AVONDALE, Ariz – NASCAR chairman Brian France spent a few minutes – literally – talking to the assembled media on Friday about the two-man Chase for the Nextel Cup, the future of New Hampshire Motor Speedway and sagging television ratings.
Here's what he had to say:
QUESTION: The idea of a four-car cap per team was to promote parity. How do you feel about that when you have two guys racing for the championship from the same team?
BRIAN FRANCE: Our preference is to see as many non-team members compete, but that’s the nature of some of the teams that have multi-talented, good drivers. Nothing you can do about it. I actually think that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson – just because of the last two tracks – I think that Jeff is going to run better here and I think it could be very, very close going into Sunday, a week from Sunday, rather. All things being equal, we would like to see 12 different drivers from 12 different teams, sure, but that’s not how it always works.
QUESTION: Anything you can do to the Chase, tweaking it, to improve that?
BF: No, we can’t predict who is going to be good … in a given year. We can’t predict that. That’s why they race.
QUESTION: Expanding the Chase and adding the bonus points (for wins in the first 26 races), how has that worked out and will you make any tweaks to the Chase next year?
BF: I think it’s worked. We may do a little more of it or something. What Jimmie Johnson did, I actually called him on the phone and told him that by going after that win (at Richmond, the final race of the regular season) because he knew how close that was. He knew that those bonus points may be necessary to win it all. I think in the old days, a couple of years ago, somebody might have settled for second. He took a lot of chances, and I hope that it was because the rewards were such that that counts. That’s what I’m hearing.
QUESTION: Jeff Gordon said today that the only thing that concerns him is you can’t compare era from era with the Chase. Is that a concern of yours that the legacy of the sport has been altered a bit with the Chase?
BF: We thought about that and the truth is it’s had lots of changes over the years. Used to have 50 or 60 races. We have lots of different periods in our history; it would be hard to compare apples to apples anyway. That’s just the nature of it.
QUESTION: Your schedule is set, but have you thought down the road, now that Bruton Smith has bought New Hampshire, about what the possibilities are regarding moving some dates around if that were to come up?
BF: Yeah, we certainly have and have had conversations. They’re not anything new. It will make some realignment opportunities for SMI (Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc.) more possible. We’ll have to see what they bring to us and what they think will work for them.
QUESTION: Do you want to keep two races in the Boston market?
BF: I think two events working as well as those two events were, you would like to think that they would work best there versus taking one somewhere else. I think they’ve got to get in there, Bruton and Humpy [Wheeler] and those guys and determine some of that on your own.
QUESTION: You talked last year that TV ratings were down to some degree because NBC wasn't promoting the races as well in the last year of their contract. This year you’re seeing some drops in the Chase. How do you look at that?
BF: Well, look, the television ratings for almost everything are down. Prime-time, daytime, sports, whatever else. We’re probably a victim of that to some level. You have to remember, we’re still posting big audiences, and our TV partners are very satisfied. We’d love to be growing at better rates but we’re not contracting at all. We’re pretty satisfied that the storylines in the future, as things go on on television, we’ll be fine with television ratings.’’
QUESTION: What about expansion abroad?
BF: Well, I'll take a look at it. There’s nothing on the horizon beyond Montreal and Mexico City that we’re looking (at), but we get opportunities to look at all the time. As I said in my remarks earlier (in a panel group), being in position one day to maybe take some advantage of those, it’s not in the foreseeable future, but we should at some point have an opportunity.’’