NASCAR had input in makeup of drivers’ council; was pleased by the first meeting in Dover

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NASCAR had input into the formation of the new Sprint Cup driver’s council which met with high-ranking officials last weekend at Dover International Speedway.

During his weekly appearance on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s The Morning Drive, executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said NASCAR had worked with drivers in setting up Saturday’s initial session.

“It’s something we’ve always done in terms of meeting with the drivers,” O’Donnell said. “We certainly meet with them individually, and we have met during the preseason more formally. I think you’ve seen us form the (manufacturer) council, and we meet with the tracks, and it’s gone really well in terms of opening the dialogue with everyone in the industry. It’s something the drivers had talked about, and we had looked at, as well as a potential formation of a driver’s council.

“It was a little more formal in terms of the drivers bringing in the drivers they did. We put some criteria around it. But really (it was) the first formal if, you want to call it, drivers’ council meeting. We’ll continue to do those.”

Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick confirmed Sunday that they were part of the council, which comprised about eight or nine drivers. Past champions Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth said they weren’t in the discussions. NASCAR.com’s Holly Cain reported that Tony Stewart also said he attended.

Sources have told NASCAR Talk that the drivers were asked to select a panel that represented all the manufacturers and a wide swath of teams ranked throughout the points standings, as well as a mix of youth and experience.

Echoing what Earnhardt and Hamlin told reporters before Sunday’s FedEx 400, O’Donnell said the meeting was productive.

“The dialogue was great,” he said. “We’ve got a unique sport in that we’ve got athletes who care about the future of the sport, so we certainly talked about where we’re at today, but more importantly, these are drivers who want to see the sport grow and continue well beyond their career, so it was refreshing to sit down and hear some of their ideas and talk about where we should go together in the future.

“It’s a unique sport in that aspect and something the fans should really appreciate that they’ve got drivers who care not only about today but the future.”

O’Donnell compared the driver council with NASCAR’s quarterly meetings with manufacturers Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota to plot the future direction.

“Everyone has a voice,” he said. “The drivers are the first line when talking about the sport. They need to feel good about where we’re going as a sport (and) what they’re driving. We’re not always going to agree. That’s not the purpose of this meeting.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make a call that we believe is right for the sport. Sometimes, not everyone agrees, but as long as there is respect for how decisions were made, that’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we’re working toward. But I thought it was a great start for the meeting, really great dialogue and the ideas coming out of it.”

NASCAR is soliciting feedback from the industry while building its rules package for next season. Though it initially planned to make another cut in downforce after reducing horsepower and downforce this season, there also is the possibility of keeping the 2015 rules intact.

O’Donnell said the trick is managing the triangle of aerodynamics, horsepower and tire construction, adding there were “a lot of good ideas on the table for ’16 (and) a lot of work being done in the next 30 days that I think folks will see. It’s not a lack of looking at ideas but finding the right combination to go forward.”

Other topics addressed Monday morning:

–NASCAR is looking at monitoring the cooling of fuel after Kurt Busch’s team was asked to remove heat shields from its fuel during Sunday’s race. “That’s something we continue to look at, and with the heat in Dover, it was unbelievably hot, but that’s something we have to continue to monitor anytime we’re dealing with fuel,” O’Donnell said. “You know we’ve had some incidents on pit road where we’ve taken some reactive measures from a safety standpoint. We’ll sit down (Tuesday) and walk through that and look at the upcoming schedule and see what may or may not be happening on pit road as we go forward.”

–After being chastised for leaving their vehicles while under caution in the Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup races at Dover, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Trevor Bayne could face further penalties Tuesday. NASCAR instituted a rule last August prohibiting drivers from leaving their cars until a safety team arrived after a crash. The move came in the wake of Kevin Ward Jr. being struck and killed by a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart when Ward angrily approached Stewart’s car under caution during a race in upstate New York.

“It’s something we haven’t seen in a while and hope to never see,” O’Donnell said of Bayne and Cobb leaving their vehicles. “But it goes back to a rule we put out last year in terms of being as safe as possible when there’s an incident on the racetrack, reminding the drivers at no time should they get out of the car or truck unless it’s on fire, which you saw potentially in Trevor Bayne’s situation. But from there we ask everyone in an incident where a vehicle may or may not be on fire, if they do get out (to) stay by your vehicle for the safety crew and under no circumstances are you to walk across the track or apron. Unfortunately, we saw that in both instances this weekend. We had a conversation with both drivers. They understand the potential harm that could come from that, and we’ll continue to have that dialogue, and you’ll see us probably react (Tuesday) as well.”

–After concrete came loose in Stewart’s pit stall during Sunday’s race, O’Donnell said “we obviously are looking at that. It’s a concrete surface, (and) it’s been there several years. We think it had to do with the heat this weekend. It expanded and caused the initial break, and you saw that crack through the pit box. We’ll look back at that area and up and down pit road to make sure we can avoid that in the future.”