Updates at 5:16 p.m. with France taking an indefinite leave of absence:
Hours after NASCAR gets its dream Sunday, the nightmare that is Brian France ruins everything.
Not long before Chase Elliott's plane taxied to a stop in front of a huge welcoming party in Dawsonville, Ga., the CEO of the sport was being arrested in the Hamptons and charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of oxycodone.
Elliott won his first race in a thrilling last-lap duel with Martin Truex at Watkins Glen. Afterward, the 22-year-old son of racing legend Bill Elliott promised there would be a big party Sunday night. Apparently, that was France's plan, too.
The win for Elliott was the biggest jolt of energy the sport could hope for, a young superstar finally breaking through to win for the first time in what many hope will be a game-changing career in NASCAR. The win was heralded nationally as a coming-out for Elliott and a PR bonanza for a sport that needed it in the worst way.
France managed to destroy the news cycle in Sag Harbor Village, a short flight from Watkins Glen, after he reportedly drove through a stop sign. Officers saw indications of intoxication and found the pills during a subsequent search, police told the Associated Press. France was arraigned today at Sag Harbor Village Justice Court after a night in jail and released on his own recognizance. France will take an indefinite leave of absence, with Jim France serving as interim chairman and CEO.
This could not have been a clumsier or costlier end to a rare successful day in an ever-troubled sport. With fans vacating NASCAR, both at the tracks and on television, the entire sport had been waiting for Elliott's breakthrough victory. Almost every driver shook Elliott's hand after the race and fans were delirious in the post-race celebration. When he arrived at the little airport owned by his dad back home, a throng of local friends, family and long-time race fans awaitined him. Earlier in the day, the boys down at the Dawsonville Pool Room had sounded a loud siren for Elliott, a tradition that goes back to when his father was winning races in the '80s and '90s.
.@chaseelliott on the massive welcome after his win: "I don't think I know this many people! I've come home pretty disappointed over the past couple years. Great to come home tonight and have one to enjoy." @NASCARONFOX @TeamHendrick pic.twitter.com/QbkN16H7d4— Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) August 6, 2018
Elliott wasn't seen as just one of the young drivers coming up who could change the direction of stock-car racing. He was seen as THE young driver to change the course of racing.
A day later, NASCAR wasn't reveling in the afterglow but was releasing a statement about releasing a statement about its CEO.
"We are aware of an incident that occurred last night and are in the process of gathering information," the statement read. "We take this as a serious matter and will issue a statement after we have all the facts."
This is going to be a long day in Daytona.
France made news this year when it was leaked that he and his family were considering putting NASCAR on the market. The sport was founded by his grandfather, William Henry Getty France, and has never been publicly traded. Brian France was urged to walk that back a few weeks later, but it was seen as a sign that the France family wasn't comfortable with where the sport was headed with Brian as the face of the company. He'd had scrapes with the law before, famously crashing into a parked car and a tree in 2006, which prompted a Daytona Beach police investigation into the incident and also into the reports that France had used his influence to escape further prosecution.
His reputation around the sport was never a positive one, and rumors of his lifestyle made for salacious headlines from time to time. Papers from his divorce 10 years ago showed that he was worth more than $500 million with houses and yachts and airplanes and an annual salary approaching $10 million.
It painted a picture of a decadent playboy, hardly that of a CEO of a privately held company worth billions. It was also revealed that he no longer held any shares in the company itself, which was owned exclusively by his uncle Jim France and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy.
This latest incident might be the end of Brian France's career as the public face of NASCAR. Right now, he's the most embarrassing person in the sport.
The most exciting guy in the sport finally won a race, and he made clear that he was going home to party with his friends.
"It's going to be a hell of a night," Elliott said.
It was, indeed, a night NASCAR will never forget.