France: Drivers clear on what constitutes clean racing – Nascar
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France held his annual year-ending question-and-answer session with the NASCAR media on Friday, sharing his thoughts on the Matt Kenseth suspension, the high quality of competition in 2015 and his expectations for what’s to come.
France began the discussion by reiterating the remarkable season-ending run for the sport, which will conclude in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 with Kevin Harvick defending his 2014 title against impending retiree, four-time champ Jeff Gordon and new championship challengers Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
While France was candid and sincere when answering questions from the assembled national and local media, he was prepared for questions about NASCAR’s handling of the two-race Matt Kenseth suspension for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville, Virginia. It was the first question from the floor.
Asked whether he should have perhaps spoken to Logano and Kenseth to discuss the escalated situation, France said that at the time, he didn’t think it necessary. Kenseth was suspended for two races after NASCAR ruled he intentionally crashed Logano out in the Martinsville race.
“Obviously, if I thought that would have helped we would have definitely sat down,” France said.
He said he met with Kenseth and team owner Joe Gibbs to talk earlier in the week and make sure everyone was on the same level with Kenseth returning to competition this week.
“We were very disappointed, as you know, with what happened in Martinsville, we reacted to that,” France said. “What we were coming down here to a championship weekend, and I wanted to make sure that that matter was behind us with Matt, with Joe Gibbs and so on. I’m assured that it is. We had a good conversation about what had happened and what the thinking was or whatever you want to call Matt’s actions, and we talked about that. And it was a good conversation.
“Those kind of conversations happen with us more frequently than not, so that’s not a surprising thing. I felt good coming out of those meetings.”
France was also asked where “the line” was in accessing whether a penalty should come down. He smiled broadly and told the room he was “glad” someone asked.
“Do you know how many drivers have come to see (Sprint Cup Series Managing Director) Richard Buck in the last two weeks, three weeks, four weeks? Zero,” France said. “Zero drivers have asked us for a clarification on the so-called line. And the reason that they don’t ask is they know. And they know that circumstances late in a race, blocking, although I’m not a fan of blocking, that’s part of racing. Blocking, contact, the short end of some of those exchanges that happen, are all part of it and do not look to NASCAR to deal with that, they are part of racing.
“So the line is … if somebody is just intentionally banzaiing into some situation with the sole purpose of taking somebody out, we’ll deal with that. We dealt with that in Martinsville, as a matter of fact. We’ll deal with that at all times.”
Again, France said he has nothing but good feelings about the new elimination-style Chase format that was introduced last year and will feature three new title-contenders among the accomplished group of four and give Harvick an opportunity to be the first driver since Jimmie Johnson to win Cup titles in consecutive years.
“I am excited we’ve got four drivers, including Jeff Gordon that are storybook endings in their own right,” France said. “The level of competition the Chase format has delivered has exceeded everything we have envisioned.
“The stakes are higher on any given weekend … and you’re seeing the drivers and teams react to that.”
France spoke about the possibility, however, that the 2015 Chase could end in a controversial way — hard-racing and high contact. In acknowledging the possibility existed, he reminded the room that NASCAR has developed a good reputation for the tussle form of competitiveness, too.
“Gentlemen drivers exist,” France said. “I don’t see one in those four guys remaining. And if there’s contact and they’re going for position … it’s not always that somebody just turns somebody around.
“I don’t know what will happen. But contact late in the race, that’s just part of it and we got to have an understanding of that and not be so surprised when that happens in a NASCAR race.”
Certainly the new format has created an even higher level of excitement.
“It has been successful,” France said. “Our partners in XFINITY and Camping World would like for us to explore what’s possible to have a, their own version of it. And we’re going to look at that. We’re going to look at that in the off-season. We have looked at that before, haven’t quite found the perfect thing for each one of those divisions. But we’ll work at it. It’s worth looking at.”
France did concede there is a chance of rain on all three days of scheduled championship-crowning racing at Homestead, but he assured the room and the readers that there are a “record number” of Air Titan dryers on site in case.
“We are going to go through the weekend as we traditionally would, looking at all of our options trying to get all of the laps in a given race on a certain race day,” France said.
“That’s been our policy and philosophy. We go further and try harder, I think, than any other motor sport division to accomplish that because we want it to be settled on track.”