News & Media

France sees fines as way of protecting sport's integrity

November 18, 2011, David Caraviello,

NASCAR CEO speaks to several topics in season-ending state of sport address

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France on Friday reiterated that the sanctioning body would continue to defend the integrity of the sport, even if that means occasionally fining drivers without making the penalties public.

"When you cross a line that denigrates the direction of the sport or the quality of the racing, we're not going to accept that. Not going to accept it," France said in his annual state of the sport address at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "Happy to have any other criticism, any other complaint. But if I own a restaurant, and I say, 'The food in my restaurant is not very good,' we're not going to accept that. Simple as that."

Chase conclusion

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* Sound Off: France addresses state of NASCAR

NASCAR's championship week comes on the heels of an Associated Press report that Brad Keselowski was secretly fined $25,000 for recent comments that criticized the sport's move toward electronic fuel injection, which will be implemented for next season. Last year, NASCAR secretly fined Ryan Newman for comments he made criticizing the racing at Talladega, and Denny Hamlin for comments he made on the social media network Twitter.

France on Friday admitted that NASCAR has fined drivers privately, adding that the sanctioning body did not see the benefit in making the penalties public.

"In the last couple of years, we've taken a position that drivers are going to be able to speak their minds and criticize the sport way more than any other sport would allow. So let's start with that. However, there have to be some limits, and we thought those limits were being exceeded in the last couple of years, because you can't denigrate the sport. You just can't do that, and we're not going to accept that," France said.

"And you know what's interesting? Almost every driver has come up to me at one point or another and said, 'I'm glad you did that, because I don't like it when somebody says something that's irresponsible about the sport.' ... They are perfectly fine to criticize any call we make. They can say they don't like it, they disagree with it, we didn't make the right call. That's fine. But we're not going to let anyone denigrate the sport, and that's going to continue."

Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon said he believes he understands where that line is. "If I say something, I usually walk away and say to [public relations manager] Jon Edwards, 'That one might get me in trouble,' " said Gordon, who added that he has never been fined secretly. "But I'm not saying I'm NASCAR, and it's clear-cut as to what they're going to do."

Keselowski's remarks came during a question-and-answer sessions with fans last week at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He said the move to electronic fuel injection wasn't for the benefit of the teams. "We're always looking for something to promote, but the honest answer is it does nothing for the sport except cost the team owners money," he said, according to the AP. In addition to his duties driving a Sprint Cup car, Keselowski also owns an entry on the Camping World Truck circuit.

Behind the Wheel

Brad Keselowski looks forward to the Homestead finale, a little time off, and the beginning of next year.

On Friday, he explained the thinking behind those comments. "What I said, to me, was out of protection for the sport, not out of any wish to do harm or any bias to my own team," Keselowski said. "It was my intention to be open and honest and share in what was a fan event ... what I thought was best for the sport. Obviously, that contradicts someone else's thoughts."

After his secret fine, Hamlin curtailed his use of Twitter. Keselowski, one of the more talkative and outspoken drivers in the garage area, said this experience will not change him. Keselowski concedes he did not take his concerns to NASCAR before mentioning them at the Hall of Fame, a move he said was "absolutely" a mistake.

"I think you can be yourself. I think you can say what you think," he said. "I think I could have said what I thought with a little more discretion. That's probably the strongest thing I take from it. I've got a great sponsor in Miller Lite that encourages me to be me, and say how I feel about things, and that moment where I didn't use probably the highest level of discretion with my words was an authentic moment of how I felt. ... If anything, I'll probably be smarter, not necessarily quieter."

France said the practice of fining drivers in secret may be reviewed. "This idea that there's a bunch of things going on behind the curtain -- we've never been more transparent," he said. "We've never had more of everything, and that's the way it should be. If there's a benefit to announcing them to the public, to the media, we will take a look at that. We just didn't see a benefit at the time. Maybe there is a benefit."

France also touched on several other issues in his season-ending address, including:

-- Chase changes. Prior to this season, NASCAR altered its championship format in an attempt to put more of an emphasis on winning and create a dramatic moment at the end. With Carl Edwards leading Tony Stewart by just three points and both drivers aiming to win the Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the sanctioning body got just what it was hoping for.

Given that, France left the door open for more potential changes to the playoff system for next season. "It's possible," he said. "I don't know. We take those ideas throughout the year, and then really look at them as best we can, and then what we do is, we run them past the team owners and drivers and everyone else in the industry in the offseason before we do anything. That's exactly what we did last year. ... We'll look at it again. I don't know where we'll end up."

-- Restrictor-plate racing. On the heels of a test session at Daytona International Speedway earlier this week, France said it is NASCAR's intention to eliminate the tandem-style racing that has evolved at restrictor-plate tracks in the past year.

"We would prefer to eliminate tandem racing in the manner that is exists today. There's no question about that," France said. "We are looking at rolling back the clock to traditional Daytona and Talladega races, and we'll have to see how that goes. I think the majority of fans would like to see that, and so would we."

-- Boys, have at it. Two weeks after Kyle Busch was parked for Nationwide and Sprint Cup events for intentionally crashing Ron Hornaday under caution in a Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, France blanched on the notion that some drivers don't know where the line is between the "Boys, have at it" edict that allows for a certain degree of aggression on the race track, and something that will elicit a penalty.

"There is a line," he said. "The drivers may walk around sometimes and say they're not clear about it, but they know the line. We have these conversations with them all the time. What you have to remember, this is a contact sport. A couple of years ago we thought we were over-regulating the events, and we wanted to get more authority back in the drivers' hands, and that's been good for NASCAR. But there's always a limit. They can't do anything they want. ... This idea that nobody knows where a line is -- not true. Not accurate."

-- Sponsorship crunch. France said on the whole he has been pleased with this season, pointing to increases in television ratings and ticket sales. Yet many race teams still struggle to obtain car sponsorship, a fact teams believe is related to corporations hoarding cash against potential future federal regulation. France was asked if he could change some companies' minds.

"If the president of the United States isn't getting them to do that, I'm not sure what we're going to be able to do to figure that out. But having said that, we just held a green summit. We're doing things to attract new companies, new technologies to validate our sport," France said.

"We're renewing with a lot of companies. Some companies, and it happens all the time, every year for us, will pull back their sponsorship or commitments or leave altogether. That's just the reality of having hundreds of companies involved in this sport. But we're working harder than ever with the teams and their business groups to tell the NASCAR story and the value that it brings to sponsors. We're having success with that. I think if you talked with team owners, we've never had more of an offensive strategy doing it together to bring in as many companies as possible."