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France says big changes coming for 2011 schedule

Q&A with NASCAR boss
Monday, July 26, 2010

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Brian France
Brian France says he expects “some pretty impactful changes” to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, but did not say whether those changes included a possible Cup date for Kentucky Speedway or which of the 22 current Cup tracks might shift dates. There is also talk of moving the Brickyard 400 date, which Sunday saw almost as many empty seats as filled ones.

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We welcome to the infield media center NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France.

BRIAN FRANCE: We'll be brief because I know we're going to be underway here in a little over an hour.

Real quick, it's nice to have ESPN back in the saddle here promoting the final number of events on into the Chase. They always kick it off this weekend. So nice to have them back.

I know there are some questions sort of floating around that have been talked about since I addressed you guys in the Daytona on primarily the schedule. So happy to take any questions that you might have.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up.

Q. As you probably know, Ryan Dennis, the chairman of McLaren, is here this weekend. He was telling some of us yesterday about his fuel management systems. With the things he said, he said he could provide anything. Obviously it's just fuel injection that y'all are looking at now, but he's talking down the road things like tire management, engine telemetry. Can you foresee a time when NASCAR would take step-by-step some sophisticated things such as tire management through electronics? He says he can guarantee you absolutely, positively a tamper-proof or cheat-proof system that the Formula One teams have not cracked. Do you see those steps? Do you think a cheat-proof system is possible?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I met with him this weekend. Look, we've been real clear. We're on a steady march to more technology in the cars, which is historically unlike us in some respects, provided that it doesn't burden the teams with additional costs that don't translate to our fan base, and obviously that we can enforce whatever new technologies. The final thing is to make sure that it makes racing better.

No question about it, fuel injection is something we're going to evolve to here in the short run. You said tire pressures and so on. If there's ways to use technology that are enforceable and sensible financially, of course we're going to do that.

It's our slow, steady march. Fits into the green economy. Fits into where the manufacturers are obviously going. So any number of things you're going to be able to look at. But they'll just have to fit our criteria that I've laid out. That's where we'll end up.

Q. At Daytona right before you spoke ISC indicated they had officially requested a second date for Kansas. Also you had received requests from SMI, although they have been reluctant to specifically identify which races they've requested to be changed. My question is, has NASCAR made any decision on any of the requests that you have received so far? If so, what were they?

BRIAN FRANCE: All the requests are in. They all have lots of effects, as you can imagine. When anything moves around of significance on the Cup schedule, it has consequences for the second part, whatever part of the schedule you want to look at.

We're digesting that, making sure it fits into our TV partners, fits into the track operators that have made the requests, all the other partners who count on the schedule to be done sort of correctly.

I hope we're on the final throws of that. We had meetings this morning on that. I sense that we'll be close to wrapping that up here in probably a week or two. There will be some changes as I look now, and that could not quite materialize, but I sense it will. We'll have some pretty impactful changes to the schedule that I think will be good for NASCAR fans.

Q. Will we hear the results of that from you or the tracks?

BRIAN FRANCE: Historically we put our schedule out as early as we can, usually no later than September. We'll meet that deadline. The question is, we may do it slightly different.

By the way, when you agree on a schedule, then you have to have sanction agreements that are executed, everybody has to agree on that. That process is simultaneous to the schedule.

My sense is that will all be wrapped up here shortly. I don't know how it will get released, but it looks like there are going to be some interesting, good changes for the schedule in terms of how fans get to events, which events they'll attend.

There's been a big cooperation. Everybody has a slice of the pie that they want to make sure fits them perfectly. And so we've had to adjust that around where it fits everyone in the industry. That's gone fairly well. Almost ready to announce something here shortly.

Q. Since you hinted at major changes possible for the Chase at Daytona, we've had three weeks to monitor the reaction of that. It seems as if drivers are lukewarm, they've expressed trepidation about doing a one-race championship, fans have been a little bit leery. How have you gauged the reaction of that?

BRIAN FRANCE: Let me tell you two things. One is we're going to make changes in the Chase that we think would serve us well for many, many years. If that means it's not something we're reacting to, whether it's lower ratings that we want, something like that. And I would remind you we look at these things annually. Looked at it very hard last year, almost a similar format change that is being proposed. There are few, but one in particular that we didn't think the timing was right. Making changes in lots of other areas, there's only so much you can do from a change-all-at-once approach.

But whatever we do, it will be with the industry having lots of chances to weigh in, and us in the end thinking this is something that we can build around that enhances winning, enhances the championship, gives us more of a playoff field than we currently have now, if that's where we end up.

We haven't made a decision. We may not think the timing is right. We're doing some research. I'll be in some focus groups myself on the 11th of August listening to fans directly as they hear the idea.

Today for us to do anything major requires a lot of buy-in, which we get. It requires a lot of input, which we get. So it's not surprising that when we're getting that input, some people haven't heard it all, don't like it, how it may affect them. They're competitors.

I don't know if there's anything we could present to Jimmie Johnson - I don't blame him by the way - on a championship format that he thinks is as good as what we have now. That's not surprising. We take all that into consideration.

