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NASCAR Chairman Brian France discusses sport’s future, young drivers, series sponsor


HOMESTEAD, Florida — NASCAR Chairman Brian France praised Monster Energy for what it has done in its first season as the sponsor of the Cup Series and said that “we’re very pleased with where that relationship is.’’

As for if Monster Energy is expected to renew as title sponsor beyond 2018, NASCAR President Brent Dewar said: “We work on those things all the time.’’

France, speaking to the media before Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, noted the challenges with a new sponsor.

“This is only the first year and there are always growing pains, but as I said earlier, we’re thrilled,’’ France said. “The promises they’ve made, they’ve kept, with the young demo, edgy shows, edgy marketing, putting our drivers in different places in different light. That’s what we want. They’ve delivered on that. 

“And like anything else, I think it will get better as they ‑‑ this is also a hard program. It’s a complicated program. It’s the best program, but to execute across all these platforms, it’s a big, big sport. There’s nothing like it, so you don’t get an opportunity to just go, well, we’ll do it like that guy did it or this guy does it over here because nobody can have, today anyway, in a major sports league, an entitlement position like this, so it’s a great program, but it ‑‑ and I think it will get better next year.’’

France and Dewar spoke on several other topics Sunday. Here’s what he said:

On race lengths:

Dewar:  “Race lengths, which interestingly we got a great research and analytics group, and you’ll love this, we asked these things, and one-third like them exactly the length they are, one-third want them to be longer, and one-third want them to be shorter.  So it’s unanimous that they love racing, and so ‑‑ but that’s part of what we work with the track partners, the race teams and the broadcast partners to find that optimal distance so we have the right show.’’

On drivers not being able to continue because of lack of sponsorship:

France: “The reality is, as Brent said a minute ago, Matt (Kenseth) 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.’’

On the young drivers in the sport:

France: “They 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 ‑‑ 19, 20, and they’re talented, so we’re in good shape.’’

On his biggest worry in NASCAR:

France: “Well, I’m really more optimistic right now, and I know you may expect me to say that, but we’ve made the transition largely. We’ve gotten the council meetings going. We’ve gotten charters in position so we can get our interests aligned more closely with drivers, OEMs and the charters and the team owners. We have the young drivers already in place. We’d like a couple more, of course. We’ve got some diversity with Bubba Wallace going in the 43 car. We like that. We’d love to see more of that. And we like all the changes that we’ve made in the last four or five years, including stage racing this year. It has created the things that we thought were important.

“Now, there are things out of our control, how millennials and other fans of ours are consuming not only our sport but all the sports. That’s obviously a challenge for everybody. Attention times, the platforms they want to view and consume, they’re changing.  TV is still ‑‑ always will be linear TV, critically important, but other things now will give us a great opportunity, and we’re positioned well there. But it’s true, there is always disruption when you have the kind of changes on a macro level in sports, and then couple that with our transition stuff, it’s understandable.

“But I’m glad we made all the decisions that we made in the last five to eight years.  hank goodness we did each and every one of those.  Just imagine if we didn’t. Imagine where we would be.  We wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the things that are available to us today.

“So we’re excited about ‑‑ and the biggest thing we’re excited about is, and Brent is leading the charge here, and I attended the last team owner council, is we’re on a fast track to get ‑‑ and it’s hard. It’s always been hard, to get the competition level up, and some of that is done by formats like stage racing and cutoff events and so on, has obviously stepped up the competition level. But there are other things we can do that are important to us.

“So we’re realistic about things that are changing that we don’t control outright, but we like where we’re at and we like where we’re going.’’

NASCAR America: Steve Letarte: Denny Hamlin showing ‘remarkable consistency’

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Things have been going relatively well for Denny Hamlin on the track in 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway sixth in points. Through five races, he’s finished outside the top six once (17th, Las Vegas).

NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan discussed his season so far in addition to Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Letarte said Hamlin has displayed “remarkable consistency.”

“Denny Hamlin is in my mind a super star driver that I know I am guilty of leaving him out of super star conversations,” Letarte said.

Ryan pointed to mistakes on pit road that have prevented Hamlin from enjoying more success this season and in his career overall. His result at Las Vegas was the result of a speeding penalty.

“Five races this season, four pit mistakes,” Ryan said. “He overshot his box at Daytona, he did that at Fontana, he sped in the pits at Phoenix. While I think they’ve had speed, I think that team is still stumbling in the same ways it has in the past. Unless they correct that, I don’t know if they’re championship level yet.”

Hamlin heads to Martinsville where he has won a career-best five races.

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Trevor Bayne on Charlotte Roval: ‘You have to be on your game’

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Rain washed out the second day of Goodyear tire testing Wednesday on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. Goodyear has tentatively scheduled May 1 as a make-up test date.

Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson took part in the test Tuesday.

“I just took some slow pace laps and got a feel for the race track,” Bayne said in a statement from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was nervous, but I wasn’t anxious because I was never going to go out there and make qualifying laps. We worked our pace in and our plan, we stuck to it. I felt really good by the end of the day.

“You have to be on your game, that’s for sure. You can’t really let your guard down anywhere. There’s no room to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’re going to pay for it pretty quickly. If you try to do something and it doesn’t work, you’ll pay the price. It’s going to be a survival race. … If you’re smart, you take care of your car and you don’t make mistakes, you’ll have a really good shot at the end for a good finish. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge for me – something new – and I enjoyed that part of it.”

Organizational tests at Charlotte will be in July. There will be two different sessions. Each team is allowed to test at one of the two sessions, which will be July 10 (rain date of July 11) and July 17 (rain date of July 18).

The Charlotte Roval hosts the final race of the first round of the Cup playoffs on Sept. 30 on NBC.

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NASCAR issues two fines for unsecured lug nuts at Auto Club Speedway

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NASCAR announced two crew chief fines for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Adam Stevens, crew chief on Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

In the Xfinity Series, Eric Phillips, the crew chief for Ryan Preece‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

No other penalties were announced.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Drivers to watch, favorite sports upsets

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to look forward to this weekend’s racing at Martinsville Speedway.

Marty Snider hosts with Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan from the “Big Oak Table” in Charlotte.

What to expect from today’s show.

  • The same names have been dominating the headlines in the first five races in the 2018 season. We will take a look at some of the other drivers to be on the lookout for as the season rolls on.
  • One of NASCAR’s most historic tracks is up this weekend – Martinsville! We’ll check out some of the recent drama “The Paperclip” has provided ahead of the race.
  • In the spirit of March Madness, our panel will tell us about their most memorable sports moments, as well as some of NASCAR’s biggest upsets.
  • Plus, The Indianapolis 500 will have a new home in 2019. We’ll have all the details on NASCAR America.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.