Former NASCAR CEO Brian France pleaded guilty to Driving While Intoxicated in August 2018, Suffolk County (New York) District Attorney Timothy D. Sini announced Friday.
As part of the plea agreement, France is required to complete 100 hours of community service and undergo alcohol counseling before his sentencing date. If he successfully complies with the requirements, France will be able to withdraw his plea of guilty and the charge will be reduced to a traffic violation of Driving While Ability Impaired.
If he is unsuccessful, he will be sentenced on the misdemeanor conviction. France is scheduled to be sentenced in Sag Harbor Village Justice Court on June 5, 2020.
In a statement, France said: “I would like to thank the Sag Harbor Village Justice Court for their careful attention to this matter. I am grateful for the Court’s consideration of all the facts in this case and I will follow their direction and recommendations as we move forward.
“While I made a mistake, this event has also given me the opportunity to reflect on my poor judgment that day, my family and my greater responsibilities to our community. I have learned valuable lessons and will be a better person because of this process.”
At about 7:08 p.m. on Aug. 5, 2018, France was driving a white 2017 Lexus sedan northbound on Main Street in Sag Harbor when he was observed failing to stop at a stop sign by a Sag Harbor Village Police officer. The officer stopped France and observed that France had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath, slurred speech, watery, bloodshot and glassy eyes, and was unsteady on his feet. France was arrested and given a breath test, which revealed his blood alcohol level to be .18 percent.
“This case is a reminder for both residents and anyone visiting Suffolk County this summer that it is all of our responsibility to keep our roads safe,” District Attorney Sini said in a statement. “It is not acceptable for anyone to be driving while drunk or on drugs in our community.”
Denny Hamlin after the March 3, 2013, Phoenix race: “I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning. The teams hadn’t figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there — I wouldn’t have moved up. It’s just one of those things where track position is everything.”
Kyle Busch after Monday’s race at Dover on the package for the cars: “It’s terrible. All I can do is bitch about it and fall on deaf ears and we’ll come back with the same thing in the fall.”
NASCAR fined Hamlin $25,000 for his comments.
NASCAR explained the reason for the fine by stating: “Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon. While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.”
Six years later, NASCAR said this week that it would not fine Busch for his comments after the Dover race. Busch said this week that he was not surprised NASCAR decided against fining him for his comments because “I’m not sure I said anything wrong.”
But don’t try to dissect the comments. That’s not the place to look in examining why one driver was fined and another was not.
NASCAR’s reaction to Busch’s comments shows a calmer approach. That’s a difference between Jim France, who is now the sport’s CEO, and Brian France, who was the CEO when Hamlin was fined.
Brian France often used a simple example to explain his reasoning for fining drivers for comments, saying in November 2011: “If I own a restaurant and I say you know what, the food in my restaurant is not very good, we’re not going to accept it. It’s as simple as that.”
When public pressure grew for NASCAR to do away with secret fines, Brian France said in January 2012 that the sanctioning body would still react to driver comments.
“If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we’re going to deal with that,” Brian France said then. “You know, we have to deal with that. And I think what’s really interesting is I can’t tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.”
If drivers can’t pass, they’re going to be frustrated. Some drivers noted how winner Martin Truex Jr. had the best car at Dover but it took him 240 laps to get to the front.
Truex took the lead for good with 53 laps to go. The same car that struggled in traffic — “It was definitely really hard to pass,” he said — then drove away from the field, winning by 9.5 seconds.
It took nearly 300 laps. There’s a bunch of ways that they are able to move up throughout a race.. fast pit stops, competition making mistakes or bad strategy (22,24) for instance. You really only need to pass about 2 per run with the best car. Others will eliminate themselves.
I ran down the 6 and 3 by 4 tenths a lap from almost a half track back, got to them and was stuck for 20 laps. If you don’t have the dominant race winning car and can’t move around the whole track to find clean air, it’s very difficult
While the package has improved the racing at some tracks, it’s not perfect every place. The key is making changes for tracks where the package isn’t as effective.
