NASCAR Media Conference
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR Nextel teleconference. Thanks for joining us. First, a note for the media, attending this week's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Nextel Wake-Up Call will take a break this week. It will resume the following week at Chicagoland. Today we have a great combination of guests. First half hour we're joined by Jeff Gordon, defending champion of the Pepsi 400. Jeff also won this year's Daytona 500 and he's our four-time NEXTEL Cup series champion. A little later at approximately 12:30 we'll be joined by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. Jeff comes into the Pepsi 400 looking to rebound after some rough weeks recently. He's dropped from second to 14th in the points standings over the last six weeks. Definitely unusual territory for him, but he excels at Daytona and chances are, he'll probably make a good showing this Saturday night. Jeff, a lot of mechanical woes, a little bit of bad luck these last few weeks. Why don't you give us a brief overlook of your outlook coming into this week's race and then we'll go right to the media for some questions.
JEFF GORDON: Yes, definitely been tough times for us. We've been through tough times before even though we don't experience it very often. I think this team is really good at focusing on the next race and putting those other races behind us. You know, we've had some bad luck, but I've always been a firm believer that you make your own luck. If we put ourselves in the position to run good and finish good, then it's going to happen for us, and we just haven't been able to do that lately; some being mechanical failures, but you make those decisions, as well. Just like this past weekend, we have been working on that particular transmission for two years, and had not run it yet until it was proven and we went and tested it several times and different things and got in the race and we all had problems. So it was very unfortunate and we were looking for a good finish this past weekend to help us get back into that Top-10 in points, and that didn't happen, so now we put it behind us, go to Daytona and hope he can do it this weekend.
Q. I got cut off on a little bit of what you were saying at the start. I'm wondering more on the mood, I can't imagine you're panicked but are you frustrated, are you angry, are you stunned and are you thinking there's a chance you might not make this, the chase?
JEFF GORDON: This is the NEXTEL Cup Series. It's tough, it's competitive. Just because we've won four championships, there's no guarantees, especially when you have some of the issues that we've had. But I feel like we're as good and as strong as any team out there. We've just got to get things going in the right direction and make some good decisions and get that -- I think that we haven't really lost confidence. I mean, that's still there and the attitude of the guys is good as it couldd be under the circumstances. So I don't think we've panicked or have lost control. We're just trying to put those behind us, learn from them and go to the next one. This is a good weekend for us. I think it was maybe a little bit more frustrating this past weekend because we sat on the pole. We were fast in practice, we were leading the race, and you know, we knew that that was a really good opportunity for us. Whether we got the win or a top-five finish, it was a great opportunity for to us do that and I feel like we let that one slip away. Yeah, there's definitely some frustration, but, you know, I think that we're good at putting it behind us and going on to the next one. That's what we're going to do this weekend.
Q. Do you think that your plate program, you've won four out of the last five plate races is strong enough that the Hendrick cars are the cars to beat at Daytona now, and that the DEI cars are not quite the factor they used to be?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think you may have hit on it. Maybe they are not the factor that they used to be, but I still think they are a major factor of who we have to beat. I think that there are definitely some other cars. I think Tony Stewart has been extremely strong on the restrictor plate tracks, and so have some of the Roush cars. I think that Hendrick definitely has their act together and Jimmie and I have worked very well together. I know we've got Brian Vickers in a new car this weekend, or I think it's maybe one of Jimmie's older restrictor plate cars or speedway cars. I think that definitely engine-wise we are on top of our game. Whether or not we have an edge over DEI or not, I'm not sure, but we've been in victory lane, so that's certainly got us pumped up and maybe got the attention of those guys.
Q. The DEI guys, even when they were dominant at Daytona and the other teams that have been strong with their plate programs over the years kind of acknowledge that they throw a lot of eggs into that basket, a lot of time and effort into that one area. Could it be at all that Hendrick has spent so much energy getting strong on the plate side that, I know a lot of your problems have been bad luck, but could other areas of the program have suffered as you -- as so much time is spent on plate program, or is Hendrick just too big for that kind of problem?
JEFF GORDON: I think we're too big for that. We've always put a lot of effort into our restrictor plate program and in our engine program in general, and I think our engines are up there on restrictor plate tracks and non-restrictor plate tracks, they stack up against anybody. It's hard for me to say that that's affected Hendrick motorsports because you've got Jimmie up there leading the points, or now second, but has been leading the points and has been pretty consistent and has very few failures throughout the season. I feel like it's more target towards us and ourselves and not necessarily a Hendrick thing.
