By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
As part of the All-Star weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR chairman Brian France held a question and answer session with members of the media. Here are excerpts of France’s remarks.
On the on-track competition this year:
“I would go back not only to the first part of this year, but really go back to most of last year where you saw a rise in the competition level, lead changes, new winners, very competitive Chase down the stretch between Denny [Hamlin] and Jimmie Johnson and so on. That’s carried on to this year.
“You’ve seen some resurgence by some of the drivers who mean the most to the NASCAR fan base, and obviously that would be Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., who is fourth in points now, contending for wins. And it looks like he could contend for a championship if he continues to improve with his team.
“There’s been a lot of excitement … Things are tighter, the competition level is higher, emotions are higher.
“So a good part of that is exciting and great for the sport. Obviously there are limits to what we think how far that can go, and we’ve shown those limits recently.
“If you look at the Kevin Harvick incident [at Darlington], which was not even a racing incident, it was after the event, you saw us take action and step in. You saw us take action as well with discussions with Juan Pablo [Montoya] and Ryan Newman. So there are always limits, but on balance, the most important thing is how tight the competition is.”
On maintaining control while still allowing the boys to “have at it” on the track:
“I think there are limits. You saw one of the limits is that if you put anyone in danger, like what happened with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch [at Darlington], where it was after the race …
“[I think it’s important to note if you look through NASCAR’s history – [such as] the famous finish at Daytona with Richard Petty and David Pearson where they obviously hit each other and spun out in the grass – you go through our history and that’s part of it: contact, emotion, particularly late in the race.
“We can over-officiate and over-regulate in some circumstances over a 60-year period of time. And I think our point was, a couple years ago, we thought we might be in a pattern of that, and we wanted to put it more in the drivers’ hands.
“We never said there were no limits to that. You just can’t go around with a missile and a weapon out there …
“We’re going to remain, obviously, a contact sport, and we’re going to remain with the basic philosophy that we’re putting more of it in the drivers’ hands. If they go over a line we think is there, we’ll deal with that.”
On the overall health of NASCAR’s Home Tracks short track program:
“The home track area of the business has improved in the last couple of years, in particular the regional events like the K&N Series.
“One of the things that’s happened with our regional series in our home tracks is we’re starting to get … some of the drivers in our diversity program … one being Darrell Wallace, who I know is winning in some very competitive situations. He is going to, I’m sure, be in a national series, one of the four national series, shortly. And if that happens, and if he’s successful – I hope he is – it would be a tremendous boost for us, and a tremendous accomplishment for him.
“Other drivers like Sergio Pena and others who are coming from the home tracks, coming from the regional series, are getting opportunities and showing their skills, and that’s going to be a good thing.”
On declines in attendance at some Sprint Cup tracks, like Dover International Speedway:
“We certainly don’t like to see empty seats. We like to see as many fans enjoying this great competition as possible, but we’re also realistic that some things are going to take time. There are not many sports that aren’t being affected in one way or the other in attendance.
“We have high gas prices that are upon us, and that is certainly another factor for our fans to consider. We certainly don’t want to see empty seats. We’ll be working with tracks to get the best dates possible, and we’ll go from there.”
On whether the new rules that prevent Sprint Cup drivers from earning points in the Nationwide Series are enough to give the series its own identity:
“I think you’re going to see us take a slow, steady look at making sure that we’re getting the most out of the Nationwide Series, which needs to be analogous to college football and being able to build some stars that come from Saturday to Sunday for us.
“This [rules change] was a big step, but it’s not going to be the only step, and we’ll be looking at ways to enhance the young drivers and their talents, and new owners in the Nationwide and other national series, that don’t just get the proliferation of Cup drivers to the point where it just homogenizes Sunday and Saturday and doesn’t deliver the benefit that we like to see with showcasing young drivers and young talent and young owners, new owners.”