The France family's reported interest in a sale of NASCAR is another concerning sign

From The Marbles

Maybe you believe drivers like Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney will have the starpower to fill the void left behind by the retirements of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.

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Maybe you believe the attendance and television ratings declines NASCAR has seen in the past 10 years will stop soon and the sport is headed for a quick rebound.

Maybe you believe teams with legendary owners like Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing will soon field more than two cars on a regular basis and their trimmed down organizations are temporarily streamlined for immediate success rather than hamstrung by economic factors.

Maybe you believe reports that the France family, the only owner NASCAR has ever had, is exploring a sale of at least part of the sport isn’t a sign the sport is looking for a kickstart at best or is flailing at worst.

If you believe one or two of those things, you’re an optimist who has a chance of being right. If you believe all of those things, you’re buying a Powerball ticket and hoping you win a nine-figure jackpot.

Your odds are terrible.

There’s no reason to doubt the France family is dedicated to the long-term growth of NASCAR, as it reportedly said in an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press on Tuesday. Being committed to the long-term growth of something and looking for a buyer aren’t mutually exclusive. Heck, the France family could be so committed to the long-term growth of NASCAR that the only way it feels the sport will thrive in the years to come will be if it has new owners, even in a partial capacity.

If that’s true, it could be an even bigger indicator that NASCAR’s mostly self-induced problems aren’t able to be solved by those currently in charge.

And boy, are there a lot of issues. Racing costs have skyrocketed as stock car racing has become a sport dominated by engineers. Car sponsorship used to cover racing costs but NASCAR’s declining and aging audience and companies’ move away from a traditional advertising model with the proliferation of the internet has made an owner’s business-to-business connections more imperative than ever.

If Shell didn’t have a deal with Roger Penske’s car dealerships and truck rental services, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t sponsor Joey Logano’s No. 22 car. Same with Axalta and Rick Hendrick. But for every Penske and Hendrick there are 10 other owners without a business empire who don’t have those connections now vital to finding a company willing to pour millions of dollars into racing.

Furniture Row Racing — who won the championship in 2017 with Martin Truex Jr. — decided a second car wasn’t worth the effort after just one season and went back to being a single-car operation in 2018. Roush had five cars make NASCAR’s playoffs in 2005. It now fields two cars. Richard Petty Motorsports went from being a two-car organization just two years ago to selling its shop and being a one-car team that now operates out of the RCR headquarters.

Teams like Red Bull Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, original members of Toyota’s initial foray into NASCAR, no longer exist at all. While the demise of MWR following a race manipulation scandal in 2013 led to the charter system that exists in the Cup Series today, that charter system isn’t exactly working like it’s supposed to.

The financial realities are even bleaker in NASCAR’s lower series. Purse money in the Truck and Xfinity Series can hardly be enough for a team to pay for tires on a race weekend. Teams take drivers who bring sponsorship cash — many times from their own families — over drivers who may be more talented simply to balance the books. No other sport has become so proportionally reliant on participants having family money.

Like many other attempted fixes like testing bans and tire limits in an effort to save teams money, the charter system came too late. It’s hard not to wonder if the France family’s reported search for a buyer is too late as well.

In an ideal world, a Cup charter would be a valuable asset and worth many millions for a team willing to sell its spot in the Cup Series field. But there aren’t new owners clamoring to get into the sport; demand is not matching supply. The Daytona 500 – the richest NASCAR race of the year — had 40 entries for 40 spots. Ten years ago, 53 cars tried to make it into the 43-car Daytona 500 field.

NASCAR has the oldest audience of any major sport. And its status as a major sport is slipping. Those attendance and ratings declines over the past 10 years are 50 percent and not 15. Monster is paying the sport a reported $20 million a year for title sponsorship of the Cup Series vs. Sprint’s $75 million years before.

The sport’s schedule is stagnant and in dire need of a shakeup that could be next-to-impossible. Many of NASCAR’s races are run at tracks that are publicly owned.

While it’s unclear whether or not the France family’s stake in International Speedway Corporation or the Smith family’s stake in Speedway Motorsports Incorporated would be included in any potential deal, their status makes a potential purchase or investment all the more complicated. And remember, influential shareholders of a public company rarely are the ones who get the short end of the stick in a business deal.

There’s no precedent for a sale of something like NASCAR. No other sports leagues are privately owned or have been run by a family dictatorship. Any potential buyer into NASCAR has to have the capital and the wherewithal to take on multiple projects at once.

If NASCAR was a house, it would be a high-sticker-price mansion with a glamorous exterior and many interior and foundational problems that need to be immediately addressed to avoid being condemned. It’s a complex project that few can undertake. But one that everyone should recognize.

The France family is the only owner NASCAR has ever had. (Getty)
The France family is the only owner NASCAR has ever had. (Getty)

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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