Q. You were not the only one that was having problems the last weekend with the transmission. Tell me what you know about the problems, was it brand specific or was it just some flukey things that were happening?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I know that the specific brand that we had, which was a Mid-Valley transmission, and it's one that we've been working on. It's just, you know, I mean it's a high-quality piece, really smooth shifting and it wasn't that any of us were missing shifts or anything like that. It's just in the shifter mechanism where the car or the shift was getting caught in gear, like I know for me, it was, you know, consistent when I would go from third to second. It happened to me twice and those were the two times that hurt us the most. When I was leading it happened to me and I just went from third to second, and instead of it going into second, it stayed stuck in third. I know that's the same transmission Robby Gordon was running, same transmission Jimmie Johnson was running and also the same transmission that Scott Pruett was running so. There is an isolated issue there among that particular transmission. I'm not sure what transmission some of the other guys had, that that had problems or were related.
Q. So it was more of a shifter problem than a gear problem?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, had nothing to do with any of the gears, or the transmission or the gears in the rear end.
Q. With all of this bad luck that's been hitting you recent weeks, if things don't turnaround pretty soon, it's going to mean that guys up front are going to have to start having some bad luck so that you'll actually make the Chase. Do you ever feel any real conflicts between Jeff Gordon the driver and Jeff Gordon the team owner since you know Jimmie Johnson or one of those guys has to have bad luck?
JEFF GORDON: To me, as a driver, you're a part of your team and you're out there doing everything you can to win races and be a part of the Chase and win the championship. You know, what happens with the other teams are you know not necessarily in our control. We can only control the things that we can, and you know, there's no team owners at Hendrick Motorsports. We got ourselves into this hole and we've got to get ourselves out of it. We're not expecting anybody else to help us out and expecting anybody else to have problems so that we can get in it. That's certainly not the way we want to be and we want to be in it because we earned the right to be in there, and over last six weeks, we have not done that and I'm hoping that over these next six weeks that we do.
Q. So you got any special paint schemes or anything planned for Daytona?
JEFF GORDON: We do have the DuPont Pepsi paint scheme this weekend. It's not tied to Star Wars or movies or anything like that. It's the paint scheme they have been using in their advertising. It's a cool car and looking forward to that. We've had a lot of success with the DuPont Pepsi car recently, so I think, you know, four out of restrictor plate races that we have had, three of them have been in the Pepsi car.
Q. I was talking about Saturday night races and how the NEXTEL Cup Series has more Saturday night races this year than they have had in previous years, just want to get your thoughts on how you think having more races on Saturday night are affecting the short tracks, the local tracks where the grass root NASCAR effort starts and where drivers get their beginnings and working their way up the ladder.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it's a good question, I'm not really sure how that's affecting it. I mean, I know when I was growing up racing around short tracks, we raced Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We raced, you know, shoot, all nights of the week sometimes. It's important to have people in the stands supporting racing, including local track racing, and you know, it's tough because from where I'm at on the Cup side, I love the Saturday night races. It's great for our schedule. The fans seem to like it. The sponsors seem to like it. So it's a big, big plus in my opinion for what we do. I think we have to keep in mind what's going on on the local and short track level and keep them in mind and try not to affect them. But I would assume that if you're a short track and you do Saturday night events around a NEXTEL Cup event around that area, you might want to consider moving your times and dates around just for that particular weekend.
Q. Daytona you won the 500 here in February, so are you looking forward to coming back here? Do you see this as maybe a place to end this rough spot you're in?
JEFF GORDON: You know, there's so many good tracks on the schedule for us, and I look forward to all of them. I was looking forward to Michigan and we stunk there. You know, you was looking forward to Sonoma, we broke there. So I'm definitely looking forward to Daytona and hoping that one of these weekends. It's going to get turned around. You know, you just -- if it doesn't happen, then you just put your best foot forward and go to the next one. So this is definitely a good track for us, we've been strong there. I know our restrictor plate track program is strong. I wish I had that car sitting at Daytona USA, because that's a great car for Daytona. Even though we won the race at Talladega, Talladega is not a handling racetrack. I think we actually did a little bit of work to our car since then to make sure we got a good-handling race car as well as a fast race car this weekend. I'm looking forward to it but there's always that risk or chance getting caught up in the big one and we hope that we can get through that and put a solid effort out there.
