It has been a month since Jim France took over as the CEO of NASCAR from Brian France in an interim position after Brian’s arrest in early August. Since then, we have not seen much change in the sport with Jim France in this position.
With the news of the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship team shutting down their No. 78 team of Furniture Row Racing, is this reason for concern, and what can Jim France do to save the sport? Is it too early to see a difference or can we see changes right away?
Ross Chastain got the opportunity of a lifetime to drive the No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing in the XFINITY Series on Saturday afternoon in Darlington. He definitely took advantage of the opportunity, leading over half of the race, but unfortunately was taken out in a collision with Kevin Harvick late in the race.
Ganassi has publicly commented on what a great job Chastain did in the car; he will have two more opportunities to drive for this team this season. Has Chastain done enough to earn a full-time opportunity like this? Or was this just a fluke?
Q: What is your evaluation of the state of NASCAR since Jim France took over the interim position from Brian France? Do you see any difference? — James P. San Diego, CA
A: It’s too early to tell a difference in the state of the sport. Jim France has only taken over for a month now and that is not enough time to turn anything around in the sport.
Now Sunday night’s race in Darlington saw an amazing crowd, one of the largest of the season if I had to guess, but I doubt that has anything to do with a new leader in charge. It’s more likely about Darlington being a crown jewel event and one of the biggest races of the season. The throwback theme also has a lot to do with it, and that is why so many people love going to the races there, to go along with the good racing we usually see at the track.
We have, unfortunately, seen a decline in ratings and attendance this season, but that does not mean they cannot improve again. France will do a great job in this new role of his, and he is capable of turning the sport around in time, possibly as soon as the start of next season. It’s just too late to change anything this season with the playoffs starting in two weeks and the season winding down.
With that said, 2019 is going to be a big year for the sport. It is undetermined and there has not been any news on whether Brian France will return to his role next year, but if Jim France retains this current position, I am confident we will see a turnaround. He has done a fantastic job with the current IMSA series, which is currently in a great state and has been since he negotiated the merger between the American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM back in 2014.
The France family has been in control of the sport since the beginning and I do not see that changing, even with the rumors swirling that the family is looking to sell their stake in the sport.
As for my overall evaluation, it is definitely too early to tell a difference, though Jim France has already been more visible at the racetrack in his short time as CEO than Brian France ever was. We should get a better evaluation next year at this time as to what the state of the sport is like with him in the CEO position if he still has it.
I will add this, though: the news of the No. 78 team shutting down is a bad look for the sport. The defending championship team is ceasing because of a lack of money. It’s a horrible situation and I am concerned. My hope is, somehow, Jim France can help stop the bleeding or at least be a big part in helping the sport get back to where it should be.
Q: What do you think of Ross Chastain and his opportunity in the No. 42? Do you think he’ll win in his remaining two races in the car? — Barry M. El Paso, TX
A: Chastain is an incredibly talented driver, and he didn’t even have to get into the No. 42 car to prove that. He has wheeled the JD Motorsports No. 4 car to a playoff spot and he has driven the Premium Motorsports No. 15 car in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to many solid finishes this season.
When I first heard the news that he would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing, it immediately stood out as an excellent opportunity for a driver who has earned it. I am not sure I expected him to win a race in the car, but I did believe he would have a chance at contending.
Saturday’s XFINITY race at Darlington made me believe that he is going to win a race in that car. To not just lead, but dominate a race at one of the toughest racetracks on the circuit as we see with Darlington, is more than extremely impressive. Chastain proved how much talent he really has and what he is capable of.
It is unfortunate that the incident with Kevin Harvick cost him a shot at the win, but he still opened the eyes of many, many people in the sport. Even though he did not end up in Victory Lane, he still made the most of the opportunity by dominating the race.
He has two more chances in that car, and I do think he will win at least one of those races. I definitely believed halfway through the race on Saturday that he was going to win. Not only would there be a potential victory in the No. 42, but he will most likely be in the playoffs in his No. 4 car.
Expectations for him in the No. 4 car, though, versus the No. 42 are a little varied. Obviously the No. 42 is a top car in the series and it is a winning car. The No. 4 car is solid, but I do not think it is capable of winning a race based on flat-out speed. He definitely can score some top-10 finishes though, and who knows, maybe CGR will want him in their car for more races in the playoffs.
If that does happen, we could be talking about a championship contender depending on how he runs in his next two races in the car and whether he can prove that Darlington was not a fluke. Overall, Chastain has an immense amount of talent. As for the rest of this year, I can see him doing great things, which could lead to excellent opportunities for him heading into 2019.