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November 14, 2014

Brian France

BRETT JEWKES:¬† We're going to get started.¬† We want to welcome you all to Homestead‑Miami Speedway and Ford Championship Weekend.¬† Glad to have you here joining us.¬† NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian France will give his state‑of‑the‑sport press conference.
Before we do start, I want to acknowledge Holly Cain.  It's good to have you here, Holly.
No matter how out‑of‑hand your colleagues get in the next 30 minutes, this is already a highlight, so it's good to have you here, Holly.
Again, welcome, Brian France.  Thanks for taking the time.  Brian, just to kick this off, we're gathered for championship weekend.  It's been about a year since the decision was made to move forward to the new format.  Start us off with your assessment of the season and particularly the Chase for the Championship.
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, I think it's accomplished‑‑ naturally you would expect me to think that it accomplished all of our goals, probably exceeded them, in the balance between winning and consistency.¬† We always know in auto racing there needs to be both, but we felt strongly that by emphasizing winning on the track, we might not have had that balanced correctly.¬† We do now.¬† We think that that's in a really good place.
I think depending on what happens on Sunday, it has a chance to be one of the most successful seasons in NASCAR history.  I don't think there's any doubt about the level of competition that is up, which has our fans excited, and it has the interest level of the sport as a result of that higher, and that's precisely what we want to achieve.
Now, I do think it's important to say that even though the format is relatively simple, what we're all finding out is the strategies that are associated with competing in this new format are different, and they're unknown and untested.¬† I think that's going to take a while for even the most hard‑core fans to fully get accustomed to how the flow of a season goes and the last 10 events, etcetera, etcetera, when are the transfer races, why are they so important, how do you get in.
Phoenix was a great example of that, where one person in Harvick won the race, but another in Ryan Newman got there in more of a consistent model but got there nonetheless.  How that all plays out, that's going to take some time just to unfold for all of us.
But the net of it is we're interested in raising the interest level by raising the competition level.  When we do that, obviously it's up to us and our partners how to present that, but that's what our fans and ourselves love most.
BRETT JEWKES:  Do you anticipate any changes to the format for 2015?
BRIAN FRANCE:  I would say very modest, modest to zero.  We reserve the right if there's a modest thing that we might make an adjustment on, but like I said, it's exceeded what I had hoped for, and it's done precisely what we thought we wanted to do, which was recalibrate competition, or winning rather, and still have a strong place for consistency and all the rest, but recalibrate that balance.
It's only year one, but clearly we're on our way.
BRETT JEWKES:  As you look at '15 with significant schedule changes, the rules package changes and what you've learned out of this Chase, forecast 2015 if you can.
BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, I think, you know, I like the schedule better, especially in the early events.  I think the teams, and they've said so much, will look at some new strategies as they try to figure out advancing, surviving, and ultimately winning the Sprint Cup Championship.  I think they're the best guys in the world, not only the drivers but the teams and strategists, and they are now figuring out, as we knew they would, after getting a year to look at it, I suspect you'll see some changes in how some of the teams approach coming in and out of transfer events or really understanding why winning is important early.  We saw that with some of the teams that got a head start on that, were able to take some pressure off.
We're excited about it.¬† This is a format that is not a one‑time phenomenon.¬† This is a format that when we've thought about it carefully, we realized this is something you can build on.¬† This is the future for Sprint Cup racing.

Q.  You were the architect of the original Chase in 2004, and that was met with certain amount of resistance, just as the new format is now.  Can you compare how teams, how fans have accepted this to what it was like the first time around?
BRIAN FRANCE:  I think it's been much, much easier, and I think some of that is we have a different communication plan with all of our drivers and our teams today, so they're able to understand on the ground floor of any big decision that we might make.  That probably was different back in 2004, but it wasn't like we were not talking to them.
I think whatever is important, we can kind of get there together a little bit smarter, and then I think they all for the most part have accepted the old Chase and really like the attributes of the new one.  A combination of those two puts us in a good place.

Q.  There's been a lot of question as to whether or not we will indeed see the testing eliminated for 2015.  Have you given second thought to that?
BRIAN FRANCE:  No, we like reducing the cost structure.  We listened to the teams in our various team owner meetings through the last couple years, and I think we have enough in place to enforce the testing policy for 2015.  We'll see how it goes.

