NASCAR president takes blame for lack of communication; vows weekly driver meetings


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.”

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.”

NASCAR president Steve Phelps addressed several topics during Sunday’s prerace show (NBC Sports).

–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.”

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

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“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy

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LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)