Cup drivers have formed a Drivers Advisory Council and will be led by former competitor Jeff Burton.
The Council, which has current and former Cup drivers, stated in a release Friday that it will work with the industry to “collectively move the sport forward and conduct positive change.”
Burton will lead the group as Director of the Council. He said Friday morning that having open communication with NASCAR, track operators and industry stakeholders, among others, are key initiatives.
“The drivers have always had a voice, the question is how was that voice best used to positively influence the sport,” Burton told reporters. “Times have changed. The sport isn’t run the way it was run in the late ‘90s. It’s different. Because of that, the drivers need to be different.
“This, in no way, is going to become a firewall between a driver and NASCAR, a driver and an owner, a driver and a track operator. We don’t want to stop that line of communication directly between a single driver and a NASCAR representative, or track representative, or manufacture representative. We don’t want to do that.
“We believe, and I believe, one of the great strengths of our sport is the ability to have those conversations face-to-face, where you are with the main guy you need to be talking and he’s talking directly to you. There is no reason for that to stop.
“The Council’s role is to gather as much information as possible, communicate that with the drivers, be a conduit to communication, not a firewall. We only want to enhance those communications.”
Burton said multiple drivers reached out to him last July at New Hampshire about this type of role with a drivers group. That came a week after drivers expressed their displeasure with the announcement that Atlanta Motor Speedway would be repaved and reconfigured for the 2022 season.
Burton said it wasn’t that situation that led to the drivers council. He noted the numerous changes in the sport and the chance to be part of those conversations even more.
This marks the second iteration of a drivers council. Spearheaded by Hamlin, the group formed to great fanfare in May 2015 and had its first meeting with NASCAR at Dover. Hamlin and Logano were a part of that inaugural group.
The effectiveness of the drivers council waned in 2018, as Kevin Harvick admitted he was skipping meetings in part because of frustration with the group’s efficacy. The driver council went away in 2019.
Burton said a key to making this council last is for him and others to do much of the work for the group.
“These drivers, they are in a cutthroat business,” Burton said. “They have to pay attention to their driving career. They have to focus on that. It’s very difficult for them to do that and be part of a driver’s council.
“The lesson (from the previous council) was, OK, if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to have someone outside that can help. You have to have someone or a group of people make this happen. … There’s conversations that I’m having every single day that the drivers don’t have to be involved in. They can have a conversation with me, then I can go have the lengthy conversations, and it allows them to be drivers, sponsor representatives and doing all the things that are required of them. That’s the biggest difference between this time and the last time.”
Burton said that Petty will serve a valuable role even though he’s not an active competitor.
“We think that it is important for perspective,” Burton said. “We spend a lot of times talking about how things were. Over time, we tend to glamorize history, we tend to rewrite history to what we think it was. We all believe that learning from our past is really important.
“You got a guy in Kyle Petty, who in our sport has seen as many things as Kyle Petty? … His passion for the sport is amazing. The more I personally spend time with Kyle, I just continue to be fascinated by how smart he is, his experiences, his caring for the sport.”
Burton defended having Hamlin, a team owner, on this council.
“We actually view that as a strength,” Burton said. “If we’re going to be integrated into the industry, we need the perspective of the industry. We need the perspective of every single entity that is involved, so to have a driver of Denny Hamlin’s caliber, the things that he’s been through as a driver, working himself up from nothing as far as a racecar driver to be what he is today, that’s a perspective for all of us. His perspective of the life of the car owner, that’s a perspective that is healthy for us.
“For us to be effective and for us to accomplish our goals … we need to be collaborative. We need to be working with the industry. This isn’t a group where it’s just, ‘Hey, here is our opinion, no matter what you think.’ This is a group that we want to gather information from everybody in order to form the best opinion.”
Hamlin tweeted Friday: “The drivers and the teams align 95% of the time. When that 5% is in play, I will step aside on those issues. One thing is for sure. ALL parties have 1 common goal and that is to GROW the sport.”