Q.  There has been a renewed emphasis on winning all season, and I think most people agree that that's been a good thing.  Is there any negative, however, to Ryan Newman having gotten this far potentially win a championship without a win?  You talk about there's a good balance now between winning and consistency, but will it be tough to explain to the fans, or what do you think their reaction is going to be if by chance he wins the championship without winning a race?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, we would like that.¬† The best team will win on Sunday.¬† What I mean, though, is any format that we've ever had always has the possibility that somebody might win the championship without winning an event.¬† Short of us, which we're not going to do, making it a hard prerequisite that you have to win a race to qualify.¬† We don't think that takes it out of balance frankly.¬† And so I think it's great.¬† We have three drivers who competed and won; you've got one that didn't.¬† I do think whoever comes out as champion on Sunday probably needs to think about winning the race.¬† I'd be surprised if one of those four drivers can get out of here with a championship, and what we've seen, if you go through past years, of how those teams will be elevating their game against everybody else no matter what people say‑‑ you go back to Tony Stewart a few years ago, you go back to Jimmie Johnson when he needed to do what he needed to do or anybody else, those will be the teams, and they were last weekend in Phoenix, too, by the way, those will be the teams that will be running up front most of the day.¬† I think that as Kevin Harvick said last week, he thought he had to win the race to get it done.¬† I think that would probably be what you'd be expecting on Sunday.

Q.  Kind of along the Kevin Harvick line, one of the more unique parts of this format this year was if you want to race in the first three segments, you could automatically advance to the next one and be safe.  Twice we saw a driver who was pretty much in a situation where they either had to win or they weren't going to advance do so.  Were you surprised to see that?  Did you think that was illustrative of kind of the level of competition kind of increasing during the Chase?
BRIAN FRANCE:  That's exactly what we wanted to see.  We wanted to see drivers elevate their game, teams take different kind of chances, and that brings out the best racing.  Whenever we're able to achieve that, either with a format or with a rules package, it all at the end of the day gets down to having more on the line, and when we've ever witnessed it, and despite the idea that in auto racing there's 43 teams on the same track at the same time, and that's where consistency should matter and it does, the reality is when we give the elite teams and drivers an opportunity to do something special with more on the line, more times than not they do it, and that tells you the competition is the big benefactor of whatever we're trying to do here with the format.

Q.  Last year you had a driver face a domestic violence charge and pled guilty as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.  He did not face any NASCAR sanctions when he was charged nor after his plea.  Should we assume that will be NASCAR's policy going forward, and is there any consideration to having a specific domestic violence policy in the rule book instead of having it covered in the general behavioral clause?
BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, listen, what's not lost on us by any stretch is the rightful heightened awareness on domestic abuse and violence, and so you can expect our policies to reflect the understandable awareness that that's not going to be tolerated.
The past of how any league might have handled some of this is one thing.  It's pretty clear when you see what's happening around the country and in some of the other leagues that our policy will reflect the significance and importance that it should.

Q.  Brad Keselowski has made things very exciting this season, particularly in the Chase, and some of the fans and people have applauded and rubbed his peers the wrong way.  I'm wondering what your take is on Brad and his place in this series.
BRIAN FRANCE:  I think he's doing exactly what he should be doing.  I've told him that.  Everybody has got a right to have their own style of driving out there.  If you go back to any of the great ones, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, all of them, they faced a similar discussion from time to time as they started to have success on the track, as some of those drivers believed a little bit more contact was necessary sometimes, and they were young and they were getting some words about that.
But if you go through NASCAR's history, that's what we're about.¬† I say it all the time:¬† Late in a race, we expect‑‑ there are limits and lines, but we expect tight, tight racing that sometimes will have some contact.¬† It's in our DNA.
I think he's doing a great job of being aggressive.

Q.  Brian, looking at the winless championship possibility, the modeling has shown that in the last five years that there were two instances in which a driver without a win would also win the championship, so with Newman making the Championship Round this year without a win, does that show that maybe it's more likely that a winless driver would have a shot at winning a championship under this system, and if so, is that a flaw and is that something you might want to address?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† It's all about the balance.¬† We're not going to be able to have a system‑‑ we don't want a system that ignores consistency.¬† There's 43 teams who all compete every weekend on the same track.¬† It's not a basketball tournament or something else, obviously; it's auto racing.¬† So we need to reflect the idea that consistency‑‑ the question is do we have the right balance, and I would say unmistakably we do.¬† I think that wanting to win events has taken on an undeniable importance.¬† At the same time, there ought to be room for teams that do it every week and can be consistent.¬† And by the way, if you get through those three rounds, and I don't care how you do it frankly, but if you get through into the finale on Sunday and then you beat those three teams, the other three teams, that will be an achievement for anybody, and I don't care how they sort of go in and out of the championship weekend.
We'll be delighted if Ryan Newman and Richard Childress are able to pull it off.  I think he's the underdog at this point, but they kind of like that, so we'll see how it plays.

