NASCAR Cup competitors form Drivers Advisory Council

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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.”

The Board of Directors for the Council are: Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Corey LaJoie, Joey Logano, Kyle Petty and Daniel Suarez. 

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:

Kurt Busch

“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.” 

Austin Dillon

“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.” 

Corey LaJoie

“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.” 

Joey Logano

“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.” 

Kyle Petty

“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.” 

Daniel Suarez

“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.” 

Dr. Diandra: Is Talladega really the biggest, fastest, fiercest track?

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Talladega Superspeedway has a reputation as one of the wildest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

Is it hype? Or do the numbers prove the point?

The biggest

Talladega is the longest oval track in the NASCAR circuit. At 2.66 miles (14,045 feet), one Talladega lap is the length of about 468 football fields. Talladega is longer than Mauna Kea is tall.

If we measure lengths in terms of Talladega:

  • The distance from Charlotte to Nashville (the location of the NASCAR awards ceremony) is 339 Talladegas.
  • If you flew direct from Los Angeles to New York City, you would cover 2500 Talladegas.
  • Martinsville is just 0.20 Talladegas.

Talladega also holds the record for banking in current Cup Series tracks with 33 degrees. Talladega’s banking is so high that the outside lane of the 48-foot wide racing surface is 26.1 feet higher than the inside lane. That difference is about the height of a two-story house.

Talladega is a tri-oval. Think of it as three straight lines connected by three curves.

A graphic showing the tri-oval shape and how it got its name

 

While tri-oval describes the track shape, it is also used to refer to the frontstretch — the most triangular part of the track.

And Talladega’s frontstretch is formidable. The 4,300-foot segment is banked at 16.5 degrees. Talladega’s frontstretch has more banking than all three of Pocono’s turns.

The backstretch, known as the Alabama Gang Superstretch, isn’t too shabby, either. It’s 1,000 feet longer than Daytona’s backstretch. If you were to unroll Richmond, its entire 0.75-mile length would just cover Talladega’s backstretch.

Talladega’s infield is so large that it could hold the L.A. Coliseum, Martinsville, Bristol, Dover, Richmond and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

A graphic showing that it's possible to pack five smaller tracks, plus the NASCAR Hall of Fame into Talladega's infield

The Fastest

Bill France Sr. originally envisioned Talladega as Indianapolis Motor Speedway with higher banking. At a time when raw speed was the big attraction, higher banking would allow Talladega to wrest away the closed-track speed record from Indy.

In 1970, just six months after Talladega hosted its first race, Buddy Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph mark on a closed course.

Baker’s breakthrough happened at a testing session. It wasn’t until 1982 that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series driver to qualify over 200 mph. Just four years later, all but one of the 42 drivers starting the spring race qualified over 200 mph.

In May 1987, Bill Elliott set the all-time Cup Series qualifying record at 212.809 mph. That record will likely never be broken. During the race, Bobby Allison got airborne and crashed into the catchfence. NASCAR subsequently mandated restrictor plates (and now tapered spacers) to keep speeds down and cars on the ground.

Restricting airflow to the engine makes drafting even more important. That, in turn, leads to large packs of cars racing within inches of each other. That’s why four of the top-10 closest finishes in the Cup Series happened at Talladega.

In the spring 2011 race, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by just two-thousandths (0.002) of a second. That ties the famous 2003 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Darlington finish for the smallest margin of victory in Cup Series history.

Of all Talladega races run after NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in May 1993, 44 ended under a green flag. Of those races:

  • Seven (15.9%) were won by less than 25 thousandths of a second.
  • Fifteen (34.1%) were won by less than one-tenth of a second.
  • Thirty-nine (88.6%) were won by less than two-tenths of a second.
  • The largest margin of victory was 0.388 seconds.

The Fiercest

Pack racing leads to more contact. Out of 35 Talladega races run under the current green-white-checkered rule, 14 (40%) ended under caution. Rain caused one of those yellow/checkered finishes. The rest were due to accidents.

In 64 races since 1990, Talladega has seen 228 caution-causing spins or accidents, which involved 1,120 cars.

Almost half (49.2%) of these incidents involved only one or two cars. A one- or two-car accident is no less problematic for the drivers involved than a larger crash. But the more cars involved in accidents, the more likely a driver is to be knocked out of the race.

  • 3.5% of all accidents since 1990 involved 20 or more cars.
  • 5.7% of accidents collected 15 or more cars.
  • 16.7% were 10-car or larger crashes.
  • 38.2% involved five or more cars.

While probable, the Big One is by no means inevitable.

Neither are accidents in general. Three races since 1990 finished with no cautions, but all three of these races took place before 2003. The lowest number of cautions in a Talladega race since 2003 is three. That happened at the fall races in 2013 and 2015.

The average number of caution-causing accidents and spins in a Talladega race is 3.5.

  • Seven races (10.9%) had a single caution-causing accident or spin.
  • 14 out of 64 races (21.9%) had four caution-causing accidents or spins
  • 13 of 64 races (20.3%) had three caution-causing incidents.

Races with four or fewer accidents make up 71.9% of all Talladega races — which means that races with five or more accidents only account for 28.1%.