With car owners facing additional costs with the Gen 7 car’s projected debut in 2021, they likely will be hesitant to be in favor of any expensive midseason changes. It’s 21 months until February 2021. With many details to be worked out with the new car, the question is what can NASCAR do to allow drivers to show more of their skill? If NASCAR can’t find a solution, how much longer will they allow drivers to speak up about the package?
2. Is time running out for NASCAR to go to Nashville in 2021?
In December, Formosa Productions, which promotes races at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, and Bristol Motor Speedway reached an agreement to “explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track.
Nearly six months later, work remains.
An issue is getting an agreement done with the city by next spring when NASCAR is expected to announce the 2021 schedules. NASCAR announced the 2020 Xfinity and Gander Truck Series schedules April 4, 2019. If NASCAR aims for a similar target date, that would leave 11 months to get a deal complete.
If more time was needed, NASCAR might be able to delay the 2021 Xfinity and Truck schedules. The 2019 schedules for both series were not released until June 13, 2018. Either way, time is ticking.
“Days, weeks and months go by quickly when you’re not really paying attention to it,” Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, said. “However, it’s very possible things can get put on the right track and move along very swiftly and that’s certainly our interest.”
He says conversations are ongoing.
“I think the most important part is we’ve got a strong interest and it seems like in general there is a big interest in the people we’re talking with,” Smith said.
A few issues facing an effort to get on the 2021 schedule:
Nashville elections, including for mayor, are Aug. 12. There are multiple candidates for mayor and should a runoff election be needed, it would be held Sept. 12.
Smith notes that Fairgrounds Speedway “needs some TLC.” So far a financing plan has not been finalized.
Also, the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners raised issues in its April meeting about SMI’s involvement.
While the Tennessean had reported that SMI/Bristol Motor Speedway officials have met with Mayor David Briley and his administration, the Fair Board — which oversees the track — has not had any contact.
“I think there has sort of been a transparency problem here,” said fair board member Jason Bergeron at the April meeting. “It’s been eight months and we haven’t heard any details. … It’s a little frustrating. We have no concrete proposal and there’s been no real engagement with the community.”
He later said: “I think SMI needs to bring a real proposal to the table.”
The agenda for the May 14 Fair Commission Board meeting includes a “presentation by Speedway Motorsports Inc.”
3. A new test
Cup teams return to a 1.5-mile speedway this weekend for the first time in more than a month.
Denny Hamlin won at Texas on March 31 in the most recent race at a 1.5-mile speedway. That race also saw Hendrick Motorsports lead 110 of 334 laps between Jimmie Johnson (60 laps led), Chase Elliott (35) and William Byron (15). Johnson finished fifth, Byron sixth and Elliott 13th.
Stewart-Haas Racing, which is winless this year after winning a series-high 12 races last year, placed all four of its cars in the top 10 at Texas: Clint Bowyer was second, Daniel Suarez placed third, Aric Almirola was seventh and Kevin Harvick finished eighth.
Almirola is excited to see where his team stands this weekend at Kansas Speedway.
“We’ve built new race cars going to Kansas,” Almirola said. “We built new race cars going to Texas, which I thought were in the game. We were competitive, we led some laps and challenged to lead the race at the end.
“We were in the right direction with our race cars and then we’ve taken another step in going to Kansas. Just continuing to evolve our mile-and-a-half program. Having a month off has really allowed us to kind of take as step back, go through lot of data, look at a lot of different things and build these race cars.”
4. Record streak
No, we’re not talking about Kyle Busch tying Morgan Shepherd for the most consecutive top-10 finishes in a row at 11, but what Ross Chastain has done this year.
Chastain has started every Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. That’s 27 consecutive races and it will grow this weekend with Chastain entered in both the Truck and Cup races at Kansas Speedway.
Chastain is one of three drivers to have started more than 16 consecutive races in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks to start the season. Chastain ranks No. 1 on the list.
Kyle Busch is next. Busch started the first 22 races in the 2008 season and started the first 20 races in the 2009 season. Rick Mast started the first 16 races in the 1989 season.
