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Drivers steer clear of discussing potential NASCAR sale

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

By DAVE SKRETTA

AP Sports Writer

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) Kevin Harvick has spent more than two decades racing in NASCAR series, winning a championship at its highest level and spending the better part of a decade owning an Xfinity and Truck Series team.

That makes him uniquely positioned to discuss any potential sale of NASCAR.

Yet when the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing showed up at Kansas Speedway on Friday, fresh off his fourth victory in the first 10 races this season, about the last thing he wanted to talk about was a report that the France family was exploring the sale of the struggling series.

"Today it's really about racing for me, and trying to focus on what I need to do," Harvick said. "If I knew the specifics of it, and even whether it's true, it would be easier to give you my opinion."

Well, turns out Harvick has plenty of opinions about it.

He spent time during his SiriusXM radio show "Happy Hours" this week discussing the potential sale, pointing out the possibility for "downsizing and efficiency" that would save money on overhead. He mused about whether track ownership would be included. Whether a private equity group would take over in the same mold of Formula One, or whether a technology giant could acquire the series to bolster its portfolio. And whether the very structure of ownership would change.

"Is it somebody that comes in and says, `OK, we're going to structure it like an actual league where everybody's kind of sharing in the TV revenue more evenly?'" Harvick asked. "So that they're not so dependent on sponsors? So that these team owners can have real franchises that are worth value that other people want to come in to buy? I think there's some real opportunities you could talk about."

Harvick did acknowledge before practice Friday that a potential sale, which was first reported by Reuters, could uniquely prop up a sport that's been struggling with attendance and TV ratings.

"NASCAR is a business. There's always going to be transition of ownership and, you know, that's something that happens in every business," he said. "I think as you look at that, the opportunities that you have in those situations, people aren't buying companies to make them worse. I think there's always opportunity if there was a sale for something to get better."

NASCAR chairman Brian France has been less visible since the end of last season, driving long-whispered rumors that the series founded by his family could be on the block. Then last week, Reuters reported that Goldman Sachs had been retained to explore a potential sale, though it's unclear whether there are any serious suitors at this time.

NASCAR president Brent Dewar said in a memo this week to employees, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, that the France family "remains dedicated to the long-term growth of our sport."

Still, the top-tier has struggled to drum up interest in recent seasons, sending attendance and TV ratings plummeting. In turn, major sponsors such as Lowe's and Home Depot have scaled back or pulled out entirely, leaving a sport that depends heavily on sponsorship in a precarious situation.

It hasn't helped that some of racing's most popular drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, have retired in recent years, and that a new wave of talent has yet to build a following.

"We'll have to see going forward," reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. said. "I think the people thinking about the doom and the gloom and the racing coming to an end, that's just not going to happen. But I think there's a real opportunity if it does happen for some good things to happen."

Truex said those specifics, though, were a discussion for another time.

Several other drivers said they were likewise unconcerned about a potential sale.

"As long as there's a place for me to show up and race, I have my helmet. I'm ready to race," Aric Almirola said. "The World Karting Association or in Florida or whatever the next series was, the NASCAR late model series - I just show up every single weekend excited to race. That's what I love, that's what I've done. As long as there's a platform and ride to go racing, I don't care who owns it."

Updated May 11, 2018

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