LAS VEGAS — In his annual “state of the sport” news conference Thursday at the Wynn Las Vegas, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France summed up the 2013 season succinctly.
“We had a good year,” said France, who addressed a smorgasbord of accomplishments and issues the sanctioning body achieved and dealt with between the introduction of the new Gen-6 race car at the start of the season and Jimmie Johnson’s sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in November.
But France’s question-and-answer session with reporters was as much a look ahead as it was an examination of the past. Darrell Wallace Jr.’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Martinsville, the first for an African-American in one of NASCAR’s top three touring series in 50 years, not only was a milestone for the sport but a harbinger for things to come.
“You saw a mix of things coming for the future, young drivers coming up through various series, who are going to be with us — Kyle Larson being one at the Cup level, beginning next year,” France said. “Darrell Wallace having a bit of a breakout year for himself, first time in a national series, in the Trucks, getting a win, strong just about every weekend — a bright spot in diversity for the future for a very talented young man.”
France was emphatic in expressing NASCAR’s continuing commitment to provide the most competitive racing in the motorsports realm.
“The number one thing we had to judge in the Gen?6 car was acceptance by the manufacturers, the teams and the drivers,” France said. “That’s the number one thing. And then, obviously, we want to get more lead changes and we want to get closer, tighter competition. I’d love a photo finish every weekend if I could pull a lever up in the tower to create that — I’m obviously kidding.
“The point is that we’re going to be working all the time on getting the competition (better). Lead changes are going to be a huge part. I think that is a big measuring stick. But it’s not the only one. Safety is in there in a high place, acceptance, all kinds of things.”
France also addressed the September race at Richmond and the attempt by Michael Waltrip Racing to manipulate the outcome.
NASCAR responded by penalizing all three MWR drivers, effectively knocking Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase. On Friday of the following week, the sanctioning body added Jeff Gordon as an unprecedented 13th competitor to the 10-race playoff as a driver who was unjustly deprived of a spot by the MWR manipulation.
“Every sport that’s large and competitive faces moments where your credibility and other things are tested,” France said. “And the question is ‘How do you respond?’ I think our team and our group did a very good job under the circumstances, and obviously made some tough decisions.”
On a personal level, France was angered by the events at Richmond.
“I was very angry about it,” he said. “But I also knew that I’m a student of — as you guys know, of sports. I don’t know if I’m the biggest sports fan in the company. I kind of say I am. But I had seen — and I knew that if we dealt with it, if we dealt with it really straight on, that we wouldn’t have a long?term blemish.
“It was going to be really tough, especially for the teams that got penalized, losing sponsors. That was no fun for anybody. But I knew that our credibility would be preserved if we did the right thing and we acted swiftly, and over time.
“So I wasn’t ever worried about that. But of course we were disappointed. But that’s just the nature, I guess, of competitive sports. You’ve got human beings trying to do their best, and sometimes they cross lines they shouldn’t cross.”