driver’s council

Drivers Council features new faces

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and youngsters Ty Dillon and William Byron are the newest members of the Drivers Council, NBC Sports has confirmed.

They replace Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott.

Returning members of the Drivers Council are Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.

The Council meets with NASCAR officials throughout the season to discuss issues that range from competition and marketing to safety and security measures, among other items. Some decisions can lead to significant changes in the sport. The Drivers Council was a part of the discussion on stage racing before its implementation in 2017.

Typically, the Council rotates about three new people in each year. It seeks a balance between veteran drivers and younger drivers. Council members report back to the all the drivers.

“I’m excited just because (inclusion) was voted on by drivers,” Ty Dillon said. “That means a lot to be voted on by your peers. I care a lot about the sport; it’s been a part of my whole life. Hopefully, I can add to the conversation.”

Harvick and Logano are the only members who have been on the Council all four years. The Council debuted at Dover International Speedway, meeting with NASCAR officials on May 30, 2015. Harvick notes it is important to rotate drivers into the Council.

 “You have some of these young guys that come in and see it’s not just about racing, it’s also teaching them about the politics of the sport and just the fundamentals of how things work,” he said. “It’s not just about driving the car, it’s about the teams having a balance with NASCAR and NASCAR having a balance with the drivers and the drivers having a relationship with their owner.

“There are just a lot of pieces to the puzzle that come into play, and I think the council is a good spot for everybody to help stay informed more than anything and help react to some of the things that may be coming down the pipeline from a driver’s perspective to help put that in play when NASCAR and the teams are deciding what they think is right.”

This is the third year on the Council for Busch, Johnson and Keselowski. This is the second year on the Council for Almirola and Blaney.

“Part of being a leader is seeing things from different views,” Keselowski said. “I think that’s really important and that environment lends itself to just that, which is good. I’ve enjoyed playing a role in it and hope to see it grow and become stronger year over year.”

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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.”

Logano: Brad Keselowski has ‘become one of the leaders’ of Drivers Council

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
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FORT WORTH — Earlier this year, Brad Keselowski had a “Sally Field moment.” He was elected to the Sprint Cup Drivers Council for the first time in its second season of existence.

“I didn’t actively campaign to be a part of it, yet somehow I got voted in,’’ Keselowski said in February. “I am not sure what that means.”

Whatever it means, Keselowski is one of three new members on the nine-driver council, along with Jimmie Johnson and defending series champion Kyle Busch. They join Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Hamlin and Logano.

Keselowski told NBC Sports he felt “privileged” to be part of the council, which has met at least once this season.

“It’s nice to play a part in hopefully making the sport move forward,” Keselowski said Friday following Xfinity Series qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway.

But his appointment, voted on by drivers including teammate Joey Logano, a council member since its 2015 inception, came as a shock to some.

“I was surprised,” Logano said in February on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “We all were surprised. He was surprised, too.”

But why? Why should the 2012 Sprint Cup champion and one of the more vocal and thoughtful drivers in the garage have to equate being elected to the council to how Sally Field accepted her 1985 Best Actress Oscar?

“What do you think?” Logano asked Friday with a laugh.

Keselowski’s track record with his competitors is checkered. One just has to look as recently as 2014.

Actions taken by the Team Penske driver against Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October resulted in being ambushed by Kenseth between haulers. Later, Keselowski sat in the NASCAR hauler, resembling a student waiting to meet with the principal.

Three races later at Texas, an aggressive on-track move that cut one of Jeff Gordon‘s tires led to a pit road melee involving both drivers’ teams.

Keselowski drew the ire of competitors for his brashness and aggressiveness as early as 2009. Then he was just a part-time Cup driver for Hendrick Motorsports while he competed full time in the Xfinity Series.

But he was a part-timer who had one win. A win that came after Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact coming to the checkered flag at Talladega, sending Edwards into the catchfence. A year later at Atlanta, the favor was returned by Edwards, who blatantly retaliated for another incident that damaged his car during the race.

Those incidents and more, as well as Keselowski’s “me against the world” attitude, rubbed some drivers and many fans the wrong way during his first seven seasons on the circuit.

At the same time, Keselowski earned a reputation for being one who would speak at length on the sport’s many aspects. That includes his tweets and his blog, giving fans previously unavailable looks at the sport and his life.

During his champion’s speech at the 2012 banquet, he talked of his desire to help be a leader in the garage.

