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NASCAR chairman remains upbeat

David Gilliland, center, who will start today from the pole, walks back to the garage after driver introductions and shortly before the race is called.

Associated Press

David Gilliland, center, who will start today from the pole, walks back to the garage after driver introductions and shortly before the race is called.

DAYTONA BEACH — Despite lower TV ratings and more empty seats at some races, NASCAR chairman Brian France remains upbeat about the Sprint Cup series' health and future.

"The business is sound, and we're going forward," France said in a state-of-the-series news conference Saturday.

France's optimism comes during a year full of headlines about dipping interest in motorsports.

The Sports Business Journal reported recently that merchandise sales dropped in half, to $1 billion, from 2008-10.

At least 12 races this year have had a decline in TV ratings, viewership or both, said Sports Media Watch, and last week's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway was the first race since 2001 without a full 43-car field.

France said TV ratings are down because of rain at the season-opening Daytona 500 and those numbers don't include viewing on digital devices.

NASCAR doesn't release attendance figures; France said attendance has been mixed but up overall.

France said he's cognizant of the challenges the sport faces and the series is trying to react accordingly. NASCAR overhauled its Chase for the Championship in the offseason to emphasize wins over consistency with the hopes of creating a bigger buzz.

"We've got to constantly figure out how to make our racing tighter, better," France said.

And more efficient.

One of France's goals is to reduce costs to make it easier on owners and increase parity. The series has discussed reducing horsepower and making engines more relevant to manufacturers, who invest millions in the sport. France said NASCAR has had discussions with one or two new manufacturers but nothing is imminent.

"We're on a nice, steady ground," France said.

"And sponsorship is coming back for us, thankfully."

HALL RETIRES: Longtime racing announcer Barney Hall said the Coke Zero 400 will be the final event he calls for the Motor Racing Network.

Hall has been announcing races in some capa­city for more than 50 years. He will take a different role at the network.

"Barney Hall is a legend," Dale Earn­hardt Jr. said on Twitter.

"I grew up listening to him. Forever grateful."

MISCELLANY: France said the series has had "robust discussion" about the 2015 schedule but the Homestead race will likely remain the finale. The series could also consider an international race in the future. … Fan voting for the series' most popular driver award opened Saturday at sprint.com/speed.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Sprint Cup points

After 17 of 26 races. Sixteen drivers will make the season-ending Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts. Back

Jeff Gordon* 618—

Jimmie Johnson*** 594 24

Dale Earnhardt Jr.** 594 24

Brad Keselowski** 560 58

Matt Kenseth 555 63

Carl Edwards** 536 82

Joey Logano** 519 99

Ryan Newman 514 104

Kevin Harvick** 509 109

Kyle Busch* 508 110

Paul Menard 488 130

Kyle Larson 474 144

Greg Biffle 474 144

Each asterisk (*) equals one win

NASCAR chairman remains upbeat 07/05/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 5, 2014 11:27pm]
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