Monday, July 07, 2014

Sizing Up Brian France Entering The Second Half

NOTE: This has been updated since initial publication.

With the Firecracker 400's completion the Winston Cup season enters the second half in earnest, and we get more verbiage from Brian France as he pats himself on the back amid his discussion about "robust discussion" about the 2015 schedule. Whenever Brian France speaks he tends to put his foot in his mouth to at least a minor extent, and he does it again when he pats himself on the back that points racing has ostensibly been reduced with his new format where winning one race in effect locks a driver into the Chase.

Looking at the overall racing doesn't show any appreciable increase in competitive intensity.   Certainly there have been good competitive spots - apart from the plate races the season has seen unusually good racing at Fontana, Bristol, Martinsville, and to a lesser extent Kentucky.   But it also saw Dale Junior's admission at Talladega that he backed off trying to win because he already had a win and thus had no incentive to fight harder.  

Yes, it bears repeating that the issue of competition is not solely a points issue; that it a myriad of issues between the cars being too fast, handling being too important instead of the draft (see the Kansas Truck 200 back in May for the best non-plate race example where the opposite was the case), and the unraceability of radial tires.   And it bears remembering that even in NASCAR's competitive apex era of 1971-84 more races didn't produce as much passing than did; it's to be expected in any endeavor to have bad days as well as good. 

Yet for all that, one should not let France off the hook, for the points racing ethos still exists.   That the win by itself is not incentivized, and that most laps led remains grossly under-incentivized, remains a blind spot for the sanctioning body.  

Daytona and Talladega both saw over 40 lead changes; it is manifestly false that the sport can't once again get over 50 there and at Pocono, Michigan, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Kansas, Kentucky, etc.


There is also the seemingly unending issue of NASCAR's over-control of the racing, shown again in the Firecracker 250 finish and the controversy over NASCAR's no-push-drafting rule.   The foolishness of NASCAR was shown for all yet again as it tried to justify having a rule that gives the officiating tower a control of the racing it has no right to have.   Kasey Kahne and Ryan Sieg push-drafted to the win as did others, and only James Buescher got penalized for it. 

It bears repeating how push-drafting had evolved by 2013 - shown in the Truck 250 at Talladega - away from the bizarre look of 2011 back toward conventional pack racing, and the net positives of increased passing, especially for smaller teams able to fight the big boys straight up, outweigh negatives.   And it is just part of the problem of the officiating tower being given more control when NASCAR needs to be taking such control away and giving it back to the racers, whether it's closing pit road when the yellow flies, dictating how fast cars can enter and exit the pits (before NASCAR started closing pit road in March 1989 there was no pit safety issue; that happened AFTER NASCAR began closing pit road), and limiting what parts of the asphalt drivers can pass on (see Junior's 2003 Talladega win and Tony Stewart's 2008 non-win).  

Brian France needs to give NASCAR a major philosophical change - the belief that the sanctioning body has to meddle has to go.   Sensible rules are always needed; meddling isn't a sensible rule


Brian France wants more team owners in the sport, and "is continuing to look at ways to reduce costs for teams."   It does beg the question of why he's still allowing the likes of Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush not only to field three or four racecars but to control the engine and chassis supply of almost everyone else.   And it is a question the manufacturers need to be asked - isn't it time to help other teams build their own engine shops and thus build their own engines? 

As for manufacturers, there remains a need for explanation of why Dodge quit the sport and why Honda so far has not entered it.   Richard Petty's Daytona win is an unrealized boon that would have benefitted Dodge - and still can if/when Dodge returns to the sport.

Related to such issues remains NASCAR's exclusivity deals, notably its deal with Goodyear; such deals have either taken away potential team sponsors or outright shut out certain companies from participating in the sport.   No one can credibly claim Goodyear exclusivity has made the sport better, or that Firestone and Hoosier can't help the sport by helping more teams.

And the wildcard thrown into the mix is the new Race Team Alliance, a business alliance involving Hendrick, Roush, Richard Childress Racing, Petty, Ganassi-SABCO, Michael Waltrip Racing, Joe Gibbs, Stewart-Haas, and and Penske.   The stated purpose is to pool ideas on cost-saving in relation to travel and to parts acquisition, with the idea of getting a hotel partner for raceteams being floated.   Some have compared this to the now-defunct Formula One Constructors Association, an alliance of F1 teams that worked together in negotiations with the FIA, the F1 series' governing body.   Rob Kaufmann, the co-founder of Michael Waltrip's team, is head of the group. 

It will be interesting to see where this goes, and if it brings about something close to the spending controls - aka salary cap - that racing has long needed.


France stated he won't limit Cup driver participation in lower series, and thus remains blind to how Cup drivers have bled the Busch Series dry - to where only fifteen drivers ran the full schedule in 2013 and only seventeen have run the full schedule in 2014.   The Truck Series is in the same boat even though Cup drivers for the most part don't race there - only seventeen drivers have run all the races, and while few Cup drivers race in the series Kyle Busch has run five times with five wins, versus just two other drivers winning even once in eight races entering July.  

While France hinted a new sponsor for the Busch Series is pretty much around the corner, the fact basically no one can make any money there or in the Trucks remains a black spot for him.   Would it really hurt him if he switched some of the multi-billion dollar TV money into the purses in support races? 


There was the usual talk about Iowa Speedway, and curiously missing seemed to be discussion of the validity of hosting non-points races such as the All Star Race.   Such events have outlived their usefulness as evidenced again in Charlotte's All Star Race.

There was also talk about attendance declines, with Dover singled out for some criticism.   Overlooked is that Dover is still drawing quality crowds; they look smaller because the track overbuilt the way Michigan and Rockingham did.   Dover does warrant criticism in that it has proven two things -

* Concrete is worthless as a racing surface, as Dover has struggled to produce competitive racing for the twenty years it has run concrete.

* Shorter is not better.   Dover cut to 400 miles after 1996 because NASCAR raised the sanction fee for a 500-mile race - and Dover's 400s are nowhere close to its 500s in competitive depth.   If anything other tracks in addition to Dover need to go to 450 miles or back to the full 500.

So Brian France has thus spoken again, and the 2014 season has gotten more enjoyable of recent, in spite of him.

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