5. Looks familiar
In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had two wins, three top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, led 536 laps and had an average finish of 10.5 after 11 races.
This year, Truex has scored two wins, four top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, led 343 laps and has an average finish of 10.3 after 11 races.
Truex went on to win the title in 2017. While it’s too early to forecast anything like that this year, his start in his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing should not go unnoticed, especially heading to Kansas. He has four consecutive top-five finishes there. He won both races there in 2017, finished runner-up in the May 2018 race and placed fifth in last year’s playoff race.
Ryan: The inside story of the secret deal that changed the Daytona 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The communication was inherently awkward because how often do these guys talk anyway? They race in the same series, but they certainly aren’t buddies.
Yes, they might share the goal of winning the Daytona 500, but the agendas for how to achieve that were quite different. It was understandable a powder keg of emotions might be triggered by the typically capricious chain of events set off by a restart at Daytona International Speedway.
How surprising instead that it turned out so well.
Who would have thought Chevrolet and Toyota would work harmoniously together Sunday?
Yes, that was among the most delicious subplots to emerge from the 61st running of the Great American Race. The fact that the only two Ford Performance drivers left didn’t play nice in the closing laps of the season’s biggest race had tongues wagging. Ford’s cohesion had been the key to its success.
But while those allegiances fell apart, an unholy alliance between unlikely bedfellows thrived.
In a Saturday morning meeting, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing (with help from Toyota Racing Development) hatched a plan to battle Ford’s 12-car squadron that had dominated Speedweeks (sweeping the top three of most qualifiers Thursday) and much of restrictor-plate racing for the past year.
Though some of the key players declined to be identified, it isn’t difficult to glance at the rosters for Hendrick, JGR and Toyota and find some obvious ties. There are several names who have worked in at least two or all three camps (in some cases).
And it was those previous liaisons that helped lay the groundwork for Hendrick and Gibbs drivers drafting together in the Daytona 500 – even if it felt weird for many of the principals.
“I’m texting HMS crew chiefs the night before and we’re talking about strategy, and it’s like, ‘What in the world is going on here?’” Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin told NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long during his Monday morning champion’s breakfast at the track. “It’s just crazy that you’re sleeping with the enemy.”
It was by necessity.
Though Chevy actually had more drivers in the field than Ford, Hendrick and Richard Childress Racing never have been simpatico at plate races. Toyota has only five drivers – Gibbs’ foursome of Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones – and Matt DiBenedetto of Leavine Family Racing.
And it seemed to work: Unlike the Thursday qualifying races and The Clash (and many plate races last year) when Ford drivers seemed to control the draft at will with long lines of cars, their fleet of Mustangs couldn’t get organized as well Sunday.
In Stage 2, a six-car train of three Toyotas (DiBenedetto, Busch, Jones) and three Chevys (Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, William Byron) went long on pit stops to control the pace. The pack was two- to three-tenths of a second faster than the field and put some good cars a lap down.
Though several late crashes effectively defused the teamwork in the closing laps, the strategy was a huge disruptor. Hendrick and JGR/Toyota teams communicated through spotters and other channels to help make life more difficult for the Fords.
“We both understood that there were powers in numbers and the disadvantage that both of our organizations had had, us being the manufacturer and them being just the four of them,” Hamlin said. “It was tough for them to have enough Chevrolets that are competitive to go up and run with them that the best bet for us was, ‘Look, we’re not going to go out of our way to help each other, but we’re not going try to screw each other either. Work together with strategy.’
“They had a great strategy plan in play that was going to be working great until a few cautions fell here and there. Certainly, it was good to work with those guys and not only that, those were all drivers and crew chiefs I trusted, so when we put that plan together to work together, I was confident that it would play out well.”
The result was the JGR Toyotas notching the second 1-2-3 team finish (Hamlin, Busch, Jones) in Daytona 500 history and the first since … Hendrick Motorsports in 1997 (Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Ricky Craven).
It appears they had more in common than they realized.
