Below are select quotes from
Tuesday's Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain on SPEED Channel. Despain's
guest was NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. France talks about the
Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and some other issues facing NASCAR.
Despain: Where did the idea of changing the championship (points system)
come from? Was it your idea, was it NEXTEL's idea, was it NBC's idea? --
What was the seed for this?
France: The idea, we have a free-thinking way of looking at all new
ideas within NASCAR, actually came from our licensing office in
Charlotte, and I was in on an unrelated meeting and someone mentioned it
and I sat down with a couple of people and I guess that's the idea that
can change things for the better, make racing better and make it more
exciting. We obviously tweaked it and hashed out a couple of things but
when I heard it I knew instantly that that was the future for NASCAR.
Despain: Part one of the season has now played out. The Race for the
Chase is over. We have the ten contenders. It's a logical place for a
progress report. What kind of grade would you give the new system thus
far and what do you use for your yardstick?
France: We can use TV ratings and we can use attendance, and they are
all up and are all going in a great direction, including this weekend --
the most watched Nextel Cup race in the history of Richmond
International Raceway. But you had to be at the event to feel it, Feel
everything that was at stake, I love what the drivers are saying, Mark
Martin saying that it was the hardest thing he ever did, and Jeremy
Mayfield saying that he felt he had to win that night to earn himself a
spot, and he did just that. Anybody watching DJ, Dale Jarrett, run as
hard as he did, and Jeff Gordon didn't have a very good race car but he
was pretty determined to keep some other guys out, so it made racing
better, and that's our big test and we think it passed in flying colors.
Despain: I got to tell you, that said, that I still get an awful lot of
e-mail from people who don't like this new deal, now of course it's an
axiom in our business, we always hear from more of the people who are
opposed rather than those who are in favor. In your business, I would
think, success depends on knowing how many people are in each camp. Let
me read you an e-mail here that is very typical of the stuff we hear
here and I'd like to get you to react to it. It says "From the beginning
of this chase gimmick, fans have tried every venue to express their
displeasure. It would appear that Brian and the rest of the NASCAR crew
is a bit out of touch with the fans. I just hope the handful of new fans
he may have attracted will be able to carry the sport into the future."
... How do you respond to the complaint that you are out of touch with
France: We understand that change evokes some big reactions and our fans
are the most vocal, most passionate in sports. Any change confuses
people and this is one we think will clearly make racing better, give
more drivers a chance to win a title. I would tell the person who wrote
that e-mail, give this some time and I think you will see that this
decision is the right one.
Despain: Will the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Busch Series and Craftsman
Truck Series race in Canada?
France: The Nextel Cup Series will not in the foreseeable future because
... we just don't have the dates. The Busch Series of course is going to
Mexico next year. But Canada, is something ... there are a lot of race
fans and NASCAR fans in Canada. We have about the same TV viewership,
although it is a smaller country obviously, on a relative basis, as we
do in the U.S. We want to be thinking about how to satisfy that fan
demand both north and south.
Despain: How are you going to solve that problem? You're maxed out in
terms of weekends. Seattle wants a race track; every place in the
country wants a race track. You got a supply issue that you've got to
resolve. How do you do that?
France: You do that, number one, without blowing up the model that has
made the very sport work. Meaning that, what we don't want to do is have
our current tracks looking over their shoulder, wondering when NASCAR is
going to unilaterally just pull their date out. That's something we're
not going to do. We're going to sit down with our tracks; we've talked
about realignment as a strategy that we launched. My father did a couple
of years ago, he was right on the money. We're talking to tracks that
have other interests somewhere else that may work better. And if we can,
we've done that, you'll see two races next year at Phoenix and Texas for
the first time. It's important to do it that way to make sure the model
works for everyone.
Despain: Do you envision a day when there will be two divisions, when
you'll run two races in the premier division on the same weekend?
France: Maybe one day, but we're not even close to that scenario, and
frankly, a lot of things would have to change. I think people really
want to see Jeff Gordon compete with Dale Jr. and all the best drivers
on the same track at the same time. You never say never, but that is not
in our plans right now.
SPEED caller: I go to a lot of races and seems like NASCAR's credibility
can be improved. One thing evolves around the cautions, the debris
cautions. There were three in the last race at California. The debris
was never shown and secondly, there are just too many cautions. Some
races, one third of the race are run under caution and the fans are
really losing a lot of green flag racing.
France: I think you're referring to a stretch of three or four races
where we would agree that we were tweaking our scoring system, it was
complicated, and we went to work on that. I think you see we click off
caution in record time now -- several laps usually to clean up an
accident. The debris cautions, a lot of times you can't see it when you
at the stadium. I know at Richmond there was a screwdriver on the track.
There was a couple of things ... remember what happened at Dover when we
didn't put out the caution, we thought we might have, and Kasey Kahne
ended up spinning out. So, we're going to error on the side of caution
when what we have is a track that we think can be improved when there's
something out there that might impair the driver's. We will always err
on the side of caution.
Despain: Do you anticipate any officiating issues in the Chase for the
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in regards to teammates helping each other? What do
you expect in these last 10 races - are the boys going to behave?
France: You know, I think they will. They all have a lot at stake. They
have their own individual sponsors. They have a lot of a lot of
integrity. If someone should drift into a bad area, we'll solve it -- no
question about it. We have, arguably, I guess it was in July or August,
when we were working on our scoring that was the primary issue. We want
to be as perfect as we can. I think you are seeing us get very serious
and very good about that.
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