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Ryan: Disband the Drivers Council? Here’s why the timing seems right

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – The new boss from the old guard, a central figure in one of the season’s biggest stories, was there.

The proposed 2019 rules, a persistent flashpoint for stoking controversy and debate this year, were on the agenda.

The forum was set for an open dialogue about the myriad challenges facing NASCAR and how to address them.

But when the 10 members of the Drivers Council met at Michigan International Speedway last Friday, there was an extremely notable absence.

After winning Sunday at the 2-mile oval, Kevin Harvick copped to watching football and playing video games with his son, Keelan, two nights earlier while critical discussions on instrumental issues were taking place a few hundred yards away.

“I had no interest,” said Harvick, who attributed it to there being “so many politics and things happening” in NASCAR now.

Here’s a weighty topic that maybe would pique his interest.

Should the Drivers Council be disbanded?

If one of the most strongly opinionated and outspoken veterans of the Cup Series sees so little usefulness and utility in meeting with NASCAR brass and his peers to hammer out the hard choices shaping the industry’s direction, how can the group be taken seriously?

If attendance isn’t compulsory for perhaps the most important meeting of the season, particularly with new interim CEO Jim France in attendance, how can anyone say with a straight face that these meetings aren’t a waste of everyone’s time?

After being created three years ago amid the hoopla of new rules packages and a collective approach to “fixing” the racing, the Drivers Council feels to be an idea whose time has run its course, particularly with last week’s change in the sanctioning body’s leadership.

Though he has a much more low-key style than his older brother and father did when they ran NASCAR from 1948-2003, Jim France will bring more of their method of governance. When he stepped into a similar role nearly 20 years ago (for a few months while Bill France Jr. battled cancer), his consigliere was Mike Helton, who also was at France’s side this past weekend at Michigan.

Helton wields enormous respect within NASCAR because he is the most tangible and visible link to the iron-fisted rule of Bill France Jr., who likely would have scoffed at the attempts of embracing consensus-building over the past three years with drivers, tracks and teams.

That era of widespread “collaboration,” a well-intentioned concept with earnest objectives but flawed execution, needs to mercifully end.

Dumping the Drivers Council would be an effectively symbolic way of conveying that message while also ending the charade of its efficacy.

This also goes for similar gatherings between racetrack leadership and NASCAR. At least one high-profile track president skips those meetings on the regular, too, for the same reason as Harvick – a lack of discernible productivity.

A fair point can be made that Harvick’s truancy Friday has much to do with his style. When the 2014 champion goes into title-contending mode, he mostly shuts off the outside world a la LeBron James’ abstention from social media during the NBA playoffs.

But being put off by “politics” – which Harvick clarified at Ford’s Mustang unveiling last Thursday was related to the debate over the 2019 rules – reinforces that star drivers hardly possess the dispositions for navigating the inherent messiness of plotting long-range courses for rules and strategy. Those “politics” will be pervasive in any meeting about such big-picture topics in NASCAR.

Racing demands that drivers are wired selfishly – and justifiably so.

There is no incentive for worrying about the greater good when trying to beat a few dozen other highly competitive opponents every Sunday. And drivers’ views understandably will forever be compromised in evaluating rules that could help or hinder their performances depending on wide-ranging circumstances.

According to those who attended Friday’s Drivers Council meeting, there was a predictably discordant tone about next season (revolving around proposals of whether to use the “drafting package” from the All-Star Race in anywhere from a handful of 2019 races to more than a dozen). Every piece of drivers’ feedback will be tainted to some degree by the vested interests in their own results.

This isn’t to suggest they should be dissuaded from having opinions or expressing them.

Harvick has his own forums – notably, his weekly SiriusXM Satellite Radio show in which he regularly leverages a national platform to champion his ideas for change whether it’s overhauling stages on road courses or building a better schedule. He has been deliberate weighing in on major topics there every Tuesday.

He undoubtedly believes his public voice carries as much or more weight than behind the closed doors of the Drivers Council.

There’s nothing much more that needs to be said there.


