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.’’