Well, it appeared this past Sunday at Watkins Glen Raceway in New York, NASCAR had found its mojo once again. The latest rendition of the NASCAR Prodigal Son, Chase Elliott, son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, won the first Monster Energy Cup Race of his promising young career. He picked up not only his first win but also the 250th win for Hendrick Motor Sports and Rick Hendrick. A stable of drivers that has included Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Bobby LaBonte and Dale Earnhardt Jr, to name a few. It was not only a “win for the new generation” but is was the fashion in which the race was won that gave reason to cheer.
Finally NASCAR had the sense to just let the race play out on its own merits. There were no competition cautions, no throwing a yellow to bunch the boys up, and as drivers wrecked or spun out they quickly moved their cars off the track and out of harms way to let the racing continue. It was a duel between the current Monster Energy Cup Champion, Martin Truex, and Chase Elliott. For the final 15 laps they battled tooth and nail, bumper to bumper waiting on each other to miss a mark or brake too late in to one of the seven road course turns. The battle was epic and only ended on the final lap when Truex ran out of gas less than a mile from the finish line trying to hunt down Elliott. No gimmicks, no help and just great racing, with a great finish. The best day NASCAR has seen in years.
Then, just as we’ve seen before, NASCAR found a way to kill its own thunder. Around 7:30 that evening in Sag Harbor New York, Brian France, CEO and Chairman of the Board of NASCAR, is arrested for an alleged DWI and illegal possession of a controlled prescription substance, Oxycontin. This was not the first time the leader of the sport has been charged with a DWI. Daytona, we have a problem. On a day when NASCAR should be reveling in its own glory and that of its future nameplate, it is now explaining the quality of decision making by its leadership. This is a time when seats are not filling (although Watkins Glen was a sellout), television ratings are in decline and sponsors are jumping ship. In this social media era of ready, fire, aim this is clearly not what NASCAR needed. Way to trash your own party.
So as of 5:00pm EST here’s what has happened: Brian France has stepped down as CEO and Chairman of the Board of NASCAR, a family owned business, for an indefinite leave of absence. His uncle Jim France will take care of the day to day operations that Brian France was responsible for. It is widely believed that Brian had little say in the day to day operations of NASCAR as that was left to 4-5 Board Members who knew the sport of racing and Brian focused on the long-range vision of the governing body. So this will not really affect the slight resurgence that NASCAR is seeing with getting back to what they do best and that is rubbing and racing. It is believed that alone Brian France is not the majority owner of NASCAR and his fate will be determined in future discussions. It seems doubtful that the family can keep him on board in his current capacity without fear of losing valuable sponsor dollars and TV contracts, many of which are coming up for renewal soon. Maybe a change at the top, as well as in the star power is good for both ends of this country’s most popular form of auto racing. I say make one clean sweep and move forward to the next era of NASCAR.
In the end, the day belonged to Chase Elliott. He had gone over two years in his encouraging career without a win. Near misses painfully inflicted by others at some point and inflicted by himself. But that is now history. This race was not given to him, he won it and he won it with the bravado that put NASCAR on the map and made it relevant. He just flat out out-drove all 39 other cars on the track that day and earned his spot in the season ending playoffs. I am confident that Brian France cares about his sport and did not want this to happen, but a liability is an issue that can flare up at anytime and the sport needs to decide how long it wants to cover that liability.
On any other day in the sport of NASCAR, France’s misgivings could have been catastrophic. However, he caught a break by having it happen on a grand day for the sport. How many times can NASCAR continue to rely on good things to happen to cover the issues it seems to create for itself?