Chairman and CEO of NASCAR Brian France spoke to the media before Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. France, who has only made a couple appearances at the track in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, commented on the new crop of drivers and how new entitlement sponsor Monster Energy is performing thus far. His presser came just a few days after Dale Earnhardt Jr. raised eyebrows in the sporting world and NASCAR Nation, announcing his retirement from Cup competition following 2017.
“Obviously, we had a big announcement this week with Dale Jr.,” France said. “He has meant a lot to this sport in many ways. Not just his popularity, but carrying on the Earnhardt name in such a good way. Always competitive on the track, racing at a high level. And he always worked with NASCAR to make the sport better like his father did. Some just drive the car. Dale Jr. was more quiet about that, but it was important to him.”
Earnhardt is the fourth major name to retire from the Cup Series since 2015. He joins Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon on the sidelines in such a short period of time. But despite the loss of those popular wheelmen, France is confident in the next generation “pool” of young talent.
“We are in a transition with many drivers retired or moved on in the last two or three years,” he said. “Whether it be Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards unexpectedly, they have decided their time is done.
“I said this a long time ago: careers are not going to last as long as they did in previous decades. The reason is that the demands are high, [plus you have] the opportunity to leave a racecar because of the financial situations the drivers are fortunate enough to be in. They get to pick and choose their careers differently.”
France said he is excited to have youngster Kyle Larson as the Cup Series point leader. He hopes other young talent follows, driving the level of competition and rivalries of the next generation to a new level.
“We tend to have drivers in waves go in one direction,” he claimed, claiming the recent retirements have happened in a cluster before. “It’s not uncommon to have three, four, five drivers to exit in a short time.
“The good news is, you have seen the talent pool that is coming. It’s deep. We’re excited about that. They have to compete at a high level and they can’t be humble about that. They can’t be humble to say, ‘I’m happy to be here.’ They’re here for a reason and they stay for a reason. I’m excited at our pool in Cup and XFINITY. Both are working the way we want it to. The drivers are going to take time to find their way. We like to see their personalities come out, their competitive zeal. They have to figure that out on their own.”
France is referring to a similar group of retirements that happened back in the late 1980s. Back then, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, and David Pearson all retired within the window of 1986-89 while Tim Richmond died of AIDS. But the sport survived, thriving in the early 1990s on budding rivalries like Dale Earnhardt Sr. versus Rusty Wallace.
France Comments On New Title Sponsor
Through a quarter of Monster Energy’s first season as entitlement sponsor of NASCAR, France said the relationship is strong after only two months of racing.
“I say one word: great,” he said. “They are bringing what we hoped they would bring: that youthful, edgy entertainment. [There was a] massive crowd in California watching the things they were doing. Digitally, they are one of the leading companies in the country.
“They’re doing great, we are excited to have them.”
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