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NASCAR’s Brian France bucks tradition with new Chase format

By George Diaz Orlando Sentinel (MCT) • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:55 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. — This is not your grandfather’s NASCAR any more. Same goes for your dad’s model.

All you have to do is look at Brian France, CEO of the sport made famous by drivers making lots and lots of left-handed turns.

The family business has been passed down from Bill France Sr. to Bill France Jr., and now to Brian, who is taking extreme measures in blowing up the ways things used to be to deliver a product that is more in line with the shifting demographics.

NASCAR has been on this path for a while: moving to bigger markets, taking dates away from smaller markets, actively recruiting minority drivers, implementing the Chase format to get away from the standard points model. And now we have yet another Chase format, which will end with a winner-take-all scenario among four drivers in the season finale at Homestead.

A cynic would suggest desperation. Perhaps it’s simply a more pragmatic approach to running the family business.

It’s been stagnant for a while. Attendance is down, TV viewership has mostly flat-lined, and the pursuit of sponsors is all that much harder with the ebb and flow of the economy.

NASCAR officials did their due diligence on this, conducting focus groups that overwhelmingly supported the revised version of the Chase.

Loyal fans aren’t nearly as impressed.

“I am amazed it took three years to dream up this plan,” wrote longtime fan Lisa Cherrie in an email. “Usually, a debacle of this magnitude can be hatched after a single night of hard drinking.

“I feel betrayed and hurt. How can my sport be dismantled and destroyed in one fell swoop?”

And then there’s this:

“It’s big and it’s bold,” said Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway. “At the end of the day you have certain folks you have to appeal to, but change is part of our daily diet in America. We can’t sit back and say it doesn’t affect us.”

Say this for France: He certainly has folks buzzing about NASCAR. Whether the buzz will be brave and bold come November remains to be seen, but there certainly is no going back.

“All the sports world has some interesting conflicts and hurdles to overcome, quite frankly,” 2012 Cup champ Brad Keselowski said. “If we stay stagnant as a sport, none of us is going to have any jobs. I don’t know about you, but I hope to have a job in the next 10, 15, 20 years.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

NASCAR isn’t dying, nor is it on life support, but it’s in intensive care.

If not, Brian France would not have blown up things like he did in the hopes that a new generation of fans will embrace the sport.

Ms. Cherrie will be left behind, wondering what the heck happened.

Somewhere in the hereafter, Big Bill France and Bill Jr. may be thinking the same thing.


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