(NASCAR CEO Brian France at Charlotte Motor Speedway)
NASCAR CEO Brain France met the media Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to touch on a variety of subjects as the Sprint Cup Series heads into this weekend’s All-Star Race activities.
On the top of the list of issues France addressed was the ongoing “Boys Have at It” style of racing that has punctuated NASCAR since last season and the recent feud between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
“There are limits,” France said of the duo’s Darlington dust-up that boiled over to a pit road altercation after the race. “One of the limits is if you put anyone in danger like what happened with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch where it was after the race.
“We never said that there was no limits to that. You just can’t go around with a missile and a weapon out there. If you’re having contact, that’s part of NASCAR. It’s tough for us, but that’s what we do. It’s tough for any sport to have certain areas of the game … that are subjective as to what is too much. We will figure that out. 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 driver’s hands and if they go over a line we think is there, we’ll deal with that.’’
Several drivers still seem to be confused by what the boundaries are regarding the policy but France said there’s no way that NASCAR can make the rule any clearer.
“We think not,” France said. “We think that there’s a 60-year history of how we officiate the events. Most of our top officials, certainly (NASCAR President) Mike Helton is in charge every weekend, have been at the helm for a decade or longer.
“This shouldn’t be a big surprise for anyone to try to read us and how we’re going to officiate the events. We’ve said late in the event if your car is faster than somebody else and there is some contact and somebody gets by, that’s NASCAR racing. We celebrate that.”
Both Harvick and Busch are on probation through the middle of June for their Darlington altercation. France explained just what that sometimes murky word means in regard to the drivers’ future behavior.
“What probation means is there’s a different set of eyes and expectations that are placed on a driver who has been placed on probation that they’re going to have a more limited flexibility in how we’re going to officiate them should they be in something similar … to the area they just violated,'' he explained.
France spoke on a number of other topics including the upcoming television contract negotiations saying he was hopeful current network partners ESPN and FOX would return as part of the next deal.
The CEO is not overly concerned with slumping attendance at some tracks pointing to the still downward trend in the economy and weather issues as reasons events like last Sunday’s race in Dover experienced more empty seats.
“Dover had tremendous bad weather forecast, it’s a miracle that that event, and I’m not making just total excuses here, but it’s a miracle on Saturday and Sunday that they got races off,” France said. “There were no-shows, there was certainly no walk-up. They didn’t get any help from the weather.”
“There’s not many sports that aren’t being affected in one way or another in attendance and they’re having to do a lot of things and so are we, so are the tracks. We’ve got higher gas prices that are upon us, that’s 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.’’
Finally France answered a question about the possibility of shortening more races to fit into a better television window as well as appease some fans who claim many races are simply too long.
“We have shortened races over the last five or six years,” France said. “We’ve shortened several, including some in the Nationwide Series. We will be open to that if it works for the tracks and it works for our network partners and, obviously, if the fan base wants that, that will be something that will be case-by-case, but are we open to that? Yes. Have we don’t it before? Yes.”
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