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

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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 President Brent Dewar says in statement there is ‘no place for bigotry, racism’

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NASCAR issued a statement from President Brent Dewar on Sunday in regards to recent events that have been fueled by hate.

“NASCAR brings fans of all different backgrounds and points of view together to celebrate one thing they all have in common – a love for NASCAR. We are saddened by recent tragic events around the world and feel strongly there is no place for bigotry, racism, hatred or violence in our society.”

The statement is the first public comment from a senior leader with the sanctioning body since the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one person was killed and 19 were injured when a car rammed counter-protesters.

USA Today posted a story Sunday about NASCAR fans commenting on the Confederate flag. Confederate images have become a part of the national debate since the Aug. 12 rally.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France told The Associated Press in June 2015 that NASCAR “would go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of (the Confederate) flag. I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there is no daylight how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way. We’re working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events.”

France spoke in support of President Trump at a campaign rally Feb. 29, 2016 in Valdosta, Georgia. He defended NASCAR’s diversity efforts when questioned in Nov. 2016 about his public support of Trump.

“On diversity, nobody, nobody with this company has worked harder and done more and resourced it better than me,’’ France said. “I founded the Diversity Council. I have fought for every single thing that makes sense because that’s my core belief about diversity. It is very, very important. I talk about it frequently. My efforts there should never be challenged, no matter what my political views might be. That’s a ridiculous thing to do.’’

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New NASCAR President addresses start times for Cup races

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The debate of when a Monster Energy Cup race should begin reignited this weekend on social media after some complaints by those in the sport and a response Monday by new NASCAR President Brent Dewar.

Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway marked the first of five consecutive races that have listed start times of 3 p.m. ET.

Clint Bowyer posted a tweet shortly after Sunday’s race that simply read “3:00 starts suck!”

Samantha Busch, wife of Kyle Busch, tweeted Sunday that she was not a fan of later start times but asked what fans thought.

Dewar, promoted to NASCAR president last week from his role as chief operating officer, addressed the matter Monday on “The Morning Drive’’ when asked about possible changes to the schedule beyond 2018.

Dewar mentioned that the schedule was an example of collaboration with NASCAR’s partners, which includes TV networks, and noted that “there were tradeoffs that we needed to make both for broadcast, tracks, teams, etc.

“We did some later start times this year and some in the industry have not liked that, but it was important to interact with our West Coast audience,’’ Dewar said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Still our largest audience is California, and 1 o’clock starts is too early for them on the West Coast. So we’re trying to find the right balance of that. But yes, I think you’ll see more innovation to make it a win-win for the industry. We will do it together as an industry. It won’t be unilateral on NASCAR’s part.’’

Last year, 12 of the 36 Cup points races had start times listed as 1 or 1:30 p.m. ET. This year, there are three such races.

Last year, five Cup points races had start times listed as 3 or 3:30 p.m. ET. This year, there are 13 such races.

The remaining Cup races scheduled to start before 3 p.m. ET are all in the playoffs:

(All times listed are Eastern)

Sept. 24 — New Hampshire … 2 p.m.

Oct. 1 — Dover … 2 p.m.

Oct. 8 — Charlotte … 2 p.m.

Oct. 15 — Talladega … 2 p.m.

Oct. 29 — Martinsville … 1 p.m.

Nov. 5 — Texas … 2 p.m.

Nov. 12 — Phoenix … 2:30 p.m.

Nov. 19 — Homestead … 2:30 p.m.

Among the comments made on social media Monday about the start time and Dewar’s comments:

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Brent Dewar promoted to fourth President in NASCAR history

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Brent Dewar on Thursday was promoted to President of NASCAR, effective immediately, the sanctioning body announced.

Dewar, who has served as NASCAR’s Chief Operating Officer since joining the sanctioning body in 2014, becomes only the fourth president in NASCAR history.

“Brent has helped lead a cultural transformation at NASCAR,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a media release. “From collaborating with team owners to building the charter framework; to partnering with tracks, auto manufacturers, entitlement sponsors, and broadcasters to deliver better racing and a more dynamic fan experience; he has spearheaded some of the most impactful enhancements NASCAR has implemented in its history.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled about the impact Brent has had on our industry and I am confident he will continue to help serve and grow our sport for many years to come.”

In his new role, Dewar will continue to serve on the NASCAR Board of Directors. He’ll also continue working with International Speedway Corporation President Lesa France Kennedy, Brian France and NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton in setting the strategic course of the sport and sanctioning body.

Steve Phelps, Executive Vice President and Chief Global Sales and Marketing Officer, Steve O’Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer will continue to report to Dewar.

Dewar, who is active on Twitter (@BrentDewar), joined NASCAR after three decades as a global automotive executive, including assignments in North and South America, Brazil and Europe.

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Mike Helton named NASCAR vice chairman; Dewar added to Board of Directors

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Two of NASCAR’s most powerful figures have been given new roles.

The sanctioning body has announced that Mike Helton, president of the sport since 2000, has been named Vice Chairman. Additionally, NASCAR’s Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar has been named to the sport’s Board of Directors.

Helton will continue to serve as senior official at all national series events (Sprint Cup, Xfinity Series, and Camping World Truck Series) and will also stay on the Board of Directors.

He began working with the sanctioning body in 1994 as a vice president for competition. In 1999, he was elevated to senior vice president and chief operating officer before succeeding Bill France Jr. as president in 2000.

“Mike Helton’s steady hand and decades of experience in every facet of our business have made him a close, trusted advisor to me and my family, and his overall impact on NASCAR cannot be overstated,” NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in a release.

“With a strong team ready to take on more day-to-day management responsibilities, I’m pleased to now have Mike in a role that will allow us to utilize his unique skills in advancing key priorities for the future of the industry.”

As for Dewar, he now assumes additional day-to-day operational responsibilities in racing development, innovation, and work with the sport’s partners and shareholders.

Dewar became NASCAR’s Chief Operating Officer in late 2013 following a career of almost three decades at General Motors. Prior to joining NASCAR’s executive team, he had also been a consultant for NASCAR on competition aspects such as rules, penalties, officiating, and inspecting.

“Adding someone as talented and experienced as Brent Dewar to our board will be highly beneficial to our company and the industry overall,” France said in the same release. “Brent’s operational expertise already has made a big impact and his understanding of how our sport works from multiple perspectives will bring immediate value to how we operate and future initiatives.”