The restrictor-plate era ended with a literal bang – too many bangs, actually.
In the final race with the plates that had been used for 30 years to choke down airflow to the engines and reduce speeds at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway (where cars are more inclined to sail into the grandstands), there were three multicar pileups and two red flags in the last 20 laps as world-class drivers made inexplicably poor decisions and maneuvers. The 40 minutes of stoppage time helped ensure a larger audience in prime time but also an excruciatingly choppy finish as the final 15 laps took nearly 90 minutes to complete.
“I was actually looking at the (clock) on the dash,” Hamlin said about sitting in his No. 11 during the first red. “It was 5:40 (p.m.), and I’m looking at the scoreboard, and I’m like, ‘Wow, at 6:15 we’re going to know the end of this race.’ And I look, and I’m like, ‘At 6:30 we’re going to know the end of this race. We’re sitting under red flag, and I just see the ticker just going, like, ‘At 6:50 we’re really going to know who won this race.’
“It was crazy how long it took. I’ve seen five laps take an hour before, but the track was just an absolute mess.”
But the biggest takeaway from the final demolition derby plate race was underscoring the unavoidable mayhem – and colossally dumb mistakes — as the checkered flag approaches.
“Pretty much,” Kyle Busch said when asked whether a wreck-filled ending was inevitable after the relatively clean 475 miles before it. “Brains come unglued. That’s all it is. The brain connection to the gas pedal foot doesn’t quite work the same anymore. There’s a lot of give and take throughout the beginning portion of the races, and then it comes down to the end, and somehow some way there’s always that caution within 30 or 40 to go that sets everybody off pit road and then it’s chaos after that.”
Said Logano: “Yeah, you know it’s coming. And especially this race, you know what’s on the line. It’s the Daytona 500. No one is really worried about points or getting themselves into the playoffs yet. Everyone is thinking, I want to win the biggest race of the year, and like Kyle said, the brains come unglued.”
So, farewell – or maybe good riddance for some — to the plate era … but this is only a nominal change. With tapered spacers still being used to keep horsepower in check, it’s extremely likely the April 28 race at Talladega Superspeedway will look familiar. And if not, NASCAR will tweak the rules to ensure it does (as it did with tandem racing in 2011).
Stuck with those parameters, it might be too much to ask NASCAR stars to be mindful that memorable races are built on sublime driving, and provided that no one is hurt, it probably is better to have too many crashes than too few (based on the reaction to the single-file racing prevalent at Daytona the past 10 days).
But it would be nice if the end of the plate era also put a period on the absurd displays of driving witnessed during crunch time Sunday.
So those who took issue with my characterization of the truck race … I'd label the past 12 laps today the same way.
Some overly optimistic/questionable driving … big crashes … two red flags … equal a choppy ending.
Still could be a memorable finish, though. #nascar
There is some industry skepticism about that timeline for the new model. Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson told NBC Sports there needs to be blueprints for the Gen 7 “within the next 30 to 45 days” and track testing needs to begin by the end of summer.
“I think we’re behind as an industry,” Wilson said Sunday. “NASCAR is in the process of collecting feedback across the industry. They’ve systematically been talking to every team in the garage this weekend. They’re assimilating that feedback. We’re putting together an action team with NASCAR. We had a meeting early (Saturday) morning (with the manufacturers) from a process perspective about how we work together. The good news is we have a bit of a template that we use for Gen 6.
“We’re still behind. We’ve got to make up the ground somewhere. If you look at everything you have to contemplate with this car – safety, testing, manufacturing. The scope of the change to the hardware is going to be massive.”
But the benefits will be worth it. Wilson, who said momentum began for the project in August at the beginning of CEO Jim France’s reign (“The biggest driver and clear leader behind this is Jim France. He has a quiet, understated passion for making this happen.”), believes the next car could bring a bevy of new automakers to NASCAR.
“In 10 years, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t have six or seven manufacturers,” Wilson said. “You look at sports car racing. Our Lexus program is we’re racing against seven to eight manufacturers. We compete in the showrooms every day. Why can’t it be the same thing on the racetrack?