Q. I believe this is an impound race, how does that affect your strategy going into this weekend?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm excited about that because I feel like we've gotten beat in qualifying the last couple restrictor plate races, because you know, some guys have something figured out for qualifying that we don't. When you just put us in race mode, I just feel like we've got the best package and that's fantastic for us to be able to go out there and impound and just have what we're going to race. I think that's a plus for us for qualifying.
Q. The Trucks are coming to town this weekend and this is the anniversary of Ricky Hendrick's victory here, can you talk about what that meant to his family?
JEFF GORDON: That was a huge, huge moment. I mean, you know, I think that Linda, his mom, had a lot of reservations about him getting to that level in racing. I think Rick had reservations as to what kind of talent level that Ricky had, and they put him in a truck because they knew he wanted to be in it and they wanted to put him in good, safe equipment. He got in that Truck Series and did well and then went out there and won. I know that I don't think I've ever seen parents as proud, especially Rick and Linda, I've never seen them as proud of Ricky as they were that day and how excited they were and how excited Ricky was that they were there and a part of it. I know he displayed that trophy very proudly in his house, and it was a big moment.
Q. Has it gotten to the point yet where you've got fans sending you good luck charms and hex breakers? Have we reached that point yet?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, we definitely have. I did an autograph session for our fan club, our fan network was what we call it, out in Michigan, and every other fan came up giving me some kind of a lucky charm. I had somebody paint a horseshoe in DuPont colors like the race car and gave that to me. Yeah, it started a couple of weeks ago in our offices at our fan club there. They are coming in pretty strong. It's great to have the support of our fans that we do and know that, even though they are frustrated like they are, they are still supporting us and knowing that we are going to get back on track and trying to help us any way that he can.
Q. Are you at all superstitious, any changes in haircuts, is anybody like that?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, the way I've always approached superstitions, if it's something you believe in, and it gives you that mental frame of mind of confidence or, hey, this works, then go with it. But I am not a big superstitious person. There's nothing that I'm going to do differently or change to try to get things turned around. I just know that through hard work, through making smart decisions, putting good race cars out there and working as a team that we will get it back. I think that that's the thing that this team is so good with is that no matter how bad things get, they always -- they all stick together and that's the way we are right now.
Q. Accidents and mechanical failures are one thing, two things that can knock you out of a race, but is it just becoming a lot harder to get through the fields now? Is there any factor that you are seeing now that maybe you haven't seen before?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, it's been like that for a few years now where it's extremely -- track position is extremely important. It's very hard to pass for two reasons. One is the aerodynamics that these cars demand and the way the air is moving in the cars; they need clean air to get the best performance out of the car. And the competition has gotten tougher. That's why qualifying has become so important and being up front or doing a two-tire stop or something to get that you good track position is very important. In our strategy for the last couple of years, that's what it's been all about. We thought it might change a little bit with the smaller spoiler this year and a little bit softer tires, but I don't feel like it really has much.
Q. Speaking of tires, that wasn't -- that has not been an issue for you at plate tracks, but from what you've seen with other drivers, particularly, say, at Pocono, have you had any kind of opinion or made any kind of feelings known to Goodyear about how the tire reacts and some changes that could be made?
JEFF GORDON: Well, we are always giving our feedback to Goodyear. I think it's important for the teams to talk to them and stay in close contact with them. You know, we do tire tests with them and so I think we have pretty good relationships with them. I think if anything, most of the time it's, yeah, if you have a moment or an instant like you have at Pocono, you get frustrated and upset with them. But most of the time, it's just constructive criticism with, say, here is what the tires are doing for us and, you know, what do you guys think. I had some issues at Michigan that I was -- I felt like it was tire-related, and it really wasn't. So you've got to be careful not to be quick to judge, and for the most part, we've been -- things have gone pretty well for us tire-wise this year. But some guys have had issues.
Q. You used the term a few moments ago "freefall," was there any point in the last six weeks ago, you felt like the team or you decided, we're in a freefall and we have to find a way to stop it?
JEFF GORDON: I used the word "freefall"? I don't remember saying that. So I'm not sure, what's the question?
Q. Was there any point where you said, "We've got to start turning this around," where it hit you that "we are not on our game" or "something is not going right?"
