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NASCAR denies that CEO Brian France wants to buy the Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton and the Panthers will get a new owner. Will it be NASCAR chief Brian France? (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson will sell the team once its season is finished, the fallout from revelations that he had reached settlements with four employees over sexual and racial misconduct. The asking price reportedly will be somewhere between $2.5 billion and $3 billion, which will limit the market to the ultrarich or a coalition of the ultrarich.

According to NBC Charlotte, one possible wealthy suitor could be NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France. The station reported Wednesday, via three sources, that France has joined a group being organized by Charlotte Hornets minority owner Felix Sabates to buy the team, with France being installed as majority owner should the deal go through.

The France family has ruled over NASCAR since its founding by Bill France Sr. — Brian’s grandfather — in 1948. The family’s net worth has long been shrouded in secrecy — NASCAR doesn’t have to report its financial structure as a private company — but the controlling family members are thought to have billions of dollars in assets. The France family also has a controlling interest in International Speedway Corp., a publicly traded company that owns and operates 13 auto-racing tracks across the country.

NASCAR was quick to issue a denial on Wednesday afternoon.

“NASCAR denies the accuracy of the WCNC report. Brian France is not involved,” the stock-car circuit said in a statement to NBC Sports.

As reported by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, the controlling owner of an NFL team must own at least 30 percent of it and usually puts in an even bigger share to pay for operating expenses.

Brian France was appointed NASCAR chairman and CEO in 2003 by his father, Bill France Jr. During his tenure the stock-car circuit has instituted numerous changes, including its Chase playoff system and the Car of Tomorrow, newly designed race cars that were instituted for safety reasons (they have since been replaced by so-called Gen-6 cars, which look more like street-legal automobiles). But NASCAR has faced increasing difficulties in recent years, as declining television ratings and race attendance have eaten away at the bottom line (this despite working out a 10-year, $4.4 billion television deal with NBC Sports and an eight-year, $2.4 billion deal with Fox, contracts that started in 2015).

France also is a prominent supporter of President Trump, endorsing him during the 2016 campaign. He would be far from the only NFL owner to support the president, should things get that far, though a number of owners also have spoken out against Trump’s criticisms of the league.

France has long been rumored to have interest in owning an NFL team. In 2005, NBA great Magic Johnson said he had talked with France about joining forces to bring a pro football team to Los Angeles. But the NASCAR chief has publicly denied any scuttlebutt. Still, he also has talked about broadening horizons beyond stock-car racing.

“I don’t foresee a thirty-year run like my father and grandfather,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 2005, referring to the long reigns of his predecessors. “But that shouldn’t be misconstrued as me heading for the side door. I’ve always had other interests.”

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