Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Drivers Speak Out on Brian France’s At-Track Attendance

During the 2018 NASCAR Media Tour, Brad Keselowski lashed out regarding the leadership of NASCAR and how frequently NASCAR CEO Brian France is visible at the track.

It wasn’t the first time France was called out by a driver for his lack of presence at tracks. In 2016, during a SiriusXM NASCAR Radio interview, three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart said France needs to attend more races, as well as meetings between the sanctioning body and its drivers.

Keselowski backed that, as NASCAR is in a transitional year with many of its top drivers retiring over the past three seasons. Currently the sport is a money grab, as many teams are struggling to find full sponsorship while television ratings and attendance have been declining.

“It is important for any company that relies so heavily on outside partners to have a direct interface,” Keselowski said at the Media Tour. “This is such a big ship with so much going on week to week. With some respect, I would say that it is impossible for the sport to be managed with someone being here every week because of the travel situations being what they are and different things that come up. I completely understand that. But to some extent, you have to be here.”

The France family founded NASCAR in 1948, and both France’s grandfather Bill France and father Bill France Jr. were often present in the garage. The current CEO elects to work behind the scenes and handle day-to-day duties.

Other drivers, new and old, also had a take on what France’s role should be within the sport and where he should fit in.

“Brian’s around, he’s working hard behind the scenes as well and he’s out in front,” 2004 Cup Series champion Kurt Busch told Frontstretch. “His education around the sport will always be 10 times more than any driver or team owner will understand. He’s a great leader and he’s taken us in this direction and that’s the direction we’re headed.”

While Busch, who has had his run-ins with NASCAR in the past, believes the leadership is in good hands, he does wish there were a few changes.

“The way our schedule works out, that’s what I would like to see adjusted the most,” he said. “One thing that I think needs to happen though is that our season finale should be a host committee and it should be bid upon and it should move around from track-to-track and give an opportunity for a Las Vegas or a Texas Motor Speedway to host it, but that won’t happen because it’s ISC controlled. That’s where I see we need to make moves to keep our sport fresher and more exciting and really evaluate the TV package on how it handles two races per track versus one race per track.”

Busch is coming off a season in which he placed 14th in the series standings and signed a one-year extension with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2018. He admits that the 36 race schedule is a “good number,” but wouldn’t mind having a shorter season.

Busch is far from the only driver that would like to see France more. 2018 is the best opportunity of Erik Jones‘ career, as he took over the No. 20 Toyota from Matt Kenseth. Though only entering his second season in the Cup Series, the 21-year-old believes the sport is in good hands with President Brent Dewar and Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell in control.

“I think we all wish he was at the track a little bit more,” Jones said. “He does have good people in place to manage that role. It’s like any business, you don’t see the owner of the car dealership at the car dealership every single day. He’s in there when work needs to get done and decisions need to be made.

“I think Brian is there when big decisions need to be made and when things need to get done, and he’s done a good job of putting people in place to manage it from Steve O’Donnell to Brent Dewar and everyone in between. Those two guys are really able to get anything done that we ask of them. There are times that you wish he was there more but at the end of the day the things that need to get done, get done.”

Jones also stated that if he ever needs to speak with Dewar or O’Donnell directly, he has contact with them.

“They’ve really taken the role on this year in full force and opening that line of communication making sure that everything is getting across,” he said of Dewar and O’Donnell being in control. “I think there are some things this off-season that may have gotten passed over with the drivers that we didn’t know about what was happening, which was a little frustrating, but sometimes it is hard to have that communication.”

Meanwhile, 2018 Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillon has been around the sport his entire life. 20 years prior to winning this year’s Great American Race, he was celebrating in Victory Lane with Dale Earnhardt, when the seven-time champion finally won the biggest race in NASCAR.

Dillon wouldn’t directly comment on how the sport runs from the top down.

“I like what NASCAR is doing right now,” Dillon said. “I like the stage racing and I enjoy the changes that are getting made – the changes to create to think about differences in NASCAR. The new pit stops, the new adjustments — things are happening and we’re not in a stalemate. Things are happening to make people excited about this sport. The youth and the drivers coming into this sport, it’s a really good time to latch onto them in my opinion.”

Dillon referred to the access that is available to the fans, claiming no other sport gives its fans access such as NASCAR.

“I’ll walk out here in a minute and fans are going to say hey and shake my hand and be a part of it,” he said. “NASCAR really caters to our fans, and that’s why I think we’ve had a really loyal following for a long time showing other fans that don’t know that.”

Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman didn’t back the claims of Dillon, however, did say the health of the sport is good.

“It’s always nice when you go into battle to have your leader guiding you, whether it’s the leader of our sport, leader of our team or whatever, you want them to be there – or at least sometimes you want them to be there,” Newman said. “No matter what, if you go back to the great battles, the leader was there and he gave the guidance and he fell with the team if he needed to. It’s maybe not fair to judge it as war, but in the grand scheme of things, it kind of is.”

When asked what “war” is, Newman elaborated that it’s the competition against other sports that matters.

“You put a group together with a team and you’re going up against the NFL, you’re going up against the NBA, and you’re also going up against other motorsports,” he said. “So if we’re going to talk about the strength of our sport, everybody is involved, including the leader.”

About the author

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Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

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