JEFF GORDON: Those thoughts go through your mind every weekend because even when you're running great, you're always trying to make the car better. So you're always saying to yourself and the team, "We've got to get this thing turned around." But I think, you know, Michigan was a pretty frustrating moment for us. Pocono, for instance, at Pocono, I wasn't very happy with the way the car felt comfort-wise, but yet speed-wise, we were pretty good. We had to go to the back a couple of times for some issues that we ran into and fought our way back up to a Top-10. This has been one of these weird years where no matter how the car is running, trying to get the comfort of how the car feels has been very tricky, and so that part alone has been frustrating, and then you compound that with some of the failures and issues that we've run into that have taken us back in the points; that only makes the frustration level go even higher and realize that you've got to put strong finishes together. I think as soon as we fell outside the Top-10, it became an issue for us to know, hey, we've gotten ourselves in the hole here and we've got to get ourselves out of it. I don't think at any time we panicked or have started fighting within the team or anything like that. Everybody has stayed calm and we're going to continue to stay calm and keep charge over it until things do turnaround.
Q. You said you liked the impound rule for the qualifying, what about for the race? Do you feel that where you are now that for this race, you would like more time on the racetrack?
JEFF GORDON: I do like the impound for Daytona, not necessarily crazy about it everywhere that we go. My thing on race weekends is that we get time on the racetrack, if it's an impound, we get time on the racetrack to focus on the race at similar times to when we're going to race. So for instance, if the race is going to start at 7:00 PM, then I think the night before we should be practicing at 7:00 PM and get consistent conditions to make proper adjustments. This particular weekend, I like the impound because I think our race program is very strong for the restrictor plates, and I feel like I'm interested to see how some other guys qualify in the impound situation. Because we've gone out there before and we've been one of the strong cars who go to qualify. We don't really pick up much speed and other guys pick up a half a second. It makes you wonder, okay, is that stuff they can just do for qualifying or is it things they can do and race. So it will be interesting to see how that goes this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: I know you have to take off, appreciate your time with us today. But before you take off, I think we have one more quick call, it comes from Daytona Beach, Brian France.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, actually, Jeff, thanks again for joining everyone today. I just have one quick comment while you're on the line, it really a comment. All of this business that Jeff Gordon is to the going to be in the Top-10 and all of those things, he's won three races already, he won the Daytona 500, he's got four championships. All of the races coming up and starting with this weekend at Daytona he will be favored, if at least not to win, to have good finishes. I bet by the time we get to September, he'll not only be in the Top-10, he'll probably be a favorite to win it all. That's just a personal vantage point here.
JEFF GORDON: I appreciate that, Brian. That's certainly our goal. We cannot get caught up too much in what has happened to us over the last six weeks and just focus on each race one at a time. I mean, I know how good our team is and what we are capable of. It's a unique Chase and you've got to be within 400 or within the Top-10 to make it in there, and when you get this there, you've got a shot at the championship and that's what I really like about it. So we're not in the panic mode yet and see how these next few weeks go. It could be won like last year where we get to Richmond, and it's very exciting to watch the guys that are battling to be in that Top-10 and we might be one of them. I hope we're not; I hope we're comfortably in, but if not, we are going to fight and charge until that last race.
BRIAN FRANCE: Good luck.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
THE MODERATOR: Good luck to you again and thank you for joining us.
JEFF GORDON: Thanks a lot. Take care.
THE MODERATOR: Our second half of our call today, we have NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France with us. Brian is in his second full season as NASCAR's top executive. He's also overseeing the second full season of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the initiative he spearheaded last year. Brian, here we are at what is traditionally considered a halfway point of the season. What's your take on how we've done thus far this year? And then after that, we'll go right to the media.
BRIAN FRANCE: You would expect me to talk about a good year, and we are having another great year. Obviously it starts on the track and if you look at the competition, we've had photo finishes, we've had if not the most exciting Daytona 500s, one of the most exciting. We had a terrific road race last weekend in Sonoma, record ratings for a road race ever for NASCAR, and so the fans react to that. That's why our TV ratings are up substantially in both the NEXTEL Cup, Busch Series, as well as attendance is up dramatically because people love close competition. I think we are delivering that. We have also had some other notable things that were on the drawing board that have been wonderfully received, and that would be our historic race in Mexico City where we talk our Busch Series there. It indeed was very successful, 100,000 people in attendance. We were second-most watched back here in the U.S., and we hope to rev up the Hispanic audience in a different way. That was a tremendous achievement for the sport. The other thing, FOX, and I want to say always what a great job they did, the continuity, starting with the Daytona 500 and building the ratings and doing such a great job covering it, covering the sport and what they are doing with SPEED 24 hours a day. They are doing a lot of things that are very helpful for us, and we are grateful for them and their participation in the first half. It's noted now that they are going to hand the baton to NBC and TNT and they will start that this weekend. I know they are excited to get back in the fold and cover the Chase, cover the Race to Chase, which also incidentally starts here in Daytona. We are excited. We do see -- and I made this comment from the beginning of the year, I've always believed there will be more than ten drivers who make the cut this year because I think people understand the urgency you have to have to stay within 400 points of the leader. That wasn't quite the -- had not played out yet in our first season. It has now, and I think Jeff Gordon will rally as an example because he knows you cannot wait until August. Some of the guys who had to get in and some of the ones that didn't at Richmond know now that you want to be comfortably ahead. I just think that you're going to see a very, very tight contest here as we go down the stretch.
