Q: You are in a situation Sunday where you could have two or three drivers racing in the last couple of laps for the championship, which is a position you want to be in. But is there something that could happen over the line with 'Boys, Have At It'; are you in the position where you might take corrective action that some driver blatantly takes out another one with a couple of laps to go?
BRIAN FRANCE: Some could happen. That's true. We are going to look at that. But, late in the race, when you're mixing it up, if something is blatant, obviously that will get our attention.
I would expect if two or three are going down to the wire, I've said it before, this is a contact sport – you're going to get shoved around a little bit if somebody is trying to get by and you're trying to win; a championship is on the line. We are not going to treat this race any differently than we would another. And despite how much is on the line, they have got to settle it on the track.
Q: If you look back at the NASCAR popularity boom in the '90s, it can be traced to the baseball strike. With the possibility of labor stops in the NFL next year, are you monitoring that and are you strategizing to possibly take advantage of that if it does happen?
BRIAN FRANCE: We are not monitoring that. Look, there's all kinds of things, like I said, that are out of our control that can change things around, and our hope is that all of the leagues do well, because we all share the same partners, we are all sharing the same television partners. So I don't know what will happen in that, I'm not close to it. I have no idea.
Q: You mentioned Jimmie has got a chance to make history, certainly he's done that already and continues to rewrite, he's got the chance to continue to rewrite the history books this weekend. When you consider that balanced with the notion that it may not be paying dividends right now for the sport, how do you reflect on that with the fact that or the idea that it may pay later on, but right now, not so much?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, because there's not one thing. There's not one lever we go around looking to pull to generate interest for the sport. There's lots of things, as I've said, out of our control that happen around us. This is a competitive year with the Olympics that started out with us in Daytona, the World Cup, and so on, and other sports are having great story lines. Some drivers resonate throughout history differently than others, better than others.
Some stars are born, some stars are coming on now and it just takes time. Our job is to make sure that we are putting the best racing in the world forward, and let those story lines and incredible performances get the recognition over time as they will, and that's what we do.
Q: Brian, we talk about the racing being better, the Chase is coming down to this fantastic finish, potentially fantastic finish here, and still, the ratings and attendance, you're still having the ratings and attendance issues; so not to beat a dead horse, if let's just say Sunday's race doesn't – you see a ratings even dip for that, does it almost force your hand to make some sort of change?
BRIAN FRANCE: No. I mean, like I said, we are starting this race two hours earlier than we did last year. That's a lot. And homes in use obviously goes up later on in the afternoon and on into the evening. So we did that for a variety of other reasons, and we knew that that had some risk of some ratings erosion. There are other factors, too. We changed networks, as well, for the Chase. So we will be looking with our partners. ESPN wants the highest ratings possible for their network. So do we.
We haven't had a very strong Chase in the last three or four years, at least in terms of this kind of a closeness. So we are not going to make decisions based on some ratings in one season that were not what we wanted it to be. But obviously our goal is to grow our audience, and expose NASCAR to the biggest audience that we can, and we have a lot of smart people and a lot of smart people in this industry who will ultimately achieve that.
Q: In the last week the IndyCar Series has picked up two engine manufacturers for 2012, and one of those is a company that competes in this series in GM. The talk that you hear about why they are doing that is because they are looking to try to get in line with what's going into the street models these days. Are you guys mindful of that? I know you are looking at an overhaul of the car for 2013. Are you looking at the engine, as well, and is relevance going to be a bigger factor going forward based on what's happening in other racing series now?
BRIAN FRANCE: I think you heard me say that we are on a slow, hopefully smart, march to more technology and to being far more open and inviting to a green economy that we think one day will get established.
We announced the bio-fuel deal as one step. We are very mindful that the car manufacturers, all of them, want to see more technology in racing so that it's more relevant to the cars they sell. And we have historically worked at that a little slower. We are on a faster pace to make sure that we accomplish that.
You know that we are looking at fuel injection and looking at all kinds of things, and we have to balance that on the cost side, on the competition side, to get it all right for the team owners and everyone else. But, we will. Because that's an important thing for us to be a good partner with car manufacturers, for sure, and also, to open ourselves up to new technologies that are coming down the pike.
We think this is going to be the best place in the world, especially the energy sector, to validate new technologies. To do that, we understand we have to have more technology in all facets of the sport, and we will.
Q: When you went to the 'Boys, Have At It' policy, how concerned were you that it might spin out of control somehow? Was there ever a point where you did have concerns, such as like when Carl Edwards flipped Brad Keselowski, and has it worked out better than you might have expected?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we dealt with that when Robin [Pemberton] said that and I said we were going to open things up, I believe were the words. We always said that there was limits to that. The drivers know what those limits are.
