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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.’’

All-Star Race, Open entry lists

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It’s officially All-Star Race week.

For the first time the annual exhibition event that awards $1 million will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET Wednesday on FS1).

Twenty drivers will compete in the 140-lap, four-stage main event. Sixteen drivers currently make up the field following Cole Custer’s win Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Three drivers will qualify for the main event via the All-Star Open, the 85-lap preliminary race that’s divided into three stages. The winners of all three stages will advance. The remaining driver will advance via a fan vote.

Here are the entry lists for each race.

All-Star Race 

Drivers who automatically qualified for the All-Star Race: Those who won points races in 2019-20, past All-Star Race winners and previous Cup champions.

Drivers who have clinched an All-Star Race spot: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Cole Custer, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

Click here for the entry list.

All-Star Open

Twenty-two drivers are entered in the preliminary race.

Notable drivers include Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, rookies Tyler Reddick, William Byron and John Hunter Nemechek, as well as Bubba Wallace.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR in ‘good place’ with Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson after fight

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Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, says that series officials will keep an eye on Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson moving forward but that the sanctioning body feels it is in a “good place” with those drivers after their fight last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson punched Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway. A NASCAR spokesperson said Friday night that no penalties were anticipated.

Asked about where matters stood between NASCAR and the two drivers, Miller told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday morning:

“I personally wasn’t in the post-race conversations. (NASCAR Xfinity Series Managing Director) Wayne Auton does a great job with that and the report that I got from him is he talked to some of the crew members that were involved and obviously both of the drivers. I think we got to a good place. They’re going to have some words this week and try to make sure we’re in a good spot when we start the weekend next weekend in Texas. We feel like we’re OK.

“This is an emotional sport and there’s going to be things like that that crop up. It’s not a great situation for us to deal with as a sanctioning body, but we also want the emotion in the sport. That’s what makes it so special. Those things are unfortunate, but we do know from time to time those are going to happen. If we feel good about the conversations we’ve had, in a lot of cases we’re going to move on from that and keep an eye on those individuals moving forward.”

Race and Sports in America: Conversations to air at 8 p.m. ET Monday

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Damon Hack will host two roundtables with athletes and former athletes for a conversation on race and sports in America. The show airs at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic Channel and the NBC Sports Regional Networks.

Appearing with Hack will be Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, NBA superstar Steph Curry, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, NFL player Kyle Rudolph, pro golfer Troy Mullins, former tennis player James Blake, Major League Baseball player James Rollins and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Among the topics discussed are: The conversations they’ve had with family in the last few months, what they hope things will be like in a year’s time, the level of optimism vs. pessimism and their experiences.

 

 

Winners and losers from Kentucky

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WINNERS

Cole CusterHe entered Sunday’s race well out of a playoff spot at 25th in the points. He took advantage of a series of events in the final laps to score a dramatic victory and earn a playoff spot.

Martin Truex Jr.Lost the lead on the last lap but recorded his first top-five finish since his Martinsville win last month.

Matt DiBenedetto He was 18th with 14 laps to go and finished third.

Christopher BellSeventh-place finish was his fourth finish of 12th or better in the last six races.

Austin Cindric Had not won on an oval in the Xfinity Series before sweeping both series races at Kentucky Speedway.

LOSERS

Matt KensethA week after finishing runner-up at Indianapolis, he spun twice and finished 25th at Kentucky.

Ryan PreeceFinished last for the second race in a row. He was eliminated in a pit road accident at Indy and by transmission issues at Kentucky. He has failed to finish five of 17 races this season (29.4%).

Jimmie JohnsonWas third on a late restart when contact with Brad Keselowski spun him. Instead of contending for his first victory since 2017, Johnson finished 18th and had a little warning for Keselowski.