France Talks Schedules, Bumps, Danica
By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
Homestead, Fla. – NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France met with members of the media on Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to discuss the current state of the sport.
Among the highlights:
Question: The drivers were critical over the bump-drafting rule at Talladega three weeks ago. What are you planning on doing there?
France: In the future, when it comes to Talladega, there were a lot of things that were, sort of in my view, misrepresented. We had an exciting race. I know a lot of people will debate that. In Talladega, when you look at lead changes, whatever else, we had an exciting race. But we always look very carefully at Talladega in the fall, because it changes. It was the bump-drafting that we didn’t create a new rule, but what we obviously did was made sure the old rule was carefully followed.
But usually what comes out of Talladega in the fall, as to what we adjust, if anything, but usually we’ll make adjustments going into Daytona, because it’s a similar package for the teams, the superspeedway, plate racing, all that. We always learn things out of the last Talladega race that serve us better when we kick off the Daytona 500.
I know our group has already had some tests. We tested Monday and Tuesday after with various packages at Talladega. We’ll be looking at those in the future. Those are our signature races, no question about it. Starting with the Daytona 500, going to the Pepsi 400, going to Talladega twice, those are the highest television-rated races. We’ve got to make sure that the racing is safe for sure, and then we need to make sure that it’s a typical Talladega, Daytona kind of race. That’s what we’ll be working on.
Question: For maybe 18 months or so, you’ve said you want to open it up and let these guys get back to being personalities, whatnot. Last weekend, we saw some old-school retaliation in the Nationwide race. What did you say to Brad Keselowski? How bad does the sport need that old-school kind of payback fun?
France: Look, we don’t go into private discussions we have in the trailer with our drivers. But suffice it to say what we want is drivers who are driving hard, that are driving to win. When that happens you’re going to have some situations where there’s contact. We’re a contact sport. You didn’t see us over-respond when that happened. What happened in the Nationwide race in Phoenix, what you’re always worried about, with retaliation, all those things, is escalation, unintended consequences.
But on balance, there’s no question, we’re encouraging drivers. When Carl (Edwards), last year, made the last-lap attempted pass at Kansas City you heard us applauding that. You didn’t hear us saying anything other than that was a daring move by one of the better drivers. So we’re pretty much committed.
But we also regulate the events. You have to make sure that there are limits to hard driving and rivalries and whatever. But we certainly want them. We know how important they are. We’re going to do what we can to encourage them with some obvious limits as we go along.
Question: In regards to scheduling in 2011 and for the foreseeable future, I know Kansas wants a second date, Kentucky wants a date and some tracks are struggling to sell tickets. When the 2011 schedule is released, do you foresee any major shakeups?
France: It depends on what you say is ‘major’. For some people one race moving anywhere is major, certainly major for the track that loses a race or one that gains it.
It’s certainly possible. Kansas has got a nice track record of a fan base they’ve built, success in their market. They have a big proposal that is going to be voted on shortly on a casino, a variety of other things, to expand that whole facility. My sense is that that all comes forward, they’ll be wanting to have another date there. We’ll talk about that, try to make the best decision we have. Kentucky is in the same boat in terms of wanting another date. We’ve long had a realignment policy that we have worked with the tracks.
It’s tough because we balance the historical interest of the sport with the current realities of markets that work better in one place than another. We try to make sure that all works out, that the fans get what they want, which is the right racing at the right place at the right time. We’ll be working on that as we always do.
But it’s certainly possible that changes could happen in 2011.
Question: It looks like there’s a possibility Danica Patrick will come to NASCAR. What do you think that would mean to NASCAR if she did?
France: Danica, you know, she has obviously taken a very hard look at this sport. She’s obviously a very recognizable, accomplished driver in her own right. I would love to see her compete at the highest form of racing in the world. I think she’s thinking about it. If she does, you know, as they say, that’s why you play the game. I don’t know how well she’ll do.
She has a lot of talent. She will be good for NASCAR. How well she will perform is like any other driver that comes through the front door and sits in the car: you never know until they do it. She probably doesn’t know. We’ll see what the future brings, but she’s certainly very welcome in NASCAR. I’ve told her that directly and I know others have, too.
– Jeff Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org