CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Jimmie Johnson’s dominance may have taken some of the sizzle out of the Sprint Cup Chase for the championship, but that doesn’t mean NASCAR chairman Brian France thinks Johnson’s last major steps toward a third straight points title had to be relegated to cable TV.
France said Tuesday he wasn’t pleased with ABC’s decision to bump the final laps of last weekend’s race in Phoenix to ABC-owned ESPN2 so the network could air an episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
“We didn’t like it, that was not what we had anticipated but we have talked to them repeatedly in the last couple days,” France said. “There were lots of circumstances that we have to consider. They have their own issues they had to manage around. Unfortunately we got the short end of that.”
France, however, says the interests of NASCAR and its television partners are “in line” and that a rare early afternoon storm and a late accident that forced two red-flag stoppages couldn’t be helped.
“America’s Funniest Home Videos” aired between 7:30-8 p.m. in the Eastern and Central time zones. The race had a rating for 4.6 in the 7-7:30 p.m. spot before the broadcast was moved.
“They did not like the idea of having to pull out of ABC and operate the way they did Sunday,” France said. “It is imperative we work closely together with them for scheduling.”
Besides, France knows NASCAR has bigger issues. With the U.S. automobile industry crumbling, France softened his stance on the future of Ford, Dodge and General Motors in the sport they helped create.
Days after saying the sport wouldn’t “live or die” on the fates of the Big Three, France said NASCAR is working aggressively to make sure the companies remain part of the circuit’s foundation. GM’s stock dropped to its lowest point in 60 years Monday.
“We have every intention of them being a big part of the sport in the future,” France said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help them get through a very difficult business cycle.”
That includes perhaps eliminating all testing as a cost-cutting measure, an about-face from a few months ago when NASCAR hinted it may expand testing to 24 days a year for all teams.
“Testing is on everyone’s short list,” France said.
France, however, remains optimistic about the health of the sport despite the economic climate. He pointed out that 90 percent of the Sprint Cup teams have sponsorship for next season and that new advertisers are ready to invest in the series in 2009.
“There are always some unfunded teams,” he said. “One of our goals is to have a system where you don’t need $26 million to put a competitive team forward. It’s one of the things NASCAR has a lot of influence on and we’re working all the time to figure it out.”
France thinks the advent of the Sprint Cup’s new car, which will end its first full season as the baseline model this weekend in Miami, will help teams get through the economic crunch.
“We believe very strongly that this car will deliver cost savings in the long run for sure and for in some cases in the short run,” France said. “It will allow us in the future to take cost out of the equation ... Our No. 1 policy along with safety is take cost out of the industry.”
Just don’t expect NASCAR to shorten its 36-race season. France said eliminating some dates would be “impractical” and shortening some of the races would simply be symbolic and wouldn’t help teams save money.
The same goes for the Chase format. Though he admitted he’d love for the points title to come down to a mad dash at Miami, France said there are no plans to tweak the points system even though Johnson enters the season finale with a nearly insurmountable 141-point lead over Carl Edwards.
“I’d love for all 11 drivers to be within 25 points of (the leader) myself,” France said. “The reality of it is, that’s sports. There are World Series that are not as exciting as others, that’s just the nature of a dominant performance quite frankly.”