THE MODERATOR: Brian, thanks, we'll now open it up for questions.
Q. I was wondering if the sense of urgency you also feel going down for the Homestead race, I know ticket sales are going way faster than normal, I wonder if you could get a sense from fans and corporations that they are getting used to the idea of this race and how big it is?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, it's building fast, even better than we might have hoped. I know Curtis Gray and his whole team are adding seats and corporate hospitality and suites and all kinds of things, because it is indeed, now, on our schedule a mega-event. They are all big events but the finale now is incredibly important, and I think you see the fans -- and what a great event we had last year, too. Now it builds on that. It came down to the last lap, the last turn deciding the whole thing, and that's what our fans love to see. We're excited about Curtis and what they are going to do down there.
Q. Just as a follow, I know you think Jeff Gordon is going to rally, but how detrimental will it be to the Chase if he, or Dale Earnhardt, also have a chance of missing it, don't make it?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, this is a performance-based sport and you've got to perform. Obviously they have big fan bases and there will be some disappointment in that, but I like -- no matter what happens, I love the mix of drivers that's shaping up. Rusty Wallace is making his run. He may have a shot at the championship for the first time in a while for him down the stretch. Mark Martin is having another good year on his final year, so he may have a shot, he will have a shot more than likely, who knows. But in the end, you've got to perform. You've got to get in, you've got to earn your way in, and that's what we always said. The events before the Chase didn't mean less importance; it means more importance, and I think you're seeing that now.
Q. I wanted to ask you, yesterday Toyota announced they are going to leave the IRL after next season. Is this to you an indication that they are going to ramp up their NASCAR program and will be in Cup within the next couple of years and what have they told you and where does that stand as far as you know?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we've had ongoing conversations, in particular, because they are in the Truck Series and have done a really great job of coming in, competing hard and all the rest. What their plans are beyond that, I don't know and I don't know what the IRL's departure means or doesn't mean. It's really their call. We are the biggest opportunity in the U.S. by a wide margin in motorsports, and I know they have noted that and we'll just have to see what they decide.
Q. Do you expect other manufacturers, for example, Honda, will show interest and get involved in NASCAR in the near future?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, from a motorsports standpoint, we are very proud that we have three of the top four series in the country, not just the NEXTEL Cup, but the Busch Series and the Truck Series. They are a wonderful opportunity for manufacturers to showcase their products. Toyota has discovered that we welcome them with open arms. There was a lot of debate about that, but they have been a wonderful partner for us as a manufacturer and hopefully that's noted by others. But that's always their call.
Q. As you know, the naming rights to the Brickyard 400 have been sold to Allstate, and I understand that sponsorship is the lifeblood of this sport. I wonder if a part of you laments the loss of another historic name, race name in this sport, the Firecracker 400 and the Southern 500 and kind of on down the line, there are not very many of them left.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I don't think you'll see the Brickyard tradition and the name fully lost. Allstate is going to play an important role financially and otherwise. The track and expenses of having these big events are escalating, so we need the corporate support. I don't believe it's going to be an either or situation. I think it will be a plus to having all state on and I'm sure the Speedway feels that way.
Q. The Daytona 500 is just about the only one left. They say everything has its price; do you ever foresee a scenario where this could happen with the Daytona 500?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, as they say in the military, that's above my pay grade. I don't have a comment on that.
Q. Who is there that's above your pay grade?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, the people that own the international Speedway corporation and their stockholders, notably.
Q. This is traditionally the time of year where everybody reviews the first half of the season and looks towards the second half of the season. I wanted ask you for yourself, this is about 19 months you've been in your position as chairman, can you review how you think you've done, your pluses, your minuses and what you're going to strive for in the future?