The second bigger issue is - it kind of fits into what we're doing now anyway in looking over the long run of the sport - how does it fit in when the economy and other things we were doing were creating so much demand for this sport? A lot of those things are different today - different not just for the economy, but different because there's better ways to approach things. You saw that on all the on-track decisions we made, which we think were the right ones. Double-file restarts, the way we decide the ending of events, so on, so forth. The news we made with the spoiler. On and on the goes. We think that fits better, not regulating the sport so hard.

Now we're going to get a review of ourselves on things we can improve on, the Chase being one. There's many, many others. It's what you do when you're sort of going through things and there's a headwind. Things aren't as easy as they have been in the past.

This is the time when you don't necessarily do anything you feel like. Obviously, it has to be thought out. But this is a time when the industry can reposition some things that we can improve on. Tracks are doing a lot of that now. Team owners, drivers, ourselves all come together. Our TV partners all come together to give us some changes in some areas.

We've been at this 60 years. You're going to have some peaks and valleys. Sometimes when you're in a little bit of a valley for whatever reason, that's the time to look at all the things you can improve on, make the changes, go forward, and sail back up.

That's how we're looking at the Chase and everything else for the future.

Q. As you've gone through this process in regards to the Chase, talking with various people, we've heard a lot of different things from the eliminations to the potential four or five guys, reset the points. Are there some ideas at this point that have come up that you feel need to be eliminated, that probably aren't going to work out, and are there some ideas going through this process that you think this could work or is a direction you need to go? Lastly, the idea of not changing the Chase, is that a viable option or realistic option?

BRIAN FRANCE: Not changing the Chase is definitely a viable option. The Chase we think is certainly better, although we haven't seen the results of that as often as we'd like, but certainly better than the total consistency model that was in place for so many years.

But regarding the options that we have on the table, there's no question that the only ones we would consider are ones that make winning at a given moment more important than they are today.

How you do that? Well, there's obviously a number of ways to do that. It comes with some version, as you go along, where certain races in the Chase, you have to win, you have to win or do very, very well to, in fact, move on.

Only thing I would say is when you peel that back and look at it, it's not that different. It sort of forces that, like every other playoff and tournament kind of does.

But the truth is, you know, there's a lot of people eliminated from the Chase, not necessarily mathematically, but they would tell you by the fifth race in. If you're way, way behind, you only have five races to catch up, you're probably eliminated at that point. That's no different.

So if we formalize that a little bit, make sort of a transfer event feel like we have at Richmond, you know, that will be interesting.

The last thing I'd make on the Chase. If we have the perfect Chase that we would love to see, it would be just like every commissioner would tell you: they'd love to see great playoff events, as many game seven series as possible. When they get to either game seven or the final of the NCAA tournament, the Super Bowl, whatever the sporting event, they're going to tell you it's an action-packed, close game, lots of story lines. That's what they're after. I mean, that's what anybody is after.

We're no different. If we can have our format be more consistent with delivering those results and still have the flavor of NASCAR, which we obviously with 43 teams, the same time, different dynamics than anybody else has, we'll weigh all that, figure that out, sort the right format.

The truth is, whatever we do is not going to be all that much different in terms of every formula we've run, Jimmie Johnson would win anyway. Winning and being the best, we're going to balance that out correctly.

Q. Your third television partners takes over this weekend. We as media get a lot of feedback from fans. There seems to be a lot of consternation from the race fan. They don't really like the broadcast, and perhaps that's a reason for declining ratings, too many commercials, don't like this announcer, whatever the reason is they cite. Does NASCAR see an issue with the product, not singling out any one television partner, but does NASCAR hear this feedback as well? Do you think there might be an issue in the product on television?

BRIAN FRANCE: No, I don't hear that much at all. I mean, there's obviously different announcers you like better, different ways that it's presented from one network to another. That's probably no different than I have certain things I like as a sportsfans, certain analysts I like to hear from. I don't think that's too surprising.

But they all bring something different. So, no, it's not something that we're concerned with.

Q. What did you think of Carl Edwards' actions at Gateway and how do you balance letting the drivers police themselves versus the possibility of drivers or fans getting hurt?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, Carl went too far. We think some contact, especially late in the race, is part of NASCAR. There are limits to that. The limits are pretty obvious. You can't just spin somebody around, especially intentionally. That's number one. But is there going to be contact?

The issue that Carl had probably above it all is he already had a history with Brad, so he wasn't going to get any kind of benefit of the doubt about was that just racing or whatever else.

So, you know, the point is, there have got to be limits. On the other hand, we've opened it up where the drivers, this is the big leagues, you're going to have contact here. These are full-body cars. You saw at Loudon a few weeks ago, you saw a lot of contact late in the race. That's part of it.

Q. You were talking earlier about the schedule changes, the potential domino effect that could have. Is there anything in the offing that you could see that would affect the race here at all? Beyond that, is there anything you'd like to see changed with this race, maybe a way to get more action on the track during the weekend?

BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, well, there are things. That's a good point. No secret that Kentucky is talking about hosting a Sprint Cup event. That's not that far away. So it's a good example of talking about Kentucky. It's a worthy market to at least discuss. But it has implications to Michigan, certainly here to Indianapolis certainly from a geographic standpoint.

The best thing we can do is not have sort of the problems we've had from a tire standpoint, a very unique thing to this speedway. Goodyear has that problem solved. We're looking for a very exciting race here today.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time, sir.

BRIAN FRANCE: Thank you.

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