Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Drivers council ‘getting better at understanding what our role is’

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FORT WORTH — The Sprint Cup Series’ drivers council has met four times since Speedweeks in Daytona according to Kyle Busch. Members say this year’s edition has better footing than it did in its first season of existence.

“We’re getting better at understanding what our role is as a group,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday night of the council that first met last May at Dover International Speedway.

Earnhardt is one of the nine drivers on the council – down from 10 last season to correspond with the reduction of the field from 43 to 40 cars.

“We’re trying to represent the rest of the field and all the other drivers as best we can, trying to make sure that the things that we’re asking for or working with NASCAR on are things that everybody feels we need,” Earnhardt said.

The council meets with NASCAR officials – but not chairman Brian France – to discuss various issues concerning NASCAR, including safety and competition. Its impact has been seen this year with the introduction of the new overtime rules for the end of races.

“I think we’ve made a lot of great changes in the last 12 months, 24 months,” Earnhardt said. “I’m not saying the council has a lot of credit for it or a lot to do with it, but we definitely have an influence, and it’s a great feeling.”

Earnhardt admitted the council did not get off to a good start.

“We started out so clunky, and it was not working and not doing very well last year,” he said. “By the end of the season, we were a runaway train. It was awesome. We were getting so much accomplished, and we got some new guys, but they’re good guys, guys that know a lot and are very smart.”

On the council with Earnhardt are Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano. New members this year are Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and defending champion Busch. The council includes the defending champion and top finishing driver with each manufacturer. The remaining members are voted on by the drivers.

Keselowski, a surprise addition to the council thanks to the driver vote, has become “one of the leaders” of the group according to Logano.

Following the first meeting of the year, during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, North Carolina, Busch said he had heard meetings last season “weren’t quite as pleasant” as his first one.

Friday at TMS, Busch echoed Earnhardt’s feelings on the 2016 edition of the council.

“The experience on the council has been good,” Busch said. “We’ve certainly conversed about a lot of different topics. Some big, some small. Some that are nonsense probably to others, but mean something to us drivers. It’s just a part of the sport and trying to help develop and make it more exciting and make it better for everyone involved. Not necessarily just the media, but of course to the fans, the drivers, the owners, the crew chiefs and the road guys too.”

The drivers council is also learning to work with the Race Team Alliance, which includes nearly every Sprint Cup team. Furniture Row Racing and Wood Brother Racing are not members.

“We are starting to strengthen our relationship with the RTA competition committee and understanding how we need to work with them to go forward over the next several years with the things that we want in the sport and changes that we think could be better,” Earnhardt said.

“It’s awesome to have them all in there and pushing real hard, and everybody is wanting the same things. It gets you fired up about what direction the sport is going in.”