Michigan’s results again underscored the importance of having an in-house Optical Scanning Station to mimic NASCAR’s inspection process at the track, and how some teams greatly benefited from preseason decisions to make six-figure investments in the elaborate systems of high-definition cameras and computer scans (it’s been estimated the cost of an OSS is at least $300,000).

Among the first teams to have an OSS were Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing, which accordingly have accounted for 19 of 23 wins this season.

“I don’t see how you can race without it, to be honest with you,” crew chief Rodney Childers said about the OSS after his team’s series-leading seventh victory.

NASCAR allows teams to access an OSS at its R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, but the logistics and time required of schlepping cars there precludes it as an efficient option. An OSS is needed to help optimize cars at multiple junctures during the building process, making it a necessity for more than just powerhouse teams. During a NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode in April, Front Row Motorsports general manager Jerry Freeze said his team was considering an OSS for next season.

Hendrick Motorsports took delivery on its OSS in May, and its results notably have improved over the past month – enough to catch the eye of Kyle Larson, whose Chip Ganassi Racing team still lacks its own OSS.

“(Hendrick has) finally been able to learn where they can push the limits on things,” Larson said. “So, it sounds like maybe we have (an OSS) coming, so I’m really excited about that. Hopefully we can get it up and running before the playoffs start.”

With no top fives or laps led in the last six races for Larson (who started and finished 17th at Michigan), it can’t come soon enough.


Larson’s fade since finishing second at Chicagoland Speedway has cast serious doubt on which Chevrolet team (if any) has the best chance of emerging as a playoff threat.

After winning at Watkins Glen International with Chase Elliott and posting career-best finishes by Alex Bowman and William Byron at Pocono Raceway, Hendrick seemed to experience a backslide at Michigan, where only Elliott (ninth) finished in the top 15.

Meanwhile, Richard Childress Racing had two of the top three finishing Chevys in Austin Dillon (who finished fourth after running second to Harvick for much of the final 50 laps) and Ryan Newman (13th despite a spin after starting sixth).

It would be reductive to proclaim RCR as the lead Chevy team off one race. But Elliott said Friday he viewed Michigan “as kind of a gauge where we stack up” for the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the other 1.5-mile tracks (Kansas Speedway in the second round and Texas Motor Speedway in the third) that are coming up.


Larson’s admission he was keeping his mouth shut about moonlighting in the Knoxville Nationals was a reminder that his family’s love of dirt racing rubs some the wrong way. In January, he said the Chili Bowl was bigger than the Daytona 500, and his father, Mike, made a similar comparison about Knoxville last week.

Larson and his family shouldn’t have to apologize for embracing their roots, particularly at a time when NASCAR is emphasizing the importance of short-track racing at regional tracks. As the self-proclaimed “last true racer,” Larson admirably has tried to build a bridge between NASCAR and dirt racing. It’s unlikely to bring many crossover fans to NASCAR, but good relationships certainly help more than poisonous sniping between series.

There’s some hope that resistance could diminish under new management. Jim France has a known fondness for sports cars (helping guide IMSA’s current structure) and motorcycle racing. He presumably understands that racing’s biggest challenge is relevance across the board, and it helps if everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction.


If sports cars and the 24 Hours of Le Mans really are in the long-term future for Kurt Busch, then either his current home of Stewart-Haas Racing or Chip Ganassi Racing would make sensible options as the 2004 champion mulls his future.

Busch has emphasized (particularly in this NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode) that his Ford ties are critical in pursuing sports cars. Stewart-Haas Racing has been Ford’s lead team this season in NASCAR. Ganassi fields Chevrolets in the Cup Series but races Fords in IMSA’s GT class (two years ago, the team delivered Ford’s first win in 50 years in the 24 Hours of Le Mans).

If the aim is the best NASCAR fit for Busch, though, it’s Richard Childress Racing that would seem the most logical. RCR has made a run at the 2004 series champion before, and Busch often has said he has worked best with old-school crew chiefs – whose philosophies are embodied by RCR (starting at the top).