BRIAN FRANCE: I've never viewed it being about me, but the reality of while I'm helping manage the sport in my role, obviously you want things to go well. You want the things, like Mexico City or the Chase or things that we start were important to implement, NEXTEL coming on board, to go smoothly, and they have exceeded my expectations. That's a direct -- frankly, a direct tribute to having quality people that are in the industry. There is not one person; as everyone knows, there's a whole lot of smart people that are behind the scenes and pulling the sport in the right direction, and so for me to be a part of that is a great thing.
Q. Can you also talk about where you're at right now with the current TV negotiations for the next big contract?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we are having the kind of discussions that you would expect us to have at this time of the contract. We know that both -- all of our partners are extraordinarily happy with the product. It's performing in every way that you can measure it. And so we'll make the kind of progress I think that we will need to and some decisions here in the coming months; we'll figure that out.
Q. Any timetable that you would like to wrap everything up?
BRIAN FRANCE: In the coming months I think that we'll be in a position to know where we're at. But again, we're through '06. As it stands now, there's not any time urgency. Negotiations or discussions that we're having are all ahead of schedule from when contract actually or otherwise. We're having those kind of conversations you want to have with good partners about figuring things out.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the substance abuse policy. Other leagues have been under fire for their policies and some are strengthening theirs. Why doesn't NASCAR test competitors, drivers, and or like pit crew members randomly instead of just based on reasonable suspicion?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, No. 1, we do more testing than most people would realize. We have, in my view, we just reviewed it again, and we'll probably review it from time to time, is how far-reaching is our policy, No. 1. Can we accomplish a zero tolerance philosophy with the current policy, and do we have a policy that gets tough when we have to get tough, and I don't think you can dispute, if you look at recent suspensions for second violations, that we need to be that way. We have a sport that the drivers and crew members, there's a lot of moving parts, at 200 miles an hour, we're going to have a very, very tough policy, and we have a broad policy to be able to administer anything that we think we need to with whomever we need to. We're pretty comfortable with. It we'll keep reviewing it, but we're pretty comfortable.
Q. Just to follow-up, like you said, is it because there's so many moving parts and there's so much at stake, why wouldn't -- some competitors say, why wouldn't it make sense to, say, look, we are going to make it this way with a random policy and that you know you're going to be tested throughout the season as many as three, four times or something like that; as opposed to if I'm a driver, there's a good chance I may not be tested or if I'm a pit crew member I may never be tested?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well I think we are all saying the same thing. We can test anybody any time we want to and we do, a whole lot more than meets the eye. There's something about testing, and then there's something about, what are you going to do when you have a violation. It's not a two-part question. We have a very, very get-tough policy, and we need to. We have plenty of opportunities that are our discretion to test whomever we need to test, and we think it's pretty effective. We think that works for us. We're always open to it, but don't think of a drug policy is gee, how many times did somebody test and this that and the other. What are you going to do when you have a problem? Are you really going to fix the problem? Are you going to handle that correctly? We think our policy is as broad and as effective as anyone else's.
Q. I'd like to get your assessment of some things that have gone on in major racing leagues in other areas, such as, No. 1, the Formula 1 debacle at Indianapolis a little while back. And the sudden stardom of Danica Patrick in IndyCar racing. Does it surprise you that Formula 1, which has kind of been the NASCAR of the world and that it's been very strong, very solid all of a sudden takes a fall like that, what ramifications do you see through that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Typically, if you've ever listened to me, I don't have comment too much on other people's policies or issues, because you never quite know all of the circumstances that went into the outcome that happened. I will say that we would have handled that very differently at Indianapolis as people would hope that we would and we would I believe found a solution to avoid such a thing. That just is what it is, because it does have a repercussion. We're all in one industry. Any time fans and partners and all the rest are not getting even close to what they bargained for, that's not a good thing for anyone. I know they are working on how to solve them, and best of luck to them. We would have just handle that had differently. Danica Patrick has been a big story and she performed real well at the Indianapolis 500, qualified well, ran well, and she's apparently a very talented driver. And that adds a lift, if you will. In the end, she'll have to keep performing. Like anyone else, she'll have to keep performing at a high level to sustain anything. But nonetheless, she's talented and we wish her well, too.
Q. Regarding her and Erin Crocker coming up somewhat on the stock car side and Erin has said that she's gotten a lot more interviews herself since Indy. Is the sudden emergence of really capable or women drivers who have prospects of actually winning races, has that come as something of a surprise on the diversity end rather than ethnic minorities that women have suddenly sort of leapt forward? And also, where do you see it going with female drivers, is that a major factor in the future of NASCAR and all races?
BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, I think it should -- it should be a big plus, as diversity in general kicks in and more talented drivers are found, either being female, Hispanic, African-American; that is a hugely positive thing for the whole industry. And the fact that Danica Patrick is leading the way and performing well, not just getting a lot of hype, but she's really performing well, does open doors in all forms of racing. Matter of fact, Allison Duncan has already won a race at Stockton out in California. She's competing hard herself and working her way up through the ranks, the NASCAR ranks, so we wish her well.
Q. NBA and baseball have to deal with things like big-market teams and small-market teams. Going back to the Chase, obviously for you guy, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. are big-market teams. They are the big markets in the fans and they are the drivers that fans in the major markets, the Top-10 markets that you guys covet and like to have ratings from, they are the ones that are most recognizable in those markets. Do you feel if neither of those two drivers are in the Chase that it will have a debt mental effect on television ratings?
BRIAN FRANCE: Obviously the more star power you have, the better you feel. It's no different than the Yankees have to earn their way into the playoffs. So do our drivers. We can't have a system that's based on popularity at the moment. We have a system based on who can perform the best in that given year, and no matter what happens, the mix of drivers that we're likely to have will be terrific. You can argue it would be better if this person were in or out, but we'll have a terrific group of veterans and young drivers, and I hope it comes down to the last lap of the last race just like it did last year.
Q. And also, going back to the drug testing policy, you have a unique labor situation in that you don't have any kind of player/owner kind of agreement that restricts what you can and can't do. Has there been any discussion among you guys about trying to get out in front and making this an issue that you guys could own by just as a matter of weekly course, having a random number of people pulled for a test after the drivers meeting every Sunday, so that fans know that every Sunday they are watching a race, NASCAR is trying to police the drug issue?
BRIAN FRANCE: As I said earlier, there are two things. One is we're doing more testing than most people realize. But testing doesn't matter as much if you don't have a tough policy; and I think you would have to agree that a second violation got a year-and-a-half suspension recently, and that's at a minimum and it may be more than that. No one's sport is as aggressive, and we need to be. As I said, we've got cars going 200 miles an hour, moving parts and all the rest, and we have -- the other question that we always ask, do we have the kind of reach when we even remotely are suspicious of a potential problem, can we get in there and solve it? Answer is, you bet. So we are very comfortable with our policy. Doesn't mean we don't look at it. We may adjust it down the road. But everybody should feel very comfortable that we are looking hard at this issue, know how important it is, and we'll do whatever it takes to get it right.
Q. Your assessment of the Chase or your belief it's going to be a bigger field, is there any consideration to adding fan involvement, like a fan vote, especially this year with the possibility of Jeff and Dale not making the Chase, that the fans might vote one of them in to appease the networks and have that star power?
BRIAN FRANCE: Not at all, because we have to be, and we will be, a performance-based series, and you have to perform. You know what, the drivers would not want that either. They don't want to limp in on a fan vote. They want to earn their way in or not earn their way in. I hope we all -- the drivers that everybody likes, but, you know, sometimes it's time to see drivers have a moment. Greg Biffle is having his moment right now showing people how talented he has been for a long time. The stars are lining up and he's got a lot of confidence. That's a great thing for us. We'd love to see more of Greg Biffles, too. It's not just one driver or another. It's about performance and letting people who are earning it keep going.
Q. Would you like to see one network strictly identified with NASCAR? Are you happy with multiple networks, that it can reach different markets, with NBC taking over new?
BRIAN FRANCE: I think ideally you'd certainly like to have at least two packages, and you get all of the benefits of having some of the big media companies in the world, Time-Warner and General Electric get behind your sport and they put a different creative approach to it which is, I think is terrific, the announcers, the graphics, all the things they do to present it, the camera angles and the music, all of those things. I think that works best for us.
Q. Do you have any time frame that you guys have set up as far as putting tracks in the northwest and the New York City areas?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there is a major effort by International Speedway Corporation and they are making some progress as announced recently, a new site outside Seattle to capture the northwest; and a land acquisition and a very clear path as to how to get a track built in New York. I know that group is working hard and they are going to have to keep doing their work, and we'll pay attention to the progress.
