DEARBORN, Mich. — It is clear that many in the NASCAR community have faith in Jim France to take over as the interim chairman and CEO of NASCAR.
Less clear is whether his nephew, Brian France, can come back and be an effective leader from an indefinite leave of absence following an arrest Sunday night on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated and misdemeanor criminal possession of a controlled substance. France had been chairman and CEO since 2003.
“I don’t know,” NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski said. “I think, first off, you just want to see him get better and then kind of take it one step at a time.”
Keselowski and Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart have been critical in the past of Brian France and his not showing up at enough races.
“Jim is very grounded, and I feel like Jim is a guy that is in touch with what’s going on, and that’s what you’ve got to have,” said Stewart, who owns a sprint car series.
But can Brian France, 56, come back and lead if that is what the family wants?
“I have no idea,” Stewart said.
Brian France was arrested Sunday night by the Sag Harbor (New York) Police, whose charging documents state after he failed to stop at a stop sign, police observed him having slurred speech, glassy eyes and being unsteady on his feet. Police administered a breath alcohol test, and France registered 0.18 percent blood alcohol content. He also was in the possession of five yellow pills that police identified as oxycodone, the charging documents state.
France announced Monday night he would take an indefinite leave of absence. A NASCAR spokesman would not comment on whether it was a paid or unpaid leave or on any timetable for his return.
NASCAR doesn’t comment on its ownership structure, but the available public documents have indicated Jim and Brian’s sister, Lesa France Kennedy, are the owners of NASCAR. Brian France’s bio is still on the NASCAR media website.
“I think right now the main thing is to get his health and make sure that everything he does from a personal standpoint is right,” said Cup veteran Kevin Harvick. “When you look at Jim stepping in and the experience of what he has in the sport and how long he has been part of the sport, it will be interesting to see his perspective on things.
“It’s not like he has not been involved.”
Jim France, 73, son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr, has been more involved in the family’s track-operating business and overseeing NASCAR’s sports-car arm, IMSA. If he follows his typical leadership style, he likely will be at the track more than Brian France.
“That’s one thing that everybody could work on in making sure the relationship with the drivers is better than it has been in the past,” Harvick said.
Keselowski said the impact of the change is still to be determined.
“Time will tell,” Keselowski said. “I don’t really have a strong thought on it now until we kind of see it in action. It’s hard to say.”
The drivers spoke following the unveiling of the 2019 Mustang that NASCAR Cup teams will use in the series. NASCAR executives Mike Helton and Steve O’Donnell attended the event; a NASCAR spokesman said they would not comment on Brian France. No members of the France family attended.