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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Massie’s Minute: One Year Into the Post-Brian France Era, Is NASCAR Better Off?

Friday, Aug. 2, is the 57th birthday for former NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian Z. France, and Monday, Aug. 5, marks the one-year anniversary of France’s arrest for a DUI and possession of a controlled substance. The latter date has also come to be known as France’s last day as head of NASCAR and the start of a new era.

France’s arrest stemmed from him running a stop sign in the Hamptons in Sag Harbor, N.Y. The arresting cop found France to be intoxicated with Oxycodone in his car. Following the incident, France announced he was taking an indefinite leave of absence from his roles in NASCAR, but it’s been a year and he still hasn’t returned. His uncle, Jim France, took over the job — interim at first, but it has since become his permanent post.

A few months ago, NASCAR announced it was buying International Speedway Corporation (ISC), which is primarily owned and controlled by the France family. It was discovered during this acquisition that Brian France no longer owned any shares of ISC.

This means we’ve likely seen the last of Brian France in NASCAR. While he could come back should his family decide to hire him, I highly doubt he will ever be the controlling figure again, a role that many NASCAR fans hated him in. The latter stages of the Brian France era have been marred with negativity, from the formation of the playoffs, to the stagnant schedule, to ownership charters. France was there when NASCAR signed its biggest ever TV contract and ratings were at an all-time high, but he was also in charge when ratings and attendance sank.

Now that we’re a year removed from Brian France’s exodus, it seems like a good time to evaluate the new era of NASCAR — the Jim France and Steve Phelps era. While both have been a breath of fresh air in their respectively roles, the reviews are mixed so far.

This is the first season in a while where television ratings haven’t significantly dropped, so it appears something has stopped the bleeding of the fan base. A significant positive moment of Jim France’s leadership was this February at Daytona International Speedway when he ordered the drivers to actually race each other in the Daytona 500 after a couple single-file parades earlier in Speedweeks. Brian France would’ve never done that — it was a miracle if he even came to a race. It has been huge for the series to have leadership that is actually visible and aware of what is going on in the races.

NASCAR leadership seems to react quicker to problems this year than in recent years. They’ve already gotten rid of group qualifying and reduced the ridiculous uncontrolled tire rule. In the past, we’d still be waiting on these rules to change. And if they did change, then it would somehow be for the worse.

In this new era, NASCAR now takes away wins for failing post-race inspection, something that Brian France and even his father, Bill France Jr., never wanted to do. In the first NASCAR-sanctioned race ever, Glenn Dunaway had the win taken away for having moonshine shocks, so instituting this new rule is a throwback to Bill France Sr.’s original vision for the sport. It also seems to be popular with fans, who were tired of trying to understand complicated rules and “encumbered wins.”

And that’s the part of the new NASCAR leadership’s initiative that is really working: they aren’t trying to force NASCAR into larger markets and transform it into stick-and-ball sports at the expense of longtime fans like Brian France tried to do. They’re catering more so to what the old fans want to see.

The other great thing they are doing is chasing after new manufacturers. The more manufacturers, the better NASCAR is. There is more money poured into more teams, so it forms more parity. There was a spike in competitive teams when Dodge reentered NASCAR in 2001 and again when Toyota came in 2007. Since Dodge left after 2012, we’ve seen the number of competitive teams dwindle. A large part of this new era of NASCAR’s success will bank on whether or not it successfully brings in new manufacturers.

But for all that good, there has also been bad. Phelps initially acted like the NASCAR schedule would feature more short tracks and road courses in 2021 and beyond, something countless fans have been begging for. But more recently, Phelps seemed to back off of that sentiment, saying the schedule changes wouldn’t be that significant. Instead, we’ve now got a racing package that has improved the racing at the cookie-cutter mile-and-a-half tracks (which was a needed improvement) and worsened the racing on short tracks and road courses. I sincerely hope NASCAR isn’t hoping they can brainwash fans into thinking the intermediate tracks are better so they can keep the schedule as is. That would be a devastating move.