But you know, we also have to be clear with the fact that we could over-regulate things. We've been at this 60 years. We are trying to do the right thing. What happened at Talladega year ago, we are trying to react to the bump-drafting thing that we thought might have escalated to a place, and we always have to keep safety at the top of the list which we do, which we will.
But in the course of doing all that, we can over-regulate things sometimes. The rules packages, that come with almost every event, it's different for us because we have got to manage the car manufacturers, all of it, and all we said is that if we happen to over regulate something and take away from the competitiveness of the drivers, then we need to, you know, make that adjustment. And we have.
That was the first thing we talked about with Robin Pemberton on the flight home from the awards banquet last year in Las Vegas, and he and I talked for two hours on that very subject. We had too firm of a grip on it where these guys can't mix it up the way they want or whatever else; and he thought they did, or we did, rather; and Mike Helton certainly did and very shortly thereafter, we made some changes. And that's what – it's kind of what you want us to do, think about things in real time and try to get it all right.
Q: In all of the talk about the Chase changes, we have heard things about eliminations or re-seeding of drivers or more weight for wins. Is there anything you can tell us about what's on the top of your list for discussions or anything that's off the table?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I am not going to talk about what we are considering, because we are considering a lot of different things. My only thing is, is that we really like the way things have elevated, as I said, the performances, what that means to our going out on a very strong, positive note. And if there's one thing we can do is simplify how we crown our champion so the casual fan feels a little bit easier – it's easier to understand; that would be a good thing.
But the idea is to create big moments by the best teams at the end of the year, who have to put their best performances forward to win it all, and if there's a better way to do that, like every other commissioner, I'm sure that we'll consider it and there will be that normal consideration and that happens this time of year, every year.
And frankly, the criteria that I just described, that doesn't change. That was the same criteria I used last year, and we didn't make any changes. So I wouldn't assume that we are just going to make some changes because we are talking about looking at things.
Q: Earlier you mentioned wanting to grow the audience and expose NASCAR to as wide an audience as possible. With that in mind, why does the move from ABC to ESPN, where you go down some homes, why does that make sense for the sport going forward? And are you comfortable with having it on ESPN next year, and as you look to reach younger fans, is there a way to get more of the races online or things like that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we are having a lot of success with some of our digital efforts. So that being one. ESPN is our partner and they have been an enormously good partner, and they actually have a younger demo on ESPN network than does their sister network, ABC.
But obviously, we are going to look with everybody at ESPN to make sure that we have the right times, the right promotion, the right everything, that puts the sport in the best possible position to have had the biggest audience. Our interests are completely aligned in that. And I suspect we'll sit down in the off-season and talk about that and we are going to share everything with them. They have been a great partner. By the way, I think the broadcast has been as good as I've seen in a long time. I think the energy level and the calling of the action, the on-air talent, I think is top-notch right now on their network, and they have been working at that for a few years to get all of the things just right, and I think they have.
Q: A lot of people talk about how great the racing is in Trucks. One of the things that I really believe makes the competition there great is the tire limit and the crew chiefs have to strategize; they can't just come in every time there's a yellow. Have you given any consideration to doing that in Cup, as far as limiting the number of tires so that they can't pit every single time there's a yellow?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, the answer is, for financial reasons, we certainly had those kind of conversations to see if there were ways to help economically.
We do have four national divisions; we ought to keep them distinguished. There ought to be unique things to one series versus another. We are asked all the time, "Why don't you do a Chase-style format for the other divisions?" and one of the reasons is we want to see them distinguished. So I don't find anything wrong with having the Truck Series have some rules packages that are different.
Q: In the past couple of weeks, there's been a lot of questions about team orders. Fortunately it has not reared its head on the racetrack that we have seen, but there's a lot of questions with it, and the answers don't seem as clear-cut as maybe they were five or 10 years ago – that no, that would never happen. We also had a few weeks ago some crew swaps among organizations, the 48/24, the 33/29. Is NASCAR comfortable with the balance of team versus organization, or are there concerns with that and how this plays out in the sport?
BRIAN FRANCE: The short answer is, we have had that happen from time to time throughout the years where one pit crew guy would go over, work on another. What you saw, the wholesale change got everybody's attention in Texas, and so that's understandable.
As far as team orders out on the track, you know, we would be very, very – if that somehow altered an event, that would be a problem, and we would react to that. My sense is that the good part about this sport is, it's every man for himself at the end of the day – and the bad part of it, sometimes, is it's every man for himself.
We'll look at that. I can tell you that all three teams in this championship don't give team orders by their own admission, and if that somehow were to come around, we would look at it. But I don't anticipate that. I think you're going to see them settle it individually, and that's the way it should be.