CONCORD, N.C. -- If Bruton Smith is serious about moving the fall Sprint Cup race from Charlotte to Las Vegas, he’ll have a tough sell with NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France.
“My preference is to leave the event here in Charlotte,’’ France said Saturday during a media availability at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “That’s always been my preference.’’
Smith owns Charlotte Motor Speedway and eight other NASCAR tracks, including the one in Las Vegas. He told a news organization early this week that there’s a 70 percent chance he’d move the fall Sprint Cup race from Charlotte to Las Vegas.
“I know they would approve this,’’ Smith said of NASCAR.
France said Smith hasn’t raised this with NASCAR yet, and that he’s predisposed to leaving the major events on the schedule in their current locations.
“My preference is to make all the events – where they are – more successful,’’ France said.
Las Vegas currently hosts a Sprint Cup race in March and is looking for another date in the fall. Smith can request a race relocation, but ultimately it’s NASCAR’s call whether such a move takes place.
Much of France’s news conference centered on the Gen 6 race car, which Sprint Cup started using this season. France was asked about Denny Hamlin’s comments in Phoenix, which drew a fine from NASCAR, while other drivers have made seemingly harsher comments and not been disciplined.
France said the issue was what Hamlin was criticizing – the new cars – and not the tone of his comments.
“(Drivers) can say rowdy things – things we don’t like at all. You can criticize us,’’ France said. “What you can’t do is cross a line into our racing product….They all know exactly where (the line) is because we talk about it.’’
France claimed some drivers told him, following the fine to Hamlin, that NASCAR had no choice but to level that discipline.
NASCAR has lost some appeals of late, where sanctions have been reduced by an independent review panel. France said he’s happy with how the circuit is handling discipline, but “We’ll ask ourselves, ‘Are we making the case as well as we should be?' " when they lose an appeal.
France said NASCAR’s goals with the Gen 6 car are simple: Safer, closer racing. He said keeping the races as close as possible is crucial to maintaining attendance and television ratings.
“You have 43 teams trying to game whatever rules package we bring forward. You ask every driver – they want to win a race by 10 seconds,’’ France said. “(Close races) is the steak on the plate for us. Our fans have come to expect us to deliver on that as much as possible.’’
Asked specifically about television ratings, France acknowledged they have “leveled off’’ of late.
“We’re no different from any of the other sports leagues…relying on story lines and match ups,’’ France said. “Are some of the more popular drivers up front? That helps us. “Having the racing closer, tighter, that helps ratings.’’
France said tighter racing doesn’t equate to faster racing: “We’re not looking to find more speed. We have plenty of speed.’’
France was asked why the safer-barrier technology is not universal at all Sprint Cup tracks. France responded it’s available to all the tracks and “when we need to put additional safer barriers around, we will do it.’’
The Memorial Day weekend prompted a question about why drivers have stopped attempting to drive both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. France said NASCAR feels no need to encourage such a one-day double.
“What (drivers) generally find out is it’s too difficult,’’ France said. “That’s not on our front burner."