NASCAR drivers council: Sport sought input on common goals

Much remains unknown about the NASCAR drivers council, but the goal seems to be for the sanctioning body to hear what the drivers have to say about the direction of the sport.
Much remains unknown about the NASCAR drivers council, but the goal seems to be for the sanctioning body to hear what the drivers have to say about the direction of the sport. Getty Images

When word of the first meeting of the NASCAR drivers council became public a little more than a week ago, not much was known.

Many details still remain a secret.

The names of some members have come out, among them Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson.

It seems neither NASCAR nor the drivers involved planned for the meeting to become public. Also clear is that, despite some initial reports to the contrary, the creation of the council was welcomed by NASCAR.

Through conversations with several drivers involved and NASCAR officials during the past week, the goals of the council are coming into focus.

Five things we’ve learned:

The leading topics

Drivers at different stages of their careers likely have different priorities they would like addressed by NASCAR. Over the past week, it seems most drivers agree on at least a couple – the future of the Sprint Cup rules package and driver safety.

Many drivers have publicly expressed disappointment NASCAR has delayed plans to change the rules package next season – a change that would have included a sizable decrease in downforce on the cars. Others would prefer NASCAR leave the rules package as is.

“The drivers council is really focused on rules and being a helpful hand in decisions made there and safety. It’s hard to say which one is a priority,” said six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

“I feel like we are in an environment right now where there is going to be more change, and trying to make the right decisions is important.

“The drivers, we are living it inside the car. We just want to make sure our voice is heard and the people who make the decisions know what is really going on in the car.”

NASCAR’s role

At first, it seemed out of character that NASCAR would approve of a group of drivers meeting on behalf of others and representing the group’s collective interests. Curtis Turner, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January, once was banned by NASCAR for organizing a drivers union.

Several participants have said NASCAR facilitated the meeting at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and offered suggestions on how the drivers could create their group.

Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, NASCAR chairman Brian France said he is open to more formalized conversations.

“I’ve said from the beginning that we’re going to improve our communications across the board with all the stakeholders across the board and they are certainly as important as anybody,” he said. “We’re getting the stakeholders as close to us as we can because there are a lot of good ideas that come out of these discussions.”

A positive start

Some veterans have called the initial meeting at Dover one of best things to happen in the sport.

“When I look at maybe the top 10 things that I see happening in this sport, this is one of them,” said four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon. “I sat in that room and was in awe and just wowed by this step forward.”

The answer still might be ‘no’

While the creation of the council might seem like a great opportunity for drivers to present a wish list to NASCAR, it’s clear the sanctioning body isn’t abdicating its role.

Decisions will be made by NASCAR that drivers don’t like, but with drivers having a spot at the table during the decision-making process, the hope is they will better understand the sanctioning body’s reasoning.

Timing is everything

NASCAR is in the first year of a 10-year TV contract. The sport faces daunting challenges in producing an exciting product on the track and catering to the needs of its fan base – those watching from home and those who come to the track.

Involving everyone with a vested interest in the discussions could help the sport learn from the successes, and the failures, of the past.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter