Brian France gives midseason state of the sport
July 05, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In his annual midseason "State of the Sport" address Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR Chairman Brian France gave a thumbs-up to the victory-focused new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship format, discussed attendance issues, sponsorship interest, the $400 million Daytona Rising project and even talked a little World Cup.
But what caught the attention of many was an openness to adjusting the schedule for the 2015 season, if best for the industry.
Speaking to the press before Saturday night's scheduled Coke Zero 400 (which was postponed to Sunday), France mentioned factors such as the new television partnership with NBC Sports, and multiple weather issues as playing a role in figuring out the best possible slate of races.
"There will be robust discussion that will be for those reasons be a more comprehensive look at what the best schedule will look like,'' France said. "I don't have any of the details today. We'll be releasing that in September but it's fair to say that there's a robust discussion with the stakeholders to come up with the best schedule that we can for 2015 and beyond.''
France made it clear, however, that moving the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was not among the possibilities.
"Historically we've liked ... to do it in South Florida,'' France said. "The weather is great that time of year obviously, it's a good market for us and the track -- and this is an important thing: by any definition (it is) the best mile-and-a-half track that the drivers believe that they have, that they can really race hard and compete hard. And that matters, too. It's a very important thing.
"When you factor in all those things, we're going to be in Homestead for the foreseeable future."
He said a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway was not planned in the immediate future, but also said the series may be willing to venture internationally in coming years if the right situation occurred -- an opportunity that NASCAR is continually evaluating.
"We've always liked when we've had opportunities to go to Montreal or Mexico City or even abroad for exhibition events, and when those opportunities present, we will certainly want to look at them.''
As for the on-track portion of the update, France was pleased with the competition and the response to the competition from both the drivers and the fans. The new elimination-style "playoff" among an increased field of 16 contenders has garnered a lot of attention and created the type of suspense and urgency NASCAR had hoped it would.
Qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is now primarily based on race wins with the rest of the 16-driver field filled out by points positions.
"I think we can all see the benefits of changing the winning importance and it in fact has changed the racing on the track,'' France said. "There's no question about it. The drivers are telling us that. They're taking different kind of chances. They're going for wins when they would have played it safe otherwise and I think that's just going to get more intense as we close in on Richmond and we seed the field here.''
Among other topics France discussed:
'"That's always a question,'' France said. "When a Cup driver gets in and has a lot of success -- Mark Martin did that for a long time -- there's always that balance. Where we usually come out on is that the younger drivers gain valuable experience even if somebody gets on a run and tends to win more events than normal.
"We tend to let the events unfold the way they unfold."
• On attendance issues:
"Some markets are just more challenged,'' France said. "Some are doing better than they did last year, so it's a mixed bag a little bit. Balanced attendance is up …
"We like to think historically important events work themselves out over time and some of that is on us, too. We've got to constantly figure out how to make our racing tighter, better."
• On television ratings:
"They're down for obvious reasons,'' France said. "… but when you go around and really look at it and look at all the digital interest that we have today on devices and that's not obviously scored currently, we're real pleased with that. When you combine it all up, we're actually not off that much even with our challenges.''
• On the overall state of the sport:
"We're on a nice steady and ground and sponsorship is coming back for us thankfully. That was obviously a hard in in the recession. The business is sound and we're going forward."
• On a new engine package that has been discussed this year and the efforts serving as part of NASCAR's plan to lower the barrier of entry into the sport:
"When we talk about the engine issue, which we've talked about lowering horsepower or whatever we're going to do, we're also talking about making sure that that engine is relevant to a new manufacturer. We're not ... lowering the cost of racing, getting parity where teams can come in and have success, and making ourselves more relevant to manufacturers and partners is all part of the NASCAR business model."
Contributing: Staff reports