For once, it's a good time to be NASCAR chairman Brian France. He's got the "Game 7" scenario he always wanted in the Chase, with three drivers all in line to potentially take home a Cup championship. On Friday, he took to the podium to discuss the state of the sport and plans for the future. And it didn't quite go the way everyone expected.
Certainly, there were the basic and expected comments on how well the Chase has worked out (or not), thoughts on the decline of viewership, and plans for Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series. Other hints included a possible midweek race (that's not happening) and the possibility of changing the final race from Homestead (that's not happening, either). Here, a snippet of France's remarks:
However, the most curious moment happened about two-thirds of the way through the conference. ESPN's David Newton asked a question about the Chase that began this way:
Q. ... a lot of fans that communicate with us say they are just as disenchanted with the Chase in general, they want to go back to the other points system —
BRIAN FRANCE: You met somebody that's telling you that?
BRIAN FRANCE: OK.
Think about that for a second. France appeared surprised that a certain segment of fans dislike the Chase. Where, exactly, is he getting his information? Every time we post something on the Chase, I get emails and we see comments about how this whole Chase is a fraud and a farce and on and on and on.
Me, I like the Chase, and I like the fact that France didn't resolve himself to significant, if any, changes to the format in the near future. But I also understand that there's a vocal segment of fans who want things the old way. I don't agree with the mentality that you must crown the champion based on performance over one long season. But I understand that those fans have valid opinions as well, and to be completely ignorant, or at least feign ignorance, of them is, well, not the best of PR moves.
France has an incredibly difficult job, as every move he makes is measured against some hazy golden view of a perfect NASCAR past. Even so, he owes it to the sport's fans, both new and old, to understand and accept the deep-seated heat that the Chase has engendered. That's not to say that criticism won't eventually abate ... but critics of NASCAR aren't the type to just go away when you don't pay attention to them.