Faced with the biggest challenge of his tenure leading NASCAR – and one of the biggest in the sport’s history – NASCAR Chairman Brian France reacted immediately with anger.
Anger and swift action.
“I was very angry about it,” France said of his initial reaction to the cheating scandal that surrounded the race used to set the field of who would compete this season for the championship of NASCAR’s premier series.
“I also knew … if we dealt with it, if we dealt with it really straight on, that we wouldn’t have a long-term blemish.”
It will be left to others to decide whether there is a long-term blemish, but there was no question in the six days following the conclusion of the Sept. 7 race at Richmond, Va., NASCAR took swift action.
“It does test you a little bit. In every sport sometime in the cycle – hopefully it’s very rare – has a moment where these things happen,” France said. “I like what our group did. In six days, investigate three different situations, rule on them, rewrite entire important rules.”
NASCAR’s response to the scandal was among the topics France discussed on a national teleconference Thursday held on conjunction with Champion’s Week activities in Las Vegas, where Jimmie Johnson’s sixth Cup title will be celebrated on Friday night.
France called the 2013 season “a good year” crediting a great battle in the Chase for the Cup between Johnson and Matt Kenseth and the completion of a new TV-rights deal that will fuel the sport through the 2024 season.
There was no question, however, the attempt by Michael Waltrip Racing to manipulate the outcome of the Richmond race in hopes of ensuring one of its drivers would make the Chase was the biggest issue France has dealt with since becoming chairman in 2003.
“Our first priority was to deal swiftly, not let something linger into the Chase or get confused with that,” he said. “The second was try to do the right thing, even if it wasn’t going to be the most popular thing.
“And the third thing that I found out in these kind of situations is trying to explain a solution in a very complicated set of circumstances is probably the hardest thing to do. But looking back, I wouldn’t change anything, and I’m not one of these guys that walks around and never says that.”
France knew the unprecedented penalties assessed to MWR and his decision to add a 13th driver to the 12-driver Chase field would have untold ramifications.
“It was going to be really tough, especially for the teams that got penalized, losing sponsors – that was no fun for anybody,” he said. “But I knew that our credibility would be preserved if we did the right thing and we acted swiftly, and over time.”
Also Thursday, France unveiled a new set of criteria which will guide the nomination and eligibility requirements for new inductees to the Charlotte-based NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The changes will make several NASCAR veterans immediately eligible for induction. Among them: Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte and Ken Schrader.
Only 20 names will be placed in nomination each year, down from the current 25. The top five vote getters will continue to make up each class.
“If you do want to compare us to other halls of fame, they all evolve,” said NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes. “A little bit of homework will tell you that the process for hall of fame selection, voters, inductees, everything, they evolve over time and I suspect ours will, as well.”
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