France: Don't blame format for JJ's lead
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France said Friday it's wrong to blame the Chase format for failing to produce a closer championship battle at a time when Jimmie Johnson is dominating Sprint Cup and going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title.
"Any [computer] models we ever did on how it likely would play out never included somebody so dominant," France said. "The only way fair to look at it is not to pick apart the format, but recognize excellence.
"I don't think historians could have predicted how good they are. What I wouldn't want to do is take away from the accomplishment of Jimmie and his team. In this format, dominating four straight years is incredibly difficult to do. No one could have predicted this, which has taken away some of the things the Chase will deliver in normal circumstances."
Johnson has a 108-point lead over Mark Martin entering the season finale Ford 400 Sunday at Homestead Miami Speedway.
France's comments were part of his annual state-of-the-sport talk at the HMS media center. He acknowledged 2009 was a difficult year for NASCAR, but he believes the season was a positive overall.
"On balance, we have had a very good season," he said. "It hasn't been without our ups and downs. But we're really pleased with some of the things we have accomplished in what remains a very difficult economy."
Attendance, sponsorship and television ratings were down this season, but France emphasized some of NASCAR's accomplishments through the year.
"We're certainly happy all the car companies have stabilized," France said. "We worked carefully to make sure all those companies stayed in NASCAR. That was achieved, no small thing on everyone's part."
France said NASCAR has done its best to become more inclusive with fan forums and town hall meetings with the teams. One of the big questions is the new car (previously known as the Car of Tomorrow) and whether changes are coming to make the car race better.
"Most of the teams and drivers have figured the car out and then some," France said. "Of course, the racing always can be better. We will take a look at a couple of things in the offseason. But if we change too much too fast, we never would get to the point where everybody was comfortable with what we have.
"Absent of passing every three seconds and [a] photo finish every race, which we would love to see, we will keep pushing forward to get between the great racing we have now and Utopia."
France also was asked if NASCAR would consider shortening the Cup season, which is the longest in professional sports with 38 weekends of racing.
"We don't have the volume other leagues have with 30 or 40 games a week," France said. "We have one big event a week per series. There's great value for us having one event a week to keep the interest level where it is."
One thing that might increase interest in 2010 is IndyCar driver Danica Patrick coming to NASCAR. She is considering a deal with JR Motorsports to race a partial Nationwide schedule next season.
"I don't know how well she would do here," France said. "That's why you play the game. But she would be good for NASCAR and we would welcome her. I told her that myself and I know others have also."
France also commented on the new NASCAR drug policy, which came under scrutiny this year with the suspension of driver Jeremy Mayfield.
"We believe we made the right decision to make an already tough policy even tougher," France said. "We felt we had to do that with the circumstances in the country today and sports in general, and the fact that we have 200-mile-per-hour race cars.
"We thought it was imperative to improve our policy, which we did, and we stand behind that very clearly."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com.