ways to approach things.

“You saw that on all the on-track decisions we made, which we think were the right ones. Double-file restarts, the way we decide the ending of events, so on, so forth. The news we made with the spoiler. On and on that goes. We think that fits better, not regulating the sport is hard.”

“Now we’re going to get a review of ourselves on things we can improve on, the Chase being one. There’s many, many others. It’s what you do when you’re going through things and there’s a headwind. Things aren’t as easy as they have been in the past. This is the time when you don’t necessarily do anything you feel like. Obviously, it has to be thought out.

“But this is a time when the industry can reposition some things that we can improve on. Tracks are doing a lot of that now. Team owners, drivers, ourselves all come together. Our TV partners all come together to give us some changes in some areas.”

“We’ve been at this 60 years. You’re going to have some peaks and valleys. Sometimes, when you’re in a little bit of a valley for whatever reason, that’s the time to look at all the things you can improve on, make the changes, go forward and sail back up. That’s how we’re looking at the Chase and everything else for the future.”

“Not changing the Chase is definitely a viable option. The Chase we think is certainly better, although we haven’t seen the results of that as often as we’d like, but certainly better than the total consistency model that was in place for so many years. But regarding the options that we have on the table, there’s no question that the only ones we would consider are ones that make winning at a given moment more important than they are today.”

“How do you do that? Well, there’s obviously a number of ways to do that. It comes with some version, as you go along, where certain races in the Chase, you have to win, you have to win or do very, very well to, in fact, move on. Only thing I would say is, when you peel that back and look at it, it’s not that different. It sort of forces that, like every other playoff and tournament kind of does.

“But the truth is, you know, there’s a lot of people eliminated from the Chase, not necessarily mathematically, but they would tell you by the fifth race in. If you’re way, way behind, you only have five races to catch up, you’re probably eliminated at that point. That’s no different.”

“So, if we formalize that a little bit, make sort of a transfer event feel like we have at Richmond, you know, that will be interesting. The last thing I’d make on the Chase. If we have the perfect Chase that we would love to see, it would be just like every commissioner would tell you: They’d love to see great playoff events, as many game seven series as possible. When they get to either game seven or the final of the NCAA tournament, the Super Bowl, whatever the sporting event, they’re going to tell you it’s an action-packed, close game, lots of storylines.

“That’s what they’re after. I mean, that’s what anybody is after. We’re no different. If we can have our format be more consistent with delivering those results and still have the flavor of NASCAR, which we obviously, with 43 teams, the same time, different dynamics than anybody else has, we’ll weigh all that, figure that out, sort the right format.”

“The truth is, whatever we do is not going to be all that much different in terms of every formula we’ve run. Jimmie Johnson would win anyway. Winning and being the best, we’re going to balance that out correctly.”

Finally, France commented on Carl Edwards’s actions at Gateway. “Well, Carl went too far. We think some contact, especially late in the race, is part of NASCAR. There are limits to that. The limits are pretty obvious. You can’t just spin somebody around, especially intentionally. That’s number one. But is there going to be contact? The issue that Carl had probably above it all is he already had a history with Brad [Keselowski], so he wasn’t going to get any kind of benefit of the doubt about was that just racing or whatever else.

“So, you know, the point is, there have got to be limits. On the other hand, we’ve opened it up where the drivers… this is the big leagues, you’re going to have contact here. These are full-body cars. You saw it at Loudon a few weeks ago, you saw a lot of contact late in the race. That’s part of it.”

Meanwhile, Bruton Smith was very non-committal on which tracks he’s asked NASCAR to move dates from. He made no bones about the fact that Las Vegas would like to have another race, and that has been asked for many times. He agreed that Kentucky has at least been mentioned in terms of receiving a Cup date.

Smith assured the assembled media that Kentucky Motor Speedway could add an additional 50,000 to 70,000 seats in 90 days, so if NASCAR agrees to move a date there for the 2011 season, they will be able to accommodate the increase in number of fans visiting the facility for such a big event.

Smith said that the trip to Indianapolis was just planned in the last week, with himself and Marcus deciding to come up for the race and spend some time visiting with Mary Hulman George.

Smith also put in a plug for Las Vegas Motor Speedway to be the track to host the season finale race. He feels it would be an ideal location and would afford the sanctioning body the opportunity to host the awards banquet shortly thereafter, so that the drivers would not have to travel as much and the fans could plan to stay in the area to attend the event.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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