Council of drivers, including Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. meet with NASCAR

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DOVER, Del. – In a first of its kind, NASCAR met with a group of Sprint Cup drivers for about two hours Saturday night, discussing safety, competition, attendance and more.

Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kevin Harvick confirmed they were among about eight drivers in the meeting, which was held in the Kent Room at the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. It marked the first time that a council of drivers – selected by their peers – had met with NASCAR in such a formal setting.

“The drivers got together and organized a vote and all the drivers voted for the guys they wanted on this council,’’ Earnhardt said before Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway. “ NASCAR asked us to do that so we could get together and just have a better ability to communicate. It’s just a better way to have discussions.

A source told NBC Sports that NASCAR was represented by Mike Helton, vice chairman, and Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer, and Steve Phelps, executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

“The drivers, we always talk amongst ourselves anyway, but having that open line of communication to NASCAR has never been this open before,’’ Hamlin said before Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway. “You look around the room and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is a monumental time to where you’ve got the powers that be and some of the greatest drivers talking about how we can make this sport better.’’

“The first process to making our sport better is to have open dialogue. You’ve got to get all the ideas out there as to what could make our sport better and safer.’’

The meeting comes after a recent spat of complaints from drivers about the rules and racing.

“Everybody wants the same thing,’’ Earnhardt said. “We’re just trying to work together. There’s better dialogue and communication that way. They tell us why they make the decisions they make and we can understand why they make them when we’re sitting with them talking to them.’’

So what was discussed?

“There was talk of competition,” Earnhardt said. “What we think about the new package and the direction that they want to go and what we’re doing with tires and testing.”

NASCAR recently came out with a rules update eliminating the 2016 tire testing at all Goodyear tire tests until October.

Hamlin said safety was a big topic discussed.

“We talked about a lot of safety issues we want to see changed at various racetracks,” Hamlin said. “We went racetrack by racetrack, and I feel like we’re going to make our sport better.”

When mentioning attendance Earnhardt said it was discussed “anything drivers can do to do things better to help the sport.”

NASCAR did not offer details of the meeting.

Brett Jewkes, NASCAR senior vice president and chief communications officer, issued a statement:

“NASCAR meets with drivers frequently on a wide range of topics. As part of our ongoing commitment to foster dialogue between all stakeholders, we’ve met formally with drivers on several occasions this season, including here at Dover.  We’ll meet with them again later in the season as normal course of business. The meetings have been productive and we find the dialogue very valuable.”

Hamlin said he’s unsure how often the group will meet but expected it would be “at least a few times a year.’’

Xfinity Series practice report from Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, N.C – Tyler Reddick was fastest in the first of two Xfinity Series practice sessions Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Reddick posted a top speed of 180 mph around the 1.5-mile track.

He was followed by Cole Cuter (179.509 mph), Austin Cindric (179.093), Austin Dillon (178.613) and John Hunter Nemechek (178.283).

Ross Chastain was sixth on the speed chart (178.083).

Rookie Justin Haley was seventh and recorded the most laps in the session with 26.

Mason Diaz slid and hit the inside wall during the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

Check back for the final practice report.

Brad Keselowski’s wife due with couple’s second child

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CONCORD, N.C. – Brad Keselowski says wife Paige is due with the couple’s second child the week of the NASCAR banquet, which is scheduled Dec. 5.

Keselowski announced Wednesday that his wife is pregnant.

Their daughter, Scarlett, was born May 19, 2015. Keselowski later detailed the health scare the family had with Scarlett a month after she was born. Keselowski stated that they had been told at one point that Scarlett could die. They took her to the Mayo Clinic and she was diagnosed with laryngomalacia, a congenital softening of the tissues of the larynx above the vocal cords.

Emergency surgery was performed and she recovered.

“It definitely weighs on you,” Keselowski said of what Scarlett went through as he and his wife prepare for their second child. “Obviously, my wife hasn’t been at the track the last few months. That’s intentional because, one, the strain on her, (and) two we didn’t want a bunch of people asking her about it because of those things that can happen.

“Just trying to be as supportive as I can. The realistic part is she is doing most of the work. They say ‘we’re having a baby,’ it’s more she’s having the baby and I’m cheering. It’s still a great time and I’m grateful for the lesson I’ve had in my life.

“I’m just going to do the best I can to be a responsible, great parent and show the most amount of love I know how to show and realize that it can all be taken away from you at a moment’s notice but hope and believe that it won’t.”

Christopher Bell’s car damaged by man-hole cover

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CONCORD, N.C. — There is a slightly different traffic pattern in the Xfinity Series garage this weekend after Christopher Bell‘s front end was damaged by a man-hole cover early in practice Thursday.

The splitter on Bell’s No. 20 Toyota was damaged by the man-hole cover, which is located at the end of the garage where the cars run through as they exit the garage.

Bell’s team made repairs quickly and he was able to continue. He was 10th fastest in the practice session.

As a result, NASCAR has placed traffic cones in the area to divert traffic around the area.

The man-hole cover that damaged Christopher Bell’s car (Daniel McFadin)
The traffic cones set up to keep cars from running over the man-hole cover (middle cone) (Daniel McFadin)

Daniel Hemric fastest in first Coca-Cola 600 practice

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CONCORD, N.C. — Daniel Hemric was fastest in the first Cup Series practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

Hemric posted a top speed of 182.791 mph around Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He was followed by Chase Elliott (182.340 mph), William Byron (182.211), Kyle Busch (182.168) and Jimmie Johnson (182.008).

Alex Bowman was seventh to put all four Hendrick Motorsports cars in the top 10.

Austin Dillon in eighth gave Chevrolet six cars in the top 10.

Landon Cassill recorded the most laps in the session with 37. He was 32nd on the speed chart.

Click here for the speed chart.