SBD/March 10, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR's France Pleased With Start To Season, But Keeping It In Perspective

France cautiously optimistic about strong start to NASCAR season
NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France yesterday "passed on the chance to trumpet the fast start to the season, stressing the task is sustaining the positives over the entire year," according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. TV ratings are "up for the first three races of the season" of the Sprint Cup Series, and both the Subway Fresh Fit 500 and Kobalt Tools 400 sold out following the season-opening Daytona 500. But France said, "No one around here is celebrating. We're obviously pleased we're up dramatically in our ratings, but we know that is an ebb and flow thing. We're focused on a lot of things that will give us growth down the road. We're going to work on those, not get too excited or too down." France discussed the "successful first three races," which saw 20-year-old rookie Trevor Bayne win at Daytona and Jeff Gordon break a 66-race losing streak. France: "Having a young winner, and Jeff Gordon runs up our young fan base, and then Junior, arguably he's competitive more than he was a year ago." Driver Kasey Kahne said that there has been a "noticeable increase in energy surrounding the events." Kahne: "The crowds have looked good." Meanwhile, Quaker State has signed as the title sponsor of the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, and SMI President & COO Marcus Smith yesterday added, "The sponsorship will come back more quickly than attendance. We've got a lot of other announcements about people coming back, a lot of renewals with our sponsors, and a lot of new companies interested in our sport" (AP, 3/9).

NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET: In Charlotte, Jim Utter reports France "isn't leading any celebrations just yet but he's obviously pleased with the start of the 2011 season." France: "I've always said TV ratings are [a] function of many things, including competition and how you're viewed at that moment by your fan base for whatever reason." France "remains concerned the recent increase in gas prices may affect the sport's fans, many of which travel hundreds of miles to attend NASCAR events." France said higher fuel prices are "never helpful to our fans or anyone who needs to drive to an event or anywhere" (THATSRACIN.com, 3/9). ESPN.com's Ed Hinton wrote under the header, "Gas Prices Might Put Squeeze On Fans" (ESPN.com, 3/9). Meanwhile, France acknowledged that NASCAR is "not out of the woods yet, given the myriad economic issues the sport and its teams are facing." France: "We're not, as we've said all along, we're not economists, we're not building around a doom-and-gloom or a robust economy. We're doing what we think we need to do in general terms" (SPEEDTV.com, 3/9).

TOO EARLY FOR A BREAK? In Georgia, Joe VanHoose wrote it is a "shame that the NASCAR Sprint Cup series is taking a break this weekend because some of the mojo the sport has working for it may wear off." VanHoose: "Everything is roses again for NASCAR, which has spent the last few years in the gutter. ... Granted, we're only three races into a schedule that is 36 races long. It will be interesting to see if the good times are still rolling three months from now" (ATHENS BANNER-HERALD, 3/9).
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