“But it’s going to be a journey. I’m not absolutely certain we’ll get there by ’21.”
For a frame of reference, the Gen 6 car made its debut in 2013 season after NASCAR and manufacturers begin discussions in early ’10.
Track presidents met with NASCAR executives for more than three hours last week at Daytona and were given some basic parameters for a robust schedule discussion: The Daytona 500 must be in mid-February, the Coca-Cola 600 will remain on Memorial Day weekend, and the Southern 500 stays tied to Labor Day weekend.
Virtually anything was considered fair game after that. There were throwback ideas being considered that could move a warm-weather race or two to late January or early February, ahead of the Daytona 500. The Great American Race has been the opener since 1982 but was the season’s second or third race for the first 23 years of its existence (1959-81).
Though Daytona will maintain its traditional calendar regardless of whether there it’s preceded by other race, there has been recent conjecture about a Speedweeks shake-up (which certainly could use fewer “dark” days at the track).
Of the 20 truck races held at Daytona since 2000, 15 have been run under caution for at least 25 percent of the race. Though 26 of 32 trucks were involved in crashes last Friday, it was the fourth time in eight years more than two dozen trucks sustained damage. In 2012, 29 of 36 trucks were in wrecks.
New Smyrna Speedway is just down the road … again, it’s just a thought.
While NASCAR’s top three national series kicked off this past weekend, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series remains nearly two months from starting its eighth season with the April 13 opener at Valencia, Spain. Its 2019 schedule of seven events is drawing a bevy of attention, though, after 2000 champion Bobby Labonte competed last year in the series (which was won by two-time Cup champion Alon Day, who also has made two Cup starts.).
The series also has drawn serious interest from a recently retired former Cup champion and many drivers in lower series for the 2019 season.
“We don’t have anything finalized, so we can’t announce who we’re talking with yet,” series executive Joe Balash told NBC Sports. “But we’ve had conversations with multiple drivers from multiple garages who want to race in the series.”
The Whelen Euro series also had a driver exchange last year with the Pinty’s Series in Canada and is exploring a similar arrangement with the Peak Mexico Series. The European circuit, which also races in England, Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium, is an attractive option because it’s relatively inexpensive.
As a spec stock-car series, it costs roughly $100,000 US to run the full slate, which features two divisions of two races per weekend. Teams also can field two drivers of different rated skill levels (similar to the GTD division of IMSA).
Chase Elliott’s Speedweeks was mostly forgettable as far as results (eighth in a Thursday qualifier was his best). But as far as living up to his persona, no one was more a man of the people than the reigning most popular driver.
Hendrick Motorsports’ emerging star gave the fullest effort to spice up action that often was single file on the 2.5-mile oval.
Whether futilely trying to gain positions in the Xfinity race (he gave a wave to the crowd and said “Sorry” after finishing 10th), furiously battling for positions in the qualifier, or aggressively trying to stay toward the front in the Daytona 500, Elliott was the lone driver who refused the groupthink that had cars hugging the wall for much of Speedweeks – and proudly proclaimed he did it for the legions wearing his gear (while subtly throwing some shade at those he was racing).
“Hey, if they are going to ride around the top all day long, I’ll be happy to try the bottom and at least make something happen for the great people that are watching up here in the stands,” Elliott said Thursday.
The pressure is off, and now the public is seeing more of an emerging star it can’t seemingly love enough. That’s a good sign for NASCAR – particularly if Elliott can develop a more defiant and outspoken public side that his father never embraced.
This might have been another example: Roughly two and a half hours later, the green flag dropped on an action-packed Stage 1. Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, said Tuesday morning on SiriusXM that the hard racing probably would have happened anyway, but the drivers “listened to (France) like he was God.”
Did France’s words have an impact on how drivers raced the Daytona 500, which opened with the best 60 laps of Speedweeks?
It’s impossible to know for sure.
The only thing that probably matters is that he said it.
New or old, fans have returned for Sunday’s Daytona 500, which will held among a swirl of changes.
