Joe Gibbs: NASCAR transition to Jim France should go smoothly

Jim France's involvement in the sport allows him to make a smooth transition in serving as NASCAR interim chairman and CEO, NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs said Tuesday.

NASCAR announced Monday night that France would take over the role previously held by his nephew Brian France, who is taking an indefinite leave of absence to focus on personal issues following an arrest Sunday night for aggravated DWI and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

NASCAR doesn't comment on its ownership structure, but Jim France and his niece, Lesa France Kennedy (Brian's sister), are the co-owners of the sanctioning body, according to available public documents and sources.

Jim, 73, serves as chairman of the board of the France family's publicly traded track-operating company, International Speedway Corp., and he also has focused much of his time in recent years on NASCAR's road-racing series.

"First of all, the France family has guided us for years, and I met with Jim France himself recently," Gibbs told ESPN. "He's up to date with everything, been part of all the big decisions, so I think we're fortunate to have him step in.

"For us here, we're going to pray for Brian as he goes through these personal issues and hopefully he can get this taken care of."

Gibbs, a Pro Football Hall of Fame coach who has been a NASCAR team owner for 27 years, fields four cars in the NASCAR Cup Series and three in the Xfinity Series.

Brian France took over the chairman role from his father, Bill France Jr., in 2003. Jim is Bill's brother and is often credited for helping guide NASCAR in a behind-the-scenes manner.

"The France family, their leadership, has taken the sport and given us great direction over the years," Gibbs said. "We're totally fixed on our racing, knowing that Jim is going to take care of his part in leading things.

"I'm real comfortable with the fact that we've got great leadership. We're going to concentrate on our racing."

Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott, in a teleconference talking about his win Sunday at Watkins Glen, said he has confidence in Jim France.

"I've been around him some," Elliott said. "I never had any issues with Jim. I expect him to do fine and it doesn't change my job. So I'm going to do my thing."

Denny Hamlin, during a visit to Washington Redskins training camp, said he has no concerns nor sees anything changing in the immediate future, as Lesa and Jim already do so much work in the sport.

"It's unfortunate, obviously, and [Brian] has got some personal issues that he's going to attend to, but I'm confident in the leadership of NASCAR," Hamlin said. "I know the executives really, really well and get invited into some very intense meetings with them at times and [am] very confident that those guys can take the reins and do a great job."

Felix Sabates, who owns a piece of Chip Ganassi Racing, told The Associated Press that Brian France gets unfairly criticized for the sport's recent struggles and that this is a time when they need to support him.

"We need to find it in our hearts to forgive Brian for his mistakes," Sabates said. "Whenever he finishes what he needs to do, we all at NASCAR need to welcome him back with open arms.

"There is a side of Brian most people don't see. He is fun to be with, he knows as many funny jokes as his daddy. He's very charitable. He is a very simple person."

France was pulled over at 7:30 p.m. Sunday after failing to stop at a stop sign, according to a Sag Harbor (New York) Police news release. The criminal complaint states France struggled to keep his balance during field sobriety tests, his eyes were red and glassy, tests showed his blood-alcohol content was 0.18 and he had five oxycodone pills.

"At this point in time, NASCAR needs friends and people that will help," Bruton Smith, founder and executive chairman of track operator Speedway Motorsports Inc. told the AP. "I like Brian OK and it's a rotten shame he did this, but people sometimes do things that they shouldn't do. That being said, it's a great sport and we go forward and we all should be very protective of it and be willing to lend a helping hand."

JGR driver Kyle Busch, at a press event for Darlington Raceway, said he hoped Brian's issues don't impact NASCAR negatively.

"We've got to look to our sport's future, what we can change and what we can do next," Busch said. "Brian's been our leader for a long time. Look forward now to the opportunity to have Jim France in there."

Whether Brian could return in his role is not something Gibbs said should be part of the conversation.

"We're going to support Brian and pray for him as he goes through this," Gibbs said. "Thinking about anything out in the future right now, the most important thing is him going through a personal struggle, and we're all going to pray and lift him up."

ESPN's John Keim and The Associated Press contributed to this report.