The other problem Jim France, Phelps and co. have been unresponsive to is the lack of new owners. With the current crop of owners getting older, there needs to be some young blood in the way of ownership. However, the only new owner we’ve seen recently is Spire Motorsports, a marketing agency who does a lot of work within NASCAR and who took Furniture Row Racing’s charter — the most valuable charter there was — after no one else wanted it. The fewer potential owners there are, the more the charter system will fail. Leadership has yet to offer any kind of solution to this problem.

And the reason no new owner wants to be involved is also the greatest reason the new era of NASCAR leadership is failing: the team’s aren’t getting enough revenue to make it an appealing investment. Back in the 1990s, there were people like Brett Favre itching to get involved in NASCAR, but star athletes who have made millions can’t afford to be in NASCAR anymore — it’s a billionaire’s playhouse. The costs to run a team are substantial and the prize money doesn’t give enough return on that investment.

Part of this problem falls on the owners, who idiotically spend more money than they can afford to make their cars go faster, thus making the cost of sponsorships too high for new sponsors to come in or longtime ones to stick around. The teams need to get a bigger slice than just 25% of the TV money and there also need to be changes made that drop the costs. Laying off one guy on the pit crew doesn’t make that big of a difference.

So far, Phelps and Jim France have done nothing to help the teams out in that regard. In fact, I heard the other day that the switch to the 2021 car could cost teams somewhere around $5 million per car. That’s the opposite of what these teams need, and it guarantees we won’t see any new car owners in the lame duck 2020 season.

So while the new leadership has done a great job at racing-related problems, they really need to step it up on the business end. They’re currently “pulling a Brian France” on those issues. But it’s only been a year, so I guess we need to give them more time to work out these major kinks.

Regardless, it’s still a better leadership than Brian France. It’s a shame his tenure didn’t result in better because NASCAR and the France family need each other. There would be no NASCAR without Bill Sr. and it wouldn’t be a national sport without Bill Jr. I guess sometimes greatness skips a generation. But at least we got three good things from Brian’s era: no more racing back to the yellow flag, double-file restarts and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

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About Michael Massie

Michael Massie
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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10 comments

  1. Avatar

    One year without Brian France is
    not enough years without Brian France

  2. Avatar

    The schedule was never a problem – and Phelps was right to shoot down the idiotic twaddle about shaking it up – and fans wanting more short tracks are wrong. Short tracks are inferior competition venues in weaker markets. NASCAR was and is about superspeedways. And the racing finally is improving there because they’ve finally addressed lack of downforce – the worst mistake In racing is cutting downforce; it never improves passing – and lack of drafting effect.

    The TV deal was another colossal mistake because it’s cost NASCAR the five networks that constituted five sources of revenue. Teams don’t need a bigger slice of the pie, the sport needs three additional TV networks involved and also needs the tracks to have some autonomy to negotiate additional media and revenue deals, the kind that helped the Busch and Truxk Series when five networks covered them as well as Winston Cup.

    People need to stop wishing for shaking up anything and accept the tracks NASCAR presently has. NASCAR leaders for their part need to improve the racing more, via even better drafting effect and also far more points incentive into winning and leading.

    • Avatar

      How can you say fans wanting short track is wrong. Personally I like short tracks because there can be significant contact and no one gets hurt and the car more times than not can still be competitive because there are no aero dependencies. So please don’t tell a large part of the fan base is wrong because they don’t want what you want. You are only speaking for yourself not the rest of us fans and, right or wrong, you may be in the minority. .
      BTW the only reason the short tracks are in weaker markets is because the greedy track owners haven’t built a new one in 40 years. Maybe if Chicago or Vegas or Texan had been a short track then it would be in a strong market. Also BTW, haven’t you noticed that attendance at all tracks are down and TV is carrying the sport. If attendance is secondary then what does TV audiences care where the track is.
      You are entitled to your opinion but don’t act like you speak for everyone.

  3. Avatar

    You lying prick remember Jeremy Mayfield. What goes around comes around.