Q. I listen to the radio a lot and to sports talk radio and all I hear is NBA talk, and we have just seen the ratings come out for the NBA Finals, and they were not stellar. And the NASCAR ratings are stellar and it seems there's no talk on the radio about NASCAR. As the leader of the sport, how do you change that, and is it frustrating, I guess, also, to you?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well , I'm glad you asked that question, because that's one of the hot topics that occurs in my office every day. Because, in fact, we are very under covered for the size audience we have, not just in sports talk radio, I agree with that, but whether that's newspaper or other publications, whether that's television affiliates in Minneapolis, Seattle, you go down the list, for the size audience that this sports demonstrates every weekend. Last weekend we were the No. 1 sport by any measurement you can measure. And I think the good news for us is we're looking at that, we're disappointed but we know one day we are going to turn the corner on that. It's a long pull, and when we do, imagine the growth and opportunities that will happen. We're doing a lot of things going uphill here, and if we ever got wind in our back, we think this sport could really get on another roll.
Q. How do you change it? Do you just keep doing the things you're doing? Is there anything specific that you're doing to maybe get more people talking?
BRIAN FRANCE: I think we're going to have to make some big moves in that area and how to educate -- a lot of people don't know how to cover our sport, in particular, on a Tueday or Wednesday, what's relevant, why is a Jeff Gordon's team going to perform well or not well on Saturday has a lot to do with what's going on right now on a Tuesday. So we need to have the kind of coverage that reflects that. We need to have more information and more education that we disseminate in clever ways to the media, because I haven't been to a media member yet, whether it's the Los Angeles Times or wherever, and said, did you know our audience is so big in your market. And they all agree; no one disputes that. Yet, we are still undercovered, but again, we want to look at the glass as half-full, not half-empty and make some small adjustments and big adjustments in education and information and change that over the next ten years.
Q. Do you think that there's a prejudice against NASCAR, because when you hear people that, like you said, are not necessarily educated, they always sort of bring up sort of the, "Oh, it's the southern roots, redneck sport." Do you think there's still a prejudice out there against the sport?
BRIAN FRANCE: I don't know about that. I think it's more to do, we've only been on national television since 1979. That's a relatively short period of time compared to all of the other major sports. We really were not on a routine basis, even on cable, until the late 80s, early 90s. So, you know, in fairness, relatively we've been at it for 50 years but America really discovered us just ten years ago in a prolific way. That's going to take an awful lot of time for who is not used to covering NASCAR to go, gee, this is an important thing. The other thing is, you know, we have a big plus in that all of our races are national events, mega-events like this weekend, like last weekend and the next weekend after that. That's one other issue: We don't have home teams. So there is a tendency for publications and newspapers and radio affiliates to want to cover just what they think the hometown fan base wants to hear, which is the hometown teams. But the reality of it is, you know, when it's Philadelphia, which is one of our bigger markets or whatever the market is, we have an enormous fan base in that market that want to know more and see more about NASCAR.
Q. Is there anything that would even make you consider changing anything with the points Chase the way it is now? I mean, certainly have asked you if there would be the Earnhardt factor or whatever, but, you know, looking at it as a whole, is there anything down the road that you guys might think of altering?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, for this year, the answer would be zero, because we're trying to get, certainly, out of any issues of changing things in midstream. We would never do that. Down the road when we make adjustments, I have always said we would be open to them. But gosh, we had four drivers come down or five, actually, mathematically last year, three with a real, real chance down to the last lap that changed around, I think, seven times. It's hard to say, you know, it's not a great system and the best part of it all is what the drivers -- how they turn it up, how they step up the level of driving and their talents are showcased differently and that's what I like most.
Q. July 1 is when the cars have to be submitted for 2006, is there indication Toyota will submit a Busch car?
BRIAN FRANCE: I just know that they are in NASCAR now, they really like -- what they have told us, how things are going in the truck series, and they are going to review the possible participation beyond that. It's complicated for them and they are going to take a look at it and I don't know any more than that or a timetable of when they are going to let us know.
Q. Is it possible that they would get an extension from that July 1 date if they decide to go Busch Racing in 2006 --
BRIAN FRANCE: I don't know if they would go into the Busch Series, and they are very aware and they have done it. They have already been through the system and through the path to get into NASCAR, they have already taken that path. They know what has to happen, and it's really -- they have got to make their own choices. It's complicated, team owners, they want to go in it the right way. I know they are studying it and they just have to come up with their plans, when they are ready to have an announcement.
THE MODERATOR: Appreciate you taking the time today to join us, and also we really thank the huge media turnout we had for this call. It was a great opportunity and we're glad everybody could take advantage of it.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|