When NASCAR Chairman Brian France walked into the media center on Friday afternoon he wasn’t expecting a hostile reception from the news media.
But that is definitely what he got.
The hostilities came from an Associated Press story that said Penske Racing driver Brad Keselowski had been fined $25,000 for comments he made criticizing NASCAR’s switch to EFI next year. No official fine has been announced by NASCAR, which is common practice whenever the sport penalizes a driver for making disparaging remarks about the sport.
During the infrequent news conference, France was asked why NASCAR doesn’t just make decisions public.
“The way we looked at it, what would be the benefit?” France said. “The drivers know exactly what we’re after. We have these annual meetings with them, right? And then we have semi-annual meetings with them, and we meet with them every weekend at the track. We have formal meetings in the offseason.”
France went on to say “They know what exactly we expect out of them. When they don’t handle that, the only way we can control that is obviously a fining system. But look, don’t panic over this. We’ll look at it in the offseason, if we need to change it, we’ll change it. Not a big deal.”
France even declined to confirm that Keselowski, who is known for making candid comments, had been fined. According to the AP report, it concerned a response he gave to a fan question during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame last week. Keselowksi criticized the fact that NASCAR was going to Electronic Fuel Injection systems that use a throttle body instead of a direct fuel injection.
Nate Ryan, a reporter for the USA Today, suggested that keeping the fines private “feeds to the perception that you’re an autocratic regime that doles out punishment in a capricious manner. Why would you not want to tell people “Here’s why we’re doing it?”
France was later asked if he was going to fine Jamie Allison of Ford Racing for making similar comments about the EFI. He went on to say “Jaime Allison doesn’t participate in NASCAR. I mean, he does in his corporate role, but come on.”
Stock Car Spin mentioned earlier on Friday that Keselowski isn’t the first driver to be fined for making disparaging remarks about NASCAR. Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman were fined in 2010. Hamlin’s fine was based on some comments he posted on Twitter about cautions and Newman for his comments about Talladega after the race. Newman was also fined earlier this season for allegedly punching Juan Pablo Montoya in the NASCAR hauler after the spring Richmond race.
And France said that’s the way it needs to be.
“In the last couple of years we’ve taken a position that drivers are going to be able to speak their mind and criticize the sport way more than any other sport would allow,” he said Friday. “However, there have to be some limits. We thought those limits were being exceeded in the last couple of years because you can’t denigrate the sport. You just can’t do that. We’re not going to accept that.
“You know what is interesting, almost every driver has come up to me at one time or another and said, ‘I’m glad you did that, because I don’t like it when somebody just says something that is irresponsible about the sport.’”
France said drivers “are perfectly fine to criticize anything we do, any call we make. They can say they don’t like it, they disagree with it. We didn’t make the right call. That’s fine. But we’re not going to let anyone denigrate the sport, and that’s going to continue.”