  4. Avatar

    To be fair to Jim France and Steve Phelps, they suddenly inherited a complete mess from BZF and have done a reasonable job of at least helping to slow down the exodus of fans from the tracks and switching their TV’s away from NASCAR races. Granted, there is still much corrective action required to address the problems such as an over-long schedule, excessive officiating, insanely-high team costs, an over-reliance on TV money, the steady decline of sponsorship and nurturing a new group of young drivers who can exite the fans again.

  5. Avatar

    The sport is still in a downward spiral and it starts at the top. They refer to NASCAR as an Industry. No, it is a monopoly. Buzz words. They use model as in business, not so, they are not competing with a different widget. It is all the same, a car, engine, crew, transporters. Not a business model. I am sure that Front Row and Penske operate differently, but they are still doing the same thing.
    Manufactured statistics, aka the Kyle Bush 200 saga. Really, Ford imported Mario Andretti, Jimmy Clark, Gordon Joncock, to try and stop Richard Petty. And he sat out the entire 1965 season. No comparison.
    Mr. France, (Big Bill) would have NEVER moved the Southern 500 from Darlington. Never located at in Kansas, New Hampshire. I’m sure Rockingham would have not been sabotaged by owners wanting to close it, ditto North Wilkesboro.
    And now, attendance decline. NO, he would have made certain the fans at the track were cared for, David Hill would have been pitched out of a press box window when he wanted to change start times, etc. Whining drivers because of the length would see getting through tech much harder.
    No, the France family lost control with Bill#2 took over. Brian had no chance.
    The hope is Marcus Smith buys it. We have a chance.
    Can all the buzz-word people and get some racers in charge.

  6. Avatar

    Your attempt at perfuming the pig doesn’t go far with real fans. TV ratings and attendance are still waning. Until they get rid of the Chase, stage racing, and the other contrived drama, the sport will deteriorate. It’s time to get back to racing for the checkered flag.

  7. Avatar

    I am so sock of hearing about points! Not only is every driver now racing for points, but they have a variety of points to collect! Wasn’t a major complaint about the ‘old’ season long championship that the teams would points race? It’s so stupid to pretend that you have a ‘playoff’ with every team on the field.

  8. Avatar

    I noticed the script is gone, the sad, sad script of what drama BZF loved, sorry Sherry (I lied, not at all sorry) However, drama does seem to be a factor at certain points. THE SOAP OPERA still seems to be a factor at times, hopefully they can resist it all togehter in the future, meaning next race. I thought BZF snuck into Castle Daytona for a few races thus far this year, utterly ridiclous the outcome and the narrative was just vomit inducing.

    I don’t know why it is “still better than BZF” when the “playoffs” are still around, a lame “season long victor is crowned”. Point, Points, Points, Points!!!!! The cars still have a long way to go to have competitive racing, which is what fans really want to see. Clean air and a good restart is still King. Sorry, a few lap rivalry is not what fans want to see, they want to see it the whole race. Why is that so hard?

    ..Please correct me if I am wrong but if memory serves the millionaire BZF was driving around in a TOYOTA LEXUS (heheeheheheheheeheeee, are you kidding me?) and that bottle of pills were not his? Not his, huge!

    And why oh why has this rich entitled party boy asshole not been in the press? Why isn’t his story told? Why? I read something NASCAR . com had on their website a couple of years ago. I always knew BZF was an entitled typical 3rd generation loser. You know the story…and from all accounts he was an entitled. lazy. lying SOB. (If memory serves) And obviously being privileged he SEEMED to have had a drug issue back in the day, till the present day arrest! Soooo… who thought it was a good idea to entrust this inept, uninspired person void of any responsibility…TO GIFT HIM WITH MUCH RESPONSIBILITY????????????????????????????

    The France family is still in denial about a lot of things, imo. Their YES MEN too! Things might have been very different now if they paid attention to their spoiled spawn was doing instead of counting their money and thumbing their noses up at the people who put them on the map! God bless the many who are employed by this sport, I hope they have jobs for a long time to come. The France Family owes it to these wonderful people, and right the ship! IMO on all of it!