HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — NASCAR chairman Brian France refused Sunday to discuss his political support of President-elect Donald Trump and quickly pivoted the conversation toward his own efforts at improving diversity in his sport.
France addressed the media hours before Sunday's title-deciding season finale, and a day after Mexican Daniel Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR national title. Earlier in the 17-minute news conference, France declared that Suarez would never have been in position to win the Xfinity Series championship if not for France's diversity efforts.
"Without the Drive for Diversity program, with certainty, Daniel Suarez is not in NASCAR," France said.
When the topic turned to Trump, France quickly shut down the questioning.
France was an early supporter of Trump and took several drivers to a rally in Georgia earlier this year. France also appeared as a Trump supporter at a town hall meeting during the campaign.
It's been Trump's stance on immigration, specifically with Mexico, that has appeared to be in conflict with France's efforts. France has pushed for increased diversity, and was outspoken on his desire to remove the Confederate flag from NASCAR events.
Asked Sunday about Suarez's championship in comparison to his support of Trump, France cut off the question from NBCSports.com.
"I'll stop you right there," he said. "First of all, nobody wants to hear my political views. Not one person on this stage wants to hear from me politically. So I won't be talking about that.
"But on my diversity, nobody, nobody in this company, has worked harder, done more and resourced it better than me. I founded the Diversity Council. I fought for every single thing that makes sense, because that's my core belief about diversity. It's very, very important. I talk about it frequently, and my efforts there should never be challenged, no matter what my political views might be. That's a ridiculous thing to do."
France was prickly about several other topics and sweating profusely under the lights of the Homestead-Miami Speedway dais.
He argued that the sport is healthy, even though Sprint is ending its 13-year association as title sponsor after Sunday's race. NASCAR has had nearly two years to replace Sprint, but no sponsor has been named. In recent days, Monster Energy has emerged as a possible front-runner for the title rights.
"It's taken a little longer than I thought, but it's also a big agreement and an important agreement," France said. "It's not just dollars and cents, but it's a fit for us. We don't want to announce anything certainly around this weekend. We're in a good spot with that, I believe, but we'll have to see how it finally plays out."
France also downplayed the decline in television ratings — eight Chase races have been down double-digits this season — but France doesn't think the elimination-style playoff format is to blame. He noted ratings declines in all major sports and that consumption has shifted. For example, France said, he watched a Duke basketball game in a highlight package on his laptop rather than watch the game live on television.
While some fans have pointed to the Chase for the championship system as a reason they no longer watch races, France believes the format now used in all three national series is best for the sport.
"We're very pleased with the formats. Wouldn't change a thing," he said. "Go back a year ago for the Xfinity Series ... you had the winner and the champion and a couple others talk about all they needed to do was finish the race. 'If I ran 30th, I'll be OK.' Well, that's not really great for great competition.
"Speed it up to this year, you had all four thinking they've got to win the race. That's a big deal for auto racing. We're bold enough to do that."