NASCAR team owners Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs reacted Saturday to a Wall Street Journal story from earlier this week that questioned the state and health of motorsports, particularly in NASCAR.
The story also questioned the leadership of NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation.
Here are excerpts from the responses by both owners. Gibbs first:
“I was interviewed for that article, and there wasn’t one comment I made that was in that article, or there was no slant to anything in there. And so think about this for a minute: What was brought up in that article is that the management team, Brian France, Lesa and everybody, it’s hard for them to make good decisions, fast decisions.
“I think nothing could be farther from the truth. Think about our sport. Three years ago we completely changed the Chase. Huge, big decision. We now have charters. In one year working with Brian France, NASCAR, the owners were able to put together charters. Huge deal for us. We come back this year, and in a short period of time, we now have stage racing.
“I would say that that (story) is so far off, nothing could be farther from the truth. I think everybody is engaged. I think everybody from Brian on down. We’ve had meetings with owners and with (manufacturers) and everybody. I don’t know of anything that’s ‑‑ where a sport has tried to reach out, please the fans, and make huge decisions.
“The second thing I would say on that, we announced FedEx the other day, a new extension for them, a long‑term extension. There’s three other sponsors that we also did that with our race team alone. We saw Shell come in and make a huge decision with Roger. We also have two new sponsors coming in that we can’t announce right now that will probably be announced within the month, okay. We have seven at Joe Gibbs Racing, us alone, and I said this in that statement to the Wall Street Journal, we have four Cup cars that are well‑funded, going to go like mad with some of the biggest and best sponsors in the world. We have three Xfinity cars, okay, well‑funded, going to go like mad and race like mad.
“Our sport, as far as I’m concerned, has a bright future. I think you don’t get the biggest and best companies in America involved in our sport and going as hard as they are and re‑upping and signing unless you’ve got a sport that brings value to the table. So thank you for asking that question. I felt strongly about it. I wanted to say that.”
Gibbs was also asked why the Wall Street Journal reportedly interviewed a number of other executives within the sport, but their responses were also not used in the story.
“I would love for the key owners and key (manufacturers) to have a chance in a forum to talk about it and talk about the sport, because I think we all know that you can take a series of interviews and probably slant it any way you wanted to,” Gibbs said. “My personal opinion, I just kind of felt like this thing was already going in a direction, and it was like when I was asked questions, it was, we’re headed one direction, I don’t care what you say.
“Now, maybe that’s not fair and I know that, but I felt it. I felt that. I felt it personally. And I take it because this is all my family, J.D., Coy, all of us, all we do is race every day, and I think our sport is healthy, and with our sponsors, I think we’re proof of that.
“I think Barney (Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser) and the people that came on board with him this year, and I think when you’ve got companies you’re sitting next to somebody like a Toyota, the biggest and strongest companies in the world are in our sport, I really think that could have been written in a totally different way. But you’re never quite sure what the objective was.”
Roger Penske also offered his thoughts on the Wall Street Journal story:
“I was really disappointed in the outcome of that because they talked about inside the France organization, which really is not pertinent to what’s going on on the race track or in the stands. When I look at the sport, and I go back to 2006 when I ran the Super Bowl in Detroit. We were lucky to have 70,000 seats and to think about every weekend we have better than a Super Bowl 38 times.
“People need to take that into consideration, and then as you stack the media and the social media on top of that, I think the connection is amazing and with the disruption we’re gonna have now with these three different segments, certainly when we announce a sponsorship like Shell yesterday for seven years and you see FedEx, I think that there’s never been more competition on the race track.
“I think what we have to do as a group, the people in this room, we have to take a little different look at this. Certainly, we built these stadiums – we had Michigan and we had California – and we just probably built too many seats because after the financial crisis, there’s no question the spendable income that people had just wasn’t available to do things like this two or three times a year.
“It’s not just in our sport. The NFL was down seven percent and no one is talking about that, so I think we need to move on and talk about the racing. There are a lot of young kids coming up in this sport. We’ve got great sponsors and certainly the TV guys have connected with the drivers and the car owners on this format, the rule changes, and I think we’ve got to go racing.”