Q.  If I may go international for a minute here, the NASCAR Nationwide Series had tremendous success in Montreal and continued success in the Camping World Truck Series in Toronto.  I know the '15 schedule is set, but in 2016 is the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on the radar possibly for a Nationwide Series race?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, Canada, and you've heard me say this, is a very clear‑‑ not only because it's contiguous with the United States, but more importantly we have a nice fan base there.¬† It's roughly, percentage wise, the size of what follows us here in the U.S.
We're going to always be looking to see how we can take events, not just on television but to and from at various places, because that's a fan base that we know is there, and south of the border, different discussion, that's obviously where we've also had a lot of success, and we also have an important Hispanic fan base that we're trying to elevate, get excited about NASCAR.
Our moves in and out of markets in North America will not change.  It's still very important to us.

Q.  The TV ratings early in the Chase were down, and then they spiked up the last couple weeks here.  Do you need Homestead's TV rating to increase over last year to show that the format has been a success, and what do you think of the way that they were kind of going down and then came back up?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, look, we look at interest level.¬† Invariably at some point TV ratings and other ways that we would measure the digital presence that we have, ticket sales, the amount of social media that comes in and out of these big weekends, but it's true what I said earlier that it will still take a fair amount of time, in my view, to fully have this format, and the important moments like Talladega being an example, although those ratings came‑‑ they weren't quite as off as originally reported but almost flat.
We might have expected that the ratings would even be higher, and there's lots of reasons and so on.  But one of them is that when it comes to what is a transfer race, who does it affect and all that, it's just going to take some time for this format, especially with the casual fans, for whom it's second nature to go, oh, yeah, that's a transfer race, these guys are in good shape, these drivers aren't and so on.  That's going to take time.

Q.  You said you liked the aggressive racing and you told Brad Keselowski that you liked the way he was racing.  Can you imagine a scenario where something would be over the line on Sunday and NASCAR would have to get involved in a decision, because fans are asking a lot about that.  What would be over the line of the four drivers getting to the finish line together and doing something that NASCAR would have to make a ruling that would determine the Chase?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, there is a line, and hard, tight racing is what we expect and what I'm sure we'll see, and if it gets over the line, that's what we do. ¬†We look at those things from the control tower, and we will make those decisions.¬† We have in the past.¬† We've made them‑‑ sometimes they happen even under caution, as you know, where people are mad or whatever they're going to do, and they go over the line.¬† So there is a line out there in auto racing that we will deal with.
Our preference is to hope the drivers, who seldom, in our view, go over that line, don't put us in that position.  But we will.  I don't anticipate that.  I do anticipate some really hard, tight racing, and we expect that.
I kind of listen, and it's fun for me to listen on satellite radio and other shows and so on, and you go to the tape of any of the past events, the big events, Petty‑Pearson mixing it up as they were coming to the start‑finish line, or Bristol with‑‑ any of them.¬† They're all filled with tight, hard racing, sometimes drivers thinking that one or the other went too far.¬† That's NASCAR.¬† That's what we do.¬† That's the whole point of what we try to get up every morning and create, knowing there are limits to anything, and we will deal with it should we have to.

Q.  A member of Congress has recently gone public, just sort of criticizing NASCAR's handling of Kurt Busch, and I was wondering if you had a response to that or if you could explain why you guys are taking the position that you're taking.
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, we are watching that case carefully, and they are‑‑ it's under review by law enforcement and others, and they have not made a decision on that regarding Kurt.¬† So until they make some judgments on that investigation, it wouldn't be right of us to just intervene before they've even gotten the investigation completed.¬† So that's our position.¬† We'll respect their process.¬† It's in their hands.

Q.  Are you offended that the California Congresswoman has sent a letter requesting that Kurt is suspended when the investigation is continuing?
BRIAN FRANCE:  No, look, I think, rightfully so, it's a very sensitive topic today.  Rightfully so.  And so not surprising that some members of Congress and other leaders might have some strong views on what we should and shouldn't do.  But as I said, we'll stay the course, let the investigation be completed, and then we'll react.