The season starts with talk of rules that debut next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway and will change how the racing looks. There also have been discussions of a new look for 2020 and beyond. Schedule changes are expected next year, even more in 2021 – when the Gen 7 car is projected to premiere.
The dawn of a new season and what is coming has reinvigorated a garage beaten down the past couple of years. Jim France is now in charge and he’s in the garage, a marked change from Brian France’s approach.
Seeing Jim France each weekend gives those who work in the garage optimism. How long it lasts depends on what changes the sanctioning body make.
For fans, it’s all about what the racing looks like.
That’s a lot left to be desired at Daytona so far. Asked if he thought the racing had been good this week, Richard Petty said: “No, I don’t.”
His comment came before Saturday’s Xfinity race won by Michael Annett, who led the final 45 laps. It was great win for Annett personally but the single-file racing frustrated some fans and left them to wonder how Daytona could turn into a high-speed conga line.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the high line becoming just so clearly dominant,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after watching JR Motorsports win the season-opening Xfinity race for the fourth time in the last six years. “To listen to the drivers and to watch what happened (Saturday) in the race, it doesn’t seem like it’s entirely by choice that they all ride up there, it’s by necessity.”
Fans saw that same type of racing in the Clash and both qualifying races during Speedweeks. What often was missing in those events were things Clint Bowyer says are important to make a good race.
“Moments,” Bowyer said this week. “No different than when I go to a football game. The Super Bowl sucked and I am a football fan. Again, you go watch the (Kansas City) Chiefs games, I was lucky enough to be a Chiefs fan this year and it was a highlight reel one after another with (quarterback Patrick) Mahomes and (Tyreek) Hill.
“I don’t know, there wasn’t a highlight the whole Super Bowl in my opinion. It was a snoozer. Was it an extremely challenging game in other eyes, yes. I guarantee you there are football gods out there saying it was the best game in the history of football. To me, there weren’t enough moments.
“You have to have good passing, side-by-side (racing), changes for the lead, cautions – I don’t want a caution because that means somebody has wrecked or had a problem but there are so many things that go into adding up to those moments. Us drivers, you have to be in a situation that you can make the most of.
“Again, without a caution at the end of some of these restrictor-plate tracks, we may not have those moments. Sometimes all it takes is a caution to make that moment that someone takes to the office the next (day) to say, ‘My gosh, you should have been there and seen that.’ We have to have more of those, no question.”
There is a belief that the racing should be better in the Daytona 500 with a full 40-car field. The Clash had 20 cars and both qualifying races had 21-car fields. There weren’t enough cars to create a competitive second lane, so most ran the high line. That said, Chase Elliott made a number of passes on his own in his qualifying race. Daniel Suarez also tried such moves.
But for all the talk about the racing, some things remain the same. Cup veterans often dominate Speedweeks and have done so this week. Jimmie Johnson won the Clash after contact with Paul Menard. Kevin Harvick and Logano each won their qualifying races. A Hendrick Motorsports car is on the pole for a fifth consecutive year, this time with William Byron.
Maybe things will change Sunday. The Truck Series saw Austin Hill score his first career series win. Then Annett recorded his first career Xfinity win Saturday.
That’s why fans travel near and far to be at Daytona on a Sunday in February. For all the questions about the racing, for the surprise winners, no one knows what to expect. Just like it has always been at this track.
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicle website lists the penalties for alcohol and drug-related violations. It states that aggravated driving while intoxicated is where an individual has a Blood Alcohol Content of .18 or higher. In New York, a person is considered driving while intoxicated if they have a Blood Alcohol Content of .08 or higher or exhibit other evidence of intoxication.
A misdemeanor in New York is defined as an offense other than a traffic infraction in which a sentence in excess of 15 days but not greater than one year may be imposed. Upon conviction of a Class A misdemeanor, a court may sentence an individual to a maximum of one year in jail or three years probation. In addition, a fine of up to $1,000 or twice the amount of the individual’s gain from the crime may be imposed.