“I hope that as a sport, that we can continue to find common ground, to unify,” Keselowski said, accepting the first Sprint Cup title for Team Penseke. “I believe everyone in this room, we have some of the smartest people in this room that can solve any problem and I know that as a sport, we’re capable of getting it done and I hope that everyone of us can continue to work together, find that common ground and as a champion, I want to be your leader and I want to help make it happen.”

Thanks to a surprising vote by his peers, Keselowski is getting that chance and according to Logano, doing what he promised four years ago.

“I think he’s been a great addition to the Drivers Council, for sure,” Logano said. “He’s taken the role in the ‘Brad way.’ The way you would expect Brad to. He attacks the position in that role and really has become one of the leaders of the council, fairly quickly.’

“I think that now he’s in there and people have seen that, there will be a spot in there for him into the future.”

Matt Crafton believes all three NASCAR national series should have a drivers council

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FORT WORTH – Two-time defending Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton firmly believes all three of NASCAR’s national touring series need a drivers council like the one formed for the Sprint Cup Series, which met for the first time last weekend at Dover International Speedway.

“I think right now they’re (NASCAR) working on more of their Cup stuff, but I 100 percent agree that they need to have a council, I would say in all three of the series, to be able to talk to the series directors and see what direction they need to go in,” Crafton said Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway.

So far eight Sprint Cup drivers are confirmed to be on the council, including defending champion Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle and Kyle Larson. The purpose of the council is to provide drivers a better voice regarding safety, competition, attendance and more.

“They’re constantly making rule changes and trying to make the sport better and sometimes we as drivers feel things whenever they make a rule change and I think they need to hear it sometimes,” said Crafton, who is in his 15th full-time season in the NCWTS. “Not in a bad way or good way, but we need to be able to talk to them for sure.”

Crafton said drivers have always been able to provide their opinions to NASCAR’s leadership, but the move in the direction of the council is important for the sports’ future.

“They’ve always been that way, anytime I can go in and talk to (NASCAR vice chairman Mike) Helton or (Xfinity Series director) Wayne Auton or (Managing Director, Technical Inspection/Officiating) Chad Little in the past. We need to keep driving the sport forward and making changes and listening to drivers as well.”

On his weekly appearance on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s The Morning Drive, executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said that “everyone has a voice” in the sport.

“The drivers are the first line when talking about the sport,” O’Donnell said. “They need to feel good about where we’re going as a sport (and) what they’re driving. We’re not always going to agree. That’s not the purpose of this meeting.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make a call that we believe is right for the sport. Sometimes, not everyone agrees, but as long as there is respect for how decisions were made, that’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we’re working toward. But I thought it was a great start for the meeting, really great dialogue and the ideas coming out of it.”

Brad Keselowski shares thoughts on new NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers council

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Former champion Brad Keselowski says he’s not on the new Sprint Cup drivers council that met with NASCAR officials last weekend but hopes the council can help enhance the racing.

The council features about nine competitors, including reigning champion Kevin Harvick and last year’s rookie of the year, Kyle Larson.

“To earn the spot you had to be the highest driver in each respective manufacturer, and I wasn’t the highest Ford,” Keselowski said Thursday while visiting the Detroit Lions’ practice at their Allen Park facility. “The numbers games being what they are with the Chevrolet drivers kind of having control of the senate, so to speak, I wasn’t going to get voted in, and I understand that.”

Among those confirmed on the council are: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle, who was not at the meeting, along with Harvick and Larson.

The purpose of the council is intended to help give drivers a more unified voice regarding safety, competition, attendance and more.

“I hate to put one thing above another, but if I was going to, I would say the cars’ reliance on aerodynamics needs to be severely decreased,” Keselowski said of the most pressing matter. “Aerodynamics are really cool from an engineering standpoint and showcase all the technology in the sport that perhaps gets written off as not having a lot of technology.

“To that end game, it also creates a lot of issues with our product to our fans. As the cars get faster by themselves with aerodynamics, they get slower in a pack because they drag each other down. That really prohibits the side-by-side passing and a lot of things we like to see as race fans and competitors that make the wheels of our sport go around, which is the fans and their happiness.

“Anything we can do to lower that would be a positive.”

Keselowski, who has 17 wins in the Sprint Cup Series and is considered one of the more vocal stars in NASCAR, says the panel needs to be approached with an open mind.

“I think we all want to see results, and results in this case mean continuing to improve the on-track product that we provide our fans,” he said. “(This) is where you have to start, with an open mind. At the end of the day, it comes down to what results we can get to. That is yet to be seen.”