Q.¬† But do you feel like NASCAR will act, or do you want NASCAR to act like other sports are starting to do as far as taking‑‑ not waiting for that punishment, benching players?¬† Is that something NASCAR might be heading toward?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Well, two things:¬† One is there are charges that are levied against, in this case, a driver, and then there is a judicial hearing of some sort that would come after that.¬† We're not even at the first stop yet.¬† That's going to happen when and if charges are filed, and if charges are filed, that will change our equation, and we will look at that.¬† As I said earlier on, we realize the heightened awareness of this important topic, and our policies will reflect that as we go down‑‑ they'll reflect how serious it is.¬† You know us well enough to know when we say that, we mean it, and we'll figure it out.¬† But we ought to have a process that gets to the bottom of the facts before anybody does anything.

Q.  When you announced the Chase you said you were looking for "Game 7 moments."  Over the last few weeks have you been able to kind of reflect and say to yourself, now there's a Game 7 moment, as you've watched some of the action unfold?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Yeah, I think so, and we've always thought that, and we've always wanted that.¬† You know, I think we continue to have those.¬† I think Talladega we certainly did with Brad winning at the last moment in a dramatic way to get in, Harvick having to win last Sunday, of course the bump‑and‑run with the 31 to get in.¬† Those were all high‑drama moments, but with great performances, and that's exactly what we'd like.

Q.  Have you had conversations with Kurt since the incident came to light last week?
BRIAN FRANCE:  I have not.

BRIAN FRANCE:  We have had conversations.  I personally have not, but we have had conversations.

Q.  With this new Chase, we've seen kind of an increase in intensity both on and off the track, and on pit road it's led to some extracurricular activities, fighting.  Is that good for the sport, and what is the balance between entertainment and safety on pit road?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† We don't think what happened in Texas, crew members getting into a fist fight, is a good thing for NASCAR, no.¬† We realize that emotions sometimes will get you there, and we reacted very harshly if you look at the scope of those penalties, and we should have.¬† Anybody in our situation is always worried about escalation.¬† Maybe one thing isn't as bad, but if things were to unfold‑‑ but the bottom line is we want the drivers to be able to express‑‑ just like they've always done, be able to express themselves.¬† We don't have dugouts or locker rooms per se.¬† We often have drivers park pre‑race and everything else very close to one another, and that's part of the fabric of NASCAR, that after a race or before, drivers will‑‑ it's not unusual for them to express themselves and have a heated conversation between them.¬† We're not going to change that.
But now crew members and others who join in, that's a different discussion, and like I said, we dealt with that.

Q.  In that vein, NASCAR has codified the rules of technical things, they've left behavioral activities for the most part uncodified.  Do you see looking into saying what's permissible on pit road after a race?  Robin Pemberton said punching obviously crosses the line, but will there be any further clarification on what crosses the line?
BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, like I said, we don't want to get ourselves in a situation where no one can express themselves, no one can do what they historically have done in all of auto racing, which is to let a driver know what they think happened or didn't happen.  We expect them to do that in a way that is civil, but we also know that there are going to be some moments where the emotions will get the best out of anybody.
Look, when Matt Kenseth is chasing you down like Charlotte, those were high emotions.¬† He's a pretty mild‑mannered guy.¬† So we dealt with that.¬† We want to balance this right just because, like I said, we just want our drivers to‑‑ we get accused a lot, as you well know, by members of the media in particular, that we are too often restraining what drivers can say and not letting them be themselves.¬† We've been very careful not to‑‑ that's not what we want to do.¬† We know they've got a loud voice, they've got clear opinions, and they want to share them, and that's what our fans like to hear from them.¬† They're the star of the show, and we're going to continue to let them do that in an orderly way.

Q.  The transition this week with ESPN and Nationwide; comments on those partnerships?
BRIAN FRANCE:¬† Yeah.¬† You know, it's bittersweet, particularly with ESPN, who has been a partner off and on, mostly on, from the inception of their network, and so while we're excited about NBC coming in next year, it's bittersweet to wish them goodbye.¬† Their final race is on Sunday.¬† As John Skipper reminded us, we're still partners in other things together, and notably in coverage of the sport, editorially‑wise and so on, which I'm pleased that they're making some of the choices they're making with hiring their staff and extending contracts and have really done a wonderful job of promoting this particular format, which they were very supportive of when we let them know about this.
I think they will tell you that it's going to help them with coverage down the road, too, because of the story lines that are created.  So that's all good, bittersweet in one respect.
And then Nationwide has done everything you'd want somebody to do when helping us.  But they're staying in the sport in a bigger, better way, so that's good for them, and we're excited about that.  And then of course XFINITY will get us started in 2015.
BRETT JEWKES:  Thank you very much.  Enjoy the race weekend.

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