Burton addressed performing this role while also serving as an analyst for NBC Sports. Burton said his bosses at NBC Sports are “behind it 100%.”
“I can do both,” Burton said. “I’m not concerned about doing both. I love to work. I wake up, my brain full of stuff and I enjoy it. This certainly fills my plate, but I’m good with that. I don’t want to be semi-retired. I want to be working. I love what I do at NBC. I’m at the track anyway. I’m going to the track every race anyway. It really doesn’t effect a whole lot.”
The Drivers Advisory Council stated it will partner with NASCAR and its key leaders to achieve common success.
“Collaboration is critical to our growth, and we welcome any opportunity to strengthen communication with our drivers,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, in a statement. “We often look to drivers for input when making decisions that affect the sport, and the Drivers Advisory Council will help streamline that communication. Working together, we will continue to deliver the great NASCAR racing experience our fans expect and deserve.”
The Race Team Alliance (RTA), consisting of 14 Cup Series organizations, stated it will support and work alongside the council.
“One of the keys to our sport being successful is collaboration among all of its stakeholders. Having a formalized group through which the drivers can better communicate will be a great asset for all of us. They picked the perfect guy to lead the Drivers Advisory Council in Jeff Burton and have assembled a solid Board of Directors to get the group started with a strong, unified voice,” said Dave Alpern, President of Joe Gibbs Racing and Co-Chair of the Team Owner Council.
The drivers were divided into groups based on a two-year average of where they finished in points: first to 10th, 11th to 20th and 20th to 30th. Drivers in those groups were either asked or nominated to be on this group. Board terms have yet to be determined but they will be staggered so the entire board does not change at the same time.
Here is what those on the council said in statements:
“It’s an honor and a privilege to collaborate with my fellow drivers on the Drivers Advisory Council. The collective experience and insight represented on this council is ideally suited to carry NASCAR into the future and ensure its long-term sustainability. Through the council, I look forward to collaborating with NASCAR and the team owners to continue fostering positive change in the sport that has meant so much to me over the past two decades.”
“I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with the drivers, NASCAR and other stakeholders to put the best product on the track each week, emphasizing the future of the sport and the safety of drivers. My family has been involved in NASCAR my entire life, so, personally, it means a lot to me to be able to help leave my mark and progress the sport that I know and love by serving on the Drivers Advisory Council.”
“The Drivers Advisory Council will be a united and streamlined channel of communication, with Jeff Burton as our fearless leader, that will benefit the fans, sponsors, media and ultimately the sport. It’s a privilege to have your voice heard alongside your peers to further progress the sport in every aspect.”
“I’m thrilled to see the progress in our sport lately and feel that the Drivers Advisory Council will help progress our sport even further. The board is made up with experienced, forward-thinking drivers with a great leader in Jeff Burton. Communication from drivers to other stakeholders in our industry has been a challenge for years. This will most definitely help clarify feedback from drivers and help move our sport forward with a unique perspective from behind the wheel. We have had a welcoming experience from stakeholders, and I know we can all pull the rope in the same direction. Safety, fan experience, and a great on track product, are just some of the goals.”
“I believe the formation of the Drivers Advisory Council is the start of a new era in NASCAR. Through the leadership of Jeff Burton and the Board of Directors, the drivers now have a united voice. A voice that can effect change and improvement in almost every aspect of our sport. The DAC has the opportunity to create a legacy for generations of drivers to come.”
“First of all, I am thrilled to be a part of this great sport. Since I started my career in NASCAR, after arriving from my home country of Mexico, I have seen a great deal of positive changes. I believe the creation of the Drivers Advisory Council will add a first-hand perspective and, in my opinion, help create more positive changes and increase the speed that diversity can have in the sport. This will benefit present and future sponsors, our current and future fan base, as well as the teams and viewership in general. I say this with great sincerity and commitment to support this sport, the fans and the sponsors we represent.”