NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France met with the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway Friday to give his annual assessment state of the sport.
BRIAN FRANCE: Obviously we are very excited about coming down to the last race with a tight battle. Some observations I did want to share with you, and I've been doing this a long time, and our family has been doing this a long time.
But what's really clear to me, is when you put drivers in a position where there's a lot on the line, and they just can't have a good position, and they actually have got to go out and win or lead laps or compete high, they do it. And I think you're seeing that the last several weeks; that the best drivers all year, a whole bunch on the line, and they are dominating these races going back and forth. And I bet that's the case on Sunday.
So that tells us that the more we can do, to have incentives – an incentive-basis to decide this championship, that puts it all on the line more often, that's what we need to be thinking about. And it's just great to see these performances. These are guys talking about: I've got to win today; I've got to get out there and I'm not looking for a good finish; I'm looking to lead every single lap and on and on and on.
That's what we want to have in the environment of this sport and the atmosphere, and so that is also a function of I think us pulling back at the beginning of the year, the 'Boys, Have At It' and so on, and letting the drivers mix it up a bit differently; not over-regulating the sport, so that certainly has played a role. And will play maybe a role on Sunday. They will mix it up. They have been mixing it up.
We are obviously very pleased about that. I know we'll talk about TV ratings or attendance and the economy, and I'll just cover some of that so we don't have to go through that in the discussions.
Obviously we would like our TV ratings on an upswing, and when they are not, we are working on all kinds of things to look and see what is a better formula for us. Clearly we moved start times back, to accommodate our race fans at the at-track experience. We did that. We also did that to uniform start times between the East Coast and the Midwest and the West Coast. We took ourselves out of some more homes by doing that; also by switching networks on ABC to ESPN. So we did some things to try to help in one area that might have had an effect in another. So we'll be looking at all of those things in the off-season.
What we would like to do is have the kind of storylines, the kind of attention, that captures the most fans. We are working on it all the time. But I will say that the quality of racing, going back to the beginning of the season with the different rules packages that we put forward, primarily the spoiler, reintroducing that, has worked well. I think the fact that we are so far into the cycle of, it's not the new car anymore, it's the car; and various other little things that we did, all have come together to give us – if this isn't the best racing we've seen in a long, long time, I think I would be very surprised to hear anybody say that it wasn't.
So with that, I'll be happy to take some questions.
Q: Brian, you said I guess in July that you would take a hard look at the Chase. Now that it's shaped up this year the way it has and you've got this finale and guys sort of eliminated themselves and you do have this winner-take-all scenario on Sunday, what do you do, do you still go into the off-season saying you have to look at this or do you leave things alone?
BRIAN FRANCE: No, we will look at it. What I like is, what I said earlier, a winner-take-all, if you will; and watching someone not just have to run well, but have to beat some other people. That is feeling to us like that's exactly what we want.
And by the way, it's exactly what the drivers want. It's working out that way this year. We are in year seven of the Chase.
Let me say this. Right almost every sports league, almost everyone, including the NCAA Tournament last year, is looking around at what they need to do to change their formats a little or a lot, depending on who they are, to make sure that their playoffs or their championship runs are what they want them to be. And we are no different.
It's that time of the year where these are the kind of questions that we get. We understand that we are going to have a championship that puts a lot on the line as it does now. That's credible, and rewards the drivers that have the biggest performances throughout the season, and whatever we might consider, we'll accomplish that.
But, hey, first thing's first. You know, we are not going to look ahead to 2011 till this weekend is concluded because this could be a very, very memorable Sunday.
Q: I guess the talk around the changes surrounding the fact that you wanted to see more impactful moments in the playoffs. Now that we are nine races in and the more impactful moments are to come Sunday, what are those that made a lasting impression upon you in the first nine races leading up to this one?
BRIAN FRANCE: There have been a lot of them. I think Denny Hamlin winning in Texas, getting down, coming back; Jimmie, just, you know, doing his thing, winning races; Kevin; throughout the Chase, I've just seen an elevation like I haven't seen in a long time. And maybe that's because it's very, very tight.
But when these guys have to go up a notch, they are going up a notch. And what fans like about that is they see that. They see taking chances like last weekend, staying out, if you were the 48 team. They like the strategy. Look at the pit change that occurred; they thought, the Hendrick organization, that that would have made a difference.
So the point is, you've got to elevate here. You've got to elevate on Sunday. You cannot have a good run on Sunday and expect to come out here with a championship.
And I believe, I know that's making the racing better, and that's exactly what we wanted to see all along. You saw that, it's been a long time, but you saw that in year one, seven years ago, when three guys, or it was actually four, came down close, and they swapped the championship around for 400 miles before Kurt Busch settled it.
I suspect, I'm almost certain that that will happen. And that, to us, is exactly what we want to see in this sport.
Q: Have you learned anything from looking at the histories of other sports leagues to see that sometimes popularity runs in cycles; for instance, the NBA in the '90s was a very popular sports league and took a dip and appears now to be on the way up and baseball has been through the same thing. Do you see NASCAR simply going through another cycle like that?
BRIAN FRANCE: I think that historically is true. We are 60-plus years old. This is a time when story lines and things that sometimes were out of your control are happening, or not happening.
And you know, we have got a very strong fan base, and my sense of it is, people's attention span, it is shorter; we know that. And that this sport will definitely – if we keep the racing as good as it's been the last half of the season and beyond, and we do our jobs right, I'm not worried about a thing on the popularity of this sport.