NASCAR Chairman Brian France defends sport’s health

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — A combative and dismissive Brian France defended NASCAR’s health, its sponsorship search and its embrace of minorities despite his public support of President-elect Donald Trump in a press conference Sunday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

France, whose press conference was scheduled for 30 minutes, spoke for 17 minutes before the session ended.

The NASCAR Chairman spoke a day after Mexico’s Daniel Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win one of NASCAR’s national championships after winning the Xfinity Series title.

France spoke in support of Trump in a Feb. 29 rally in Valdosta, Georgia, saying then: “I’ll tell you one thing, if you leave on one other thing, any of his children, you’d be proud to have as part of your family. That’s how I judge a winner, how somebody manages their family, raises their family.’’

Asked about NASCAR’s embrace of Suarez’s accomplishment and his public support of Trump, whose comments about minorities have raised concerns among many, France interrupted the question: “Stop you right there.

“First of all, nobody wants to hear about my political views. Not one person on this stage wants to hear from me politically. So, I won’t be talking about that.

“On diversity, nobody, nobody with this company has worked harder and done more and resourced it better than me. 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.’’

France also faced questions about why NASCAR does not have a sponsor for its premier series 98 days before the 2017 Daytona 500. Sprint announced 23 months ago that it would not sponsor the series after this season.

France admitted that the agreement has “taken a little longer than I thought’’ but was confident of a deal being announced soon.

“We’re in a good spot with that I believe,’’ France said without offering details.

France stated during his press conference that he feels confident about the health of the sport.

“Would I obviously like to have, you know, everything perfect? Of course, I would, but that’s sports,’’ he said. “That’s a competitive business. The model is changing a little bit, too, maybe not even in a way that we wouldn’t like to see. We’re pleased with the health of the sport.’’

France was asked that in light of declines in ratings and few sellouts if the Chase format is resonating with fans.

“Yeah, you’re seeing TV ratings slide all over the place in sports, right?’’ he said. “You’re seeing all kinds of things happen in TV ratings. The big events, they go one way, the digital audience is consuming things different. We’re no different from that. It’s not a surprise on that.

“Attendance has been fine. We’ve come off weather issues like we did in Phoenix a year ago. We don’t have Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt (Jr.). Needless to say, there’s going to be a little impact there.’’

Asked further about the issue, France said: “We are still very pleased with our position in sports.  The audience isn’t going away at all. It’s sliding to different places, consuming in different ways.

“I would tell you some other leagues that have 30 percent drop‑offs, they didn’t lose 30 percent of their audience from one moment to the next, that audience is just sliding and consuming in some different ways. Our digital consumption is off the charts.

“So things are happening and sliding and moving around. It will all work out. Sports, in the end, us included, will always have a huge, big audience. So whether ratings are sliding over here, spiking at times over here, that will all work out.

France also was asked about if the series would consider reducing the number of charters as consolidations are expected to be announced in the coming days.

“You got teams that compete at a high level and do well,’’ he said. “You have some teams that for whatever the reasons can’t compete at such a high level, and they have some problems. That’s throughout our history. Not abnormal at all.’’

France was asked about if there have been any more discussion about bringing in additional manufacturers. He said: “Yes, yes, but we’re not in a position to make that announcement.’’