NASCAR has a bright future even if this is a transitional period in the history of the sport.
That was the sentiment expressed by NASCAR Chairman Brian France and President Brent Dewar on Sunday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway during the annual season-ending state of the sport press conference.
France and Dewar believe the sport is well-equipped to replace retiring stars such as Danica Patrick, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., while also providing teams a business platform to continue developing young talent. The pair of executives also addressed questions concerning attendance, television numbers and schedule diversity across all three national touring divisions. France did say that attendance was up at over 20 events, even though the known numbers do not reflect that statement.
They praised the relationship with title sponsor Monster Energy and said the ownership charter program was producing results.
It was a much more cordial Q&A compared with the same session last year, when France regularly interrupted questions and challenged the media’s reasoning for asking certain questions.
Here’s a snapshot of the most important elements of Sunday’s press conference:
On replacing retiring stars such as Earnhardt, Kenseth and Patrick
Brian: „The (next generation of drivers) are here, and they’ve got to develop their performance, but they’re doing well. You look at Ryan Blaney. You look at Chase (Elliott) almost making the final here in Miami. Go down the list. We’ve got a loaded group. But it’s true, we’re in a transition, too. But that happens from time to time. Not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens. But we’re excited. We’ve got a great, great bunch of guys. They’re 19 and 20 years old and talented. We’re in good shape.“
Brent: „If you look at most sports, name any other major sport where you get to have a 15‑ to 20‑year career at the highest level. It just does not exist. Those are exceptions there and it’s the norm here. So if you look at all the ones you take and you add 20 years, you’re going to be somewhere around the age of a Dale Jr. and a Matt Kenseth, so they were those same very 19‑, 20‑, 21‑year‑olds back in the day … I think the way you look at it is, we want to celebrate these young drivers coming in because it’s necessary, but also we want to celebrate these Hall of Fame careers…
„We feel pretty bullish about the future of the sport for the talent they have. They’re embracing this format where every lap matters. It truly matters. I think there was a learning process at the start of the year, and I think they’ll hit Daytona, all of them, with that learned behavior pretty quick, and we’re making some pretty important changes to Xfinity and Trucks to allow those names, those stars to even shine even more.“
On declining ratings and attendance
Brian: „Well, that isn’t quite accurate on the ratings and attendance because attendance is up at many, many events. I think it’s 20 something events, 22 or 23, and (television) consumption is changing for everybody, so that’s not accurate, either.“
On Kenseth and Patrick getting forced out due to lack of funding
Brian: „Matt has had a long 20‑year-plus career. That’s unthinkable in most sports, and he’s performed at a high level. We’ll wish him well, but he may be back, too. He’ll have to get the right opportunity for him.
„And the rest of it is a performance sport. If it’s difficult for anybody — this is not picking on any one driver — but if you’re not performing at a high level, it may be difficult for you to stay in this sport. It will be difficult for you to stay in the sport, for any driver. That’s not picking on anybody. I think for those reasons, that’s where we’re at.“
How is NASCAR trying to save money for teams and would they consider a spending cap?
Brent: „We’ve been in an economic model transition. We understand that. It’s not unique to NASCAR. It’s kind of transitioning through basically the traditional sponsorship model. And what’s moving this? The chief marketing officers are looking at greater engagement. The good news is that we’re doing really well on engagement. There’s a monetization shift that kind of goes through that.
„So I think the first thing I’d like to clear there, we’re not on a cost‑cutting effort, we’re on medium and advanced design of where we’re going to do these vehicles. So from that, what we’ve been working on with the team owners is taking some of the waste out of the system of how we have traditionally gone to market. It’s hard work. It’s design and engineering. It’s collaboration. It’s a lot of those elements. So I would say we have a model, we have a contract with our team owners for, it was a nine‑year deal, so we’ve got eight more to go, and we’ve got a contract with our tracks where they all understand the economics, and that was a very important. We went from one‑year contracts to this more stable platform to allow us to come together to kind of work on that.“
Does the charter system need to be reconsidered in some way?
Brian: „You know, you’ve got to look at things in a longer view, backwards and forwards. We’ve always had situations where we had too many sponsors at one point. You may recall that Richard Petty couldn’t make one of the events — there were too many cars. So there’s always a peak and valley with sponsorship.
„Most of the other leagues are all based on simply media rights, and we have a big sponsorship component, as we do for the tracks, too, by the way. We’re confident that engagement and consumption in other areas, which are hard to measure now, are going to change shortly. There’s a couple different firms that are going to be able to measure that where we can demonstrate additional value or the teams can, but this is not a new thing. And so how you respond to it is to give as much visibility as we can, which we’ve done, and you do try to keep making the racing better, and then taking cost out of the system when it’s appropriate.“
How has Monster done in its first year as Cup Series title sponsor?
Brian: „Look, I’ll just say this: We’ve been really pleased with how Monster has come in and engaged with our fans, and the show out here this weekend will demonstrate that. In all markets it’s been fantastic. Their young, edgy demo, they’re motorsports-centric and they always have been in their culture. We’re really pleased. I’ve been out to their headquarters three different times to work with them because this is also a complicated sport to make sure that they’re getting all the value, but they’re getting a lot of value, and we’re very pleased with where that relationship is.“
What would you say to fans that say NASCAR needs more short tracks?
Brian: „Well, I think you always have the realignment possibilities, the places like Iowa and other things, other places, that always could be. Things are always fluid in the track world. They’re buying tracks, developing sometimes, and lately it’s been pretty quiet because of the economy, but that all could change around, and we’ll see how that goes. But we love short track racing. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
„As a matter of fact, I think (Homestead-Miami Speedway) here from a racing standpoint is the best mile‑and‑a‑half because of the progressive compound banking, and you’ll see drivers in four different lanes all day long.
„This is the most exciting — for my money — it’s my personal favorite. Everyone has got their own favorites. But we love short track racing, and we’ll have to see how that goes.“
Brent: „I don’t know how we all got to this, this cookie cutter, short track, intermediates. They’re all different; each one has its personality. In the Martinsville race where we had a lot of social media push, that was classic Martinsville, and the summer race in Bristol was a phenomenal race with Erik Jones out leading. That’s Bristol. Now, they’re both short tracks, but I would say this track was very different from the race we had in Kansas, Texas with the new banking change.
„One of the directions we’re going to take is we’ve kind of lost as an industry the communication of how important and unique every one of these tracks are.“
Just how far is NASCAR willing to go to help certain drivers such as Bubba Wallace and Patrick find sponsorship, especially in a free-market environment?
Brent: „So we do that, right? So when we go to market looking for official partners, we realize the best delivery might be as a track asset and we may direct them to the track. In some cases it’s for the team and we’ll try to direct them to the team. We don’t try to guide it to one specific team, but there are things that deliver, and try to find that right match and execution.
„The other part we’ve done is with the new charter structure with NASCAR.com, we’re trying to encourage them to understand the delivery of what that mechanism can be done … (some sponsors) are only sponsoring NASCAR.com. So we hope as they get to learn and make those ROIs and what that audience delivers that they’ll become a hood sponsor or they’ll become an associate or they’ll invest in the track, because our believe, if you go from top to bottom, you have the best chance.“