The numbers definitely uphold Talladega’s reputation. Although the track itself remains the same, the racing varies. Tune in to NBC (2 p.m. ET) to see whether this fall’s bout is accident-filled or accident-free.

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

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AJ Allmendinger, who had had several close calls in Xfinity Series superspeedway races, finally broke through to Victory Lane Saturday, edging Sam Mayer to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.

Following in the top five were Landon Cassill (Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and his drafting partner at the end), Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson, who had won four straight Xfinity races entering Saturday, was 10th. Austin Hill dominated the race but finished 14th.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

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Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.

Safety key topic in meeting for drivers at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Cup drivers met Friday with Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council, and discussed safety issues ahead of this weekend’s playoff race, which will be without two drivers due to concussion-like symptoms from crashes.

Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will not race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Busch suffered his head injury in a crash at Pocono in July. Bowman’s injury followed his crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Both were injured in accidents where the rear of the car hit the SAFER barrier first.

Two drivers injured in less than three months — and the series racing at a track where crashes are likely — raises tension in the Cup garage. 

Denny Hamlin blasted NASCAR on Saturday, saying it was “bad leadership” for not addressing safety concerns drivers had with the car. Hamlin also said that the Next Gen vehicle needs to be redesigned.

Burton, who also is an analyst for NBC Sports, said in an exclusive interview that Friday’s meeting was lengthy because there were several topics to discuss. Burton didn’t go into details on all the topics.

Safety was a key element of that meeting. Burton, whose role with the Drivers Advisory Council is to coordinate the group and communicate with NASCAR, discussed the cooperation level with NASCAR.

“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” he said. “We know the commitments from NASCAR. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments through. I believe that we will in regards to changes to the car. 

“We want to see that come to conclusion as soon as possible. They have made commitments to us and are showing us what is happening, communicating with us in regard to timing, and we want to see it come to conclusion, as they do. 

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get some changes done before last weekend. It just takes a long time to test stuff.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on a new rear clip and rear bumper. Even if the test goes well, there’s not enough time for any such changes this season with five races left.

The frustration from drivers — and voiced by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — has been that NASCAR was informed about issues with a stiffer car for more than a year. Some questions were raised after William Byron crashed in a test in March 2020 at Auto Club Speedway.

“William Byron busted his ass at (Auto Club) Speedway and that should have raised a red flag right off the bat,” Harvick said Saturday.

Hamlin said more drivers needed to speak up about concerns with the car.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said.

Byron is looking for changes to be made.

“I want to have a long career, and I don’t want to have a series of concussions that make me either have to step way from the car or have to think about long-term things,” he said.

Chase Elliott also shared his frustrations Saturday.

“You come off a week like we had in Texas and somebody getting injured and then you come into here, where odds are we’re probably all going to hit something at some point (Sunday) and probably not lightly at that,” Elliot said.

So what do drivers do?

“Do you just not show up?” Elliott said. “Do you just not run? I don’t think that’s feasible to ask. There’s always an inherent risk in what we do and it’s always been that way. 

“My frustration is … I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we’ve put ourselves here and we had a choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry. 

“That should have just never been the case. We should not have put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. So my disappointment lies in that that we had years and time and opportunity to make this thing right before we put it on track and we didn’t, and now we’re having to fix it. 

“I just hate that we did that. I think we’re smarter than that. I think there’s just a lot of men and women that work in this garage that know better and we shouldn’t have been here.”

Burton told NBC Sports that drivers did not discuss in Friday’s meeting running single-file in Sunday’s race as a form of protest.

“It wouldn’t be surprising for me to see single-file (racing Sunday) because of what happened at Texas and what could happen next week (at the Charlotte Roval),” Burton said. “Drivers need a period of calmness. 

“There was not a discussion, a collaborated effort or any sort of thing of how you race (Sunday). That conversation did not come up in that meeting.”

Harvick said Saturday that he’ll continue to be vocal about safety issues.

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure these guys are in a good spot,” Harvick said. “Whatever I have to do.”

Harvick later said: “I don’t think any of us want to be in this position. We have to have the safety we deserve to go out and put on a great show and be comfortable with that. 

“Obviously, we all have taken the risks of being race car drivers, but there’s no reason we should be in a worse position than we were last year.”

Harvick said it was a matter of trust.

“The reality of the situation is much different than what they’re looking at,” Harvick said of NASCAR officials. “I think that the trust level is obviously not where it needs to be from getting it fixed. I think they’re going to have to earn the trust level back of reacting quick enough to do the things that it takes. The drivers’ opinion, especially when it comes to safety side of things, has to be more important than the data or more important than the cost. Safety can’t be a budget item.”

Corey LaJoie, who is a member of the Drivers Advisory Council board, said that while challenges remain with the car, he sees the effort being made by NASCAR.

“Nothing happens quick in this deal when you have 38 teams and you have seven cars per team,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “It has to be a well-thought-out process to implement the changes.

“It’s easy to get up in arms and prickly when we have guys like Alex and Kurt out. You don’t ever want that to happen. Every conversation I’m having is what we, as the Driver Council, is trying to communicate to NASCAR and NASCAR making proactive changes and moving timelines up aggressively to try to implement these changes.”