CONCORD, North Carolina – Taking the blame for a lack of consistent communication, NASCAR president Steve Phelps said the sanctioning body would begin meeting weekly with its field of 36 drivers.
“As great as the Driver Advisory Council has been, nothing is as good as having an all-driver meeting,” Phelps said Sunday during the NBC prerace show at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. “We probably should have had one months ago to try to deal with the safety issues and what the drivers were feeling in the race car, so that’s on me. With that said, we’re going to have all-driver meetings for the rest of the year, so we’re going to do them on a weekly basis.”
With three drivers out of the Round of 12 cutoff race at the Roval because of injuries, NASCAR held a safety briefing with Cup drivers before practice and qualifying Saturday. Drivers increasingly have been outspoken about heavy impacts with the Next Gen car. Crashes caused concussion-like symptoms that have sidelined Kurt Busch (who has been out since late July) and Alex Bowman (who is missing his second consecutive race). Joey Logano said the Saturday meeting should have happened after Busch’s qualifying crash at Pocono more than two months ago.
“I thought the meeting was incredibly productive,” Phelps said. “The drivers were candid. We showed them a path forward on the rear of the car to take out some of the stiffness that exists and a bigger crush panel. But overall, we want to hear what they have to say. We care about what they say, and we’re going to continue to iterate on the car to make it safer.”
NASCAR president Steve Phelps spoked about yesterday's meeting with drivers on safety. pic.twitter.com/2lonw2pV8Y
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 9, 2022
Phelps also defended NASCAR’s track record on safety and with the Next Gen car, which has produced 19 winners in its debut season.
“Safety is the single most important thing for NASCAR,” he said. “I think we have a two-decade history that would suggest that is a true statement. So are there things we need to do to this race car to make it safer? Yes, particularly in the rear of the car. But there also are things with this car that are safer than the last car. So we are going to continue to iterate on the car working with our drivers.
During a 10-minute interview with Marty Snider, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (video above), Phelps also addressed:
–The economics of team ownership. A group of four Cup team representatives told reporters Friday that their business model is broken, adding they are far apart with NASCAR on revenue talks for the next TV rights deal.
“Race (fans) probably don’t really care about team profitability,” Phelps said. “I’m telling you race fans should care about team profitability because it creates better competition on the racetrack. That’s what fans care about. They don’t care about profitability of a race team, but it’s important because if teams don’t have the money to compete on the racetrack, we’re not going to have as good of racing. So what we’re doing as the sanctioning body is moving forward, having discussions with the teams that would suggest that we are going to give teams more money from a revenue perspective.
“But we also need to work with the races teams on the expense side of things as well. There’s a balance there like any good business. Revenue in, expenses and look at profitability on the bottom line is critical, and so I’m confident we’re going to do that and get to a good place with hour race teams moving forward. We’re not going to talk about the negotiations here, but I’m excited about what that future is going to look like with our race teams. Because I do believe NASCAR and our race teams coming together. That’s a better thing in order to help promote the sport.”
–NASCAR crash testing. Some potential changes on the back of the car for the 2023 season were tried this past week in Ohio.
“We had a crash test this week that crashed the rear of the car that created a bigger energy transfer into the back of the car vs. an energy transfer into the driver himself,” Phelps said. “So both the head and head surrounding what happens there as well as things they’re feeling in their body. Because they’re taking hits that don’t look bad, but they’re feeling it. We understand they’re taking bigger hits. We want to make sure when we get to the Clash at the Coliseum that those drivers, when they strap in, know this car is going to be successful, and that we have made changes to the vehicle that are going to soften the blows that they’re taking.”
—New team prospects. Phelps said “interest in NASCAR ownership, it’s never been as high as it is right now. It just isn’t.
“I’ve had some discussions recently with both those that are in the industry and those outside of the industry who want to come because there is a relevance to NASCAR. The sport is growing again, which is fantastic. We want to make sure we’re retaining the people who want to be here. But we have a pipeline of people who want to come to this sport, which is fantastic, and we’re going to continue to nurture that. If I’m a new team owner that’s coming in and can see there’s a way to have profitability, but also be competitive on the racetrack on Day 1, which frankly we’ve seen some of our race teams. You look at Trackhouse, 23XI, they’re winning races, and that’s what we want. We want to make sure this is the most competitive field in NASCAR that we’ve ever had. I think that’s bearing out on the racetrack.”
–Competition parity. With a record-tying 19 winners through 31 of 36 races, Phelps said the Next Gen “has done everything it was supposed to do from a competition standpoint. Nineteen different winners, five first-time winners. We’ve had more green-flag passes for the lead than we’ve ever had in the history of the sport since we’ve been doing Loop Data. And then passes throughout the field, the most we’ve had through 31 races, so we’re going to break that record, too. It’s just exciting.
“We had a meeting yesterday with one of our race teams, who some people consider to be back of the grid, and this principal said to me when I go to a racetrack, every single time, I believe we can win. I’ve never felt that before this Next Gen car, which is terrific. The underdog can come in here and win. You have a guy like Erik Jones at Petty GMS. We’re going to have that 20th winner before the year is out, which would be terrific.”
–Diversity initiatives. NASCAR recently announced the lineup for its annual Drive for Diversity combine.
“It’s really important for us,” Phelps said. “(It) is a program that was implemented 12 years ago and has some fairly successful graduates – Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace – and a shoutout to Nick Sanchez who won the ARCA Menards Series, very proud of him. That program is both for driver development and as well as crew development so as you’re walking around the garage and seeing different folks, you can point out men, women, people of color, who are now crewing cars, driving race cars.
“It’s an important thing to make sure we are having those who are participating in the sport are diversifying that group, but also diversifying that ownership group and our fanbase, which is exactly what is happening. We’re very pleased with the way that direction that is going, it’s been a big success for us.”