Brad Keselowski met with NASCAR chairman Brian France and International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy on Friday. / Douglas Jones, USA TODAY Sports
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - NASCAR executives met Friday with Brad Keselowski after the defending Sprint Cup Series champion outlined the challenges facing the sport in a USA TODAY Sports cover story.
NASCAR chief communications officer Brett Jewkes said Keselowski wasn't penalized nor faced further punishment. Jewkes said the meeting wasn't directly a result of the USA TODAY Sports story, but it was discussed. NASCAR generally had been seeking more dialogue with its champion, according to Jewkes, and Friday provided the opportunity.
"Brad has opinions, some informed and some less informed," Jewkes said. "The meeting was to improve the latter."
The Penske Racing driver met separately for 30 minutes with NASCAR chairman Brian France and International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy.
"No one wants Brad to be more candid and outspoken than Brian France," Jewkes told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday. "But to be outspoken, you have to be informed, particularly when you're a champion and not a 20th-place driver. That was the message Brian wanted to send, to make sure Brad understands the issues a little deeper."
Keselowski tweeted afterward, "Spent some time with the Lesa and Brian from the NASCAR team after yesterday's article, the passion we all share for our sport is amazing!"
Told NASCAR had met with Keselowski because of his opinions, four-time champion Jeff Gordon said he could "see that coming from (NASCAR), wanting (Keselowski) to have all the details. He was pretty descriptive about it.
"I think it's not out of the ordinary for a new champion to feel confident to be able to express an opinion on things," Gordon said. "Brad cares a lot about the sport. He's not trying to do anything that would hurt the sport. When you're that open, it doesn't surprise me that NASCAR is wanting to talk about it. I don't think it necessarily means they're saying, 'Don't do that.'
"I applaud a guy who's passionate about the sport and wants to give his opinion."
Keselowski, 29, told USA TODAY Sports that he believes there are multiple entities that have to work together for NASCAR to be successful.
"We have sponsors - partners, or whatever the hell you want to call them - tracks, the sanctioning body and the teams. Those are our four groups, and how well they cooperate dictates what we have as a product for our fans. And our fans create everything," Keselowski said.
Keselowski also noted how television has changed the landscape of all sports and how that has affected attendance - especially in NASCAR. Keselowski speculated on why NASCAR hadn't adapted to that, mentioning Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy, specifically:
When Bill France Jr. was in charge of NASCAR, he had control of all these pieces and wasn't at the mercy of the TV world. He had control of the tracks and NASCAR, which is now divided in two with Lesa (France Kennedy, president of International Speedway Corp. that controls 12 tracks) and (NASCAR Chairman) Brian (France). France Jr. had relationships with the sponsors, drivers and teams. Now we don't have that. Those three other pieces are segregated. Those three pieces need to get together. And until all three of those can unite, we're a house divided, and we're making bad decisions that are affecting how to generate revenue for the sport.
In today's sports world, you have to be very powerful in drawing people to TV, and we're not TV-friendly. That's one of the key areas for success. Part of that is we're not delivering a product. And we're fighting the tracks. We have to be up on the wheel a little more and looking for what's in front of us, and when we see it, we have to be able to react on it. And in order to be able to react on it, we need to be united.
It's not the first time outspoken Keselowski's comments have drawn the focus of NASCAR. He was fined $25,000 for criticizing fuel injection in November 2011, the last in a policy of "secret fines" that NASCAR eliminated last year.
Keselowski became the first Sprint Cup driver to send a tweet during a race when last year's Daytona 500 was delayed by an inferno. He tweeted again in a November race at Phoenix International Raceway but was fined $25,000 and placed on probation.
In January 2012, NASCAR announced it no longer would fine drivers in secret, but France said the sanctioning body still could punish those for disparaging remarks. Besides Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin were punished for making comments (or Twitter posts) that NASCAR deemed detrimental to its brand.
"If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we're going to deal with that," France said. "What's really interesting is I can't tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say, 'Thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.'
"Now, having said that, you can be critical of things you don't think we're doing well, in particular a race call. You can say, 'I don't think I was speeding; I disagree with that.' We understand that. It's when you go after the integrity of the sport is where we will step in, and they will be public."
After Keselowski's comments about fuel injection (which he essentially called a publicity stunt that didn't improve competition but cost teams money), France explained NASCAR's reasons for taking punitive measures against its stars.
"We went for 50-something years and never had a system to fine anybody for disparaging remarks in the sport," France said during a 2011 news conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "We're the only sport on the planet that had that. So we simply in the last couple of years changed that policy because we thought we needed to.
"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. 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. We're not going to accept that."
During Champions Week in Las Vegas last November, Tony Stewart made the case for allowing NASCAR's eighth-youngest champion a wider berth in expressing himself. Stewart, who drew the ire of NASCAR in 2007 for comparing the sport with professional wrestling after a state of caution flags for debris, said, "I don't think Brad's learned to be cautious yet. Hopefully that won't bite him like it has a lot of drivers in the past. It's refreshing. It's nice to see somebody who just speaks from the heart and isn't guarded, and that's the way all of us should be.
"I think that's what the fans want to hear. But I'm so scared that at some point, somebody is going to turn on him, and it goes downhill from there."
Follow Nate Ryan on Twitter @nateryan
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