HOMESTEAD, Fla. - NASCAR chairman Brian France wants Jimmie Johnson to be commended for his four-year run atop NASCAR, and not used as an example of why the championship format might be flawed.
Johnson heads into Sunday's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway poised to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win four consecutive titles, all under the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format implemented in 2004. His dominance has made it easy for Chase critics to blast the system, which France called unfair.
"The only way fair to look at it is not to pick apart the format, but recognize excellence," France said Friday. "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."
The first year of the Chase was the most competitive, and five drivers entered the finale mathematically eligible to win the title. Kurt Busch beat Johnson by eight points for the championship.
The next season was won by Tony Stewart, and Johnson began his run in 2006. Although the 2007 Chase was a close fight between Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, Johnson has rolled into Homestead the past four seasons well in control.
This year, he needs only to finish 25th or better to beat Hendrick teammate Mark Martin for the historic title.
France said NASCAR has no plans to tweak the format to prevent one driver from dominating.
"This isn't a formula exercise in a computer," France said, "to get you some result that you want. This is about sports and live things that happen by the best drivers and the best teams in the world and who performs at a high level."
France answered questions for nearly 45 minutes, covering everything from the sport's economic difficulties, NASCAR's toughened drug policy and Danica Patrick's potential move into stock cars.
Patrick has met with several race teams about possibly running a limited schedule in one of NASCAR's three series.
- On Patrick, where Nationwide Series team at JR Motorsports, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick, is believed to be the front-runner:
"She has taken a very hard look at this sport," France said. "She's a very recognizable, accomplished driver in her own right. I would love to see her compete at the highest form of racing in the world. I think she's thinking about it. I don't know how well she'll do.
"She has a lot of talent. She will be good for NASCAR, and how well she will perform is like any other driver that comes through the front door and sits in the car. You never know until they do it. And she probably doesn't know. She's certainly very welcome in NASCAR. I've told her that directly."
- On young driver Brad Keselowski, who met with NASCAR last week after yet another run-in with Denny Hamlin:
"We want drivers who are driving hard, that are driving to win. When that happens, you're going to have some situations where there's contact. What you're always worried about, with retaliation, is escalation, unintended consequences. You have to make sure that there are limits to hard driving and rivalries and whatever. But we certainly want them. We know how important they are. We're going to do what we can to encourage them with some obvious limits as we go along."
- On potential changes to the NASCAR-designed Sprint Cup car:
"We will look at some things in the offseason going into Daytona to see if we can make the car and the racing better than it is now. That is absolutely our goal. That is always our goal. Absent to having passes every three seconds and photo finishes every race, which we would prefer (and) love to see that. If we don't achieve that, we're going to keep pushing forward and looking at ways to achieve somewhere between the great racing that we have now and utopia."
- The economy, which has caused a decline in attendance, sponsorship pullouts and manufacturer cutbacks:
"We don't feel that 2010 looks, from just a pure economy standpoint from what we're hearing from our fans, an awful lot better. Clearly the sponsorship market is tougher than it has ever been in my memory, and I don't anticipate that getting remarkably better."
- The drug policy that led to Jeremy Mayfield's suspension, and a drawn out lawsuit between NASCAR and the driver:
"We believe we made the right decisions to make an already tough policy even more tough. We have to do that with the circumstances that go on in the country today and sports in general. The fact that we have a 200-mile-an-hour race car, we think it was very imperative that we improve our policy, which we did. We will stand behind that very clearly."