If Gene Haas is to be believed that 2019 likely will be Busch’s last season in Cup, it would be a good fit for the team, too. RCR could use a driver with Busch’s talent to benchmark its cars, and if the plan is for Ty Dillon eventually to join his older brother at RCR, Busch would be a first-class stopgap.


While Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated drivers Ryan Preece and Christopher Bell deservedly are popping up in conversations about future Cup rides, there’s another Toyota driver who should be on radar screens – the 2015 Cup Series rookie of the year Brett Moffitt.

Moffitt just turned 26, and his four victories in the Camping World Truck Series with underfunded Hattori Racing have proved he deserves another shot at NASCAR’s premier series. The Grimes, Iowa, native made 45 Cup starts between 2014-17 and had a best finish of eighth with Michael Waltrip Racing in March 2015 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bump & Run: Favorite Bristol memories

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What is your favorite Bristol memory?

Kyle Petty: Watching Harry Gant show those high school boys in Grand National/Busch series how to get it done at Bristol. We would sit on the hill on the backstretch and cheer him on!

Parker Kligerman: My first race there was in 2010. We wrecked in qualifying at the spring race because of a mechanical issue and missed the race. I was doing a part-time schedule in NXS & had good runs but failed to get a top 10. So when we came back in August I really wanted/needed a good run and we had an awesome race and finished in the top 10 for my first time. This was the start of many good races for myself there including second place in trucks in 2012. … Some of my favorite memories growing up were the onboard cameras looking backward at the cars following where at Bristol you could see how much undulation the car was going through and how close they would get to each other’s bumpers. It was awesome and really made me want to race there one day. I miss the old track and think I would have been really good on it. 

Nate Ryan: The first night race I ever covered there, when Jimmie Johnson flipped off Robby Gordon, an angry Elliott Sadler punched the side of an ambulance, and Ward Burton threw his heel pads at Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then said he wished he would have had “something else to have shot” through his window. Oh, and Jeff Gordon bumped Rusty Wallace aside with two laps remaining to end a 31-race winless streak. All that happened on Aug. 24, 2002.

Dustin Long: The 1999 night race when Dale Earnhardt “rattled the cage” of Terry Labonte and spun him out of the lead. What was so memorable wasn’t the incident but the reaction. Several minutes after the race ended, they played the radio call of the final lap on the track’s pa system and the fans — it seemed more than half were still in the stands at the time — booed the moment Earnhardt’s hit wrecked Labonte. Incredible atmosphere.

Daniel McFadin: Covering my first race there last August. The track sneaks up on you, as there’s not much in the town to suggest one of NASCAR’s most famous tracks is located there. It suddenly appears around a bend as you approach it. Then walking up out of the tunnel in the infield was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Bristol is a wonder.

Dan Beaver: The 1996 Night Race. Until this year, that race always fell on or near my father’s birthday. That year the race landed on his birthday and I got a chance to take him for our first trip to a track that had always been one of our favorites. 

We know who the Big 3 are. Who would be your pick to make it the Big 4 right now?

Kyle Petty: There is no Big 4 … and it’s too late for someone to join the Party. Harvick, Busch and Truex are in a league of their own. Someone would have to win 40% of the remaining races (5) for me to consider them a part of this group.

Parker Kligerman: Brad Keselowski. I’ve been saying it for months, that the 2 car is the best at executing and using strategy to steal track position from faster cars. As of this time, barring disaster, they are the fourth best team. 

Nate Ryan: If forced to pick a fourth who will race for the championship, it would be Kurt Busch based on his recent results and veteran experience. But after Michigan, the separation between Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and the rest of the field seems as wide as ever. There is little confidence in picking a fourth driver to join them.

Dustin Long: Although he hasn’t won this year, I’d make Kurt Busch as the fourth based on recent performance. His sixth-place finish at Michigan was his fifth consecutive top-10 result.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Chase Elliott. His win at Watkins Glen is one of four consecutive top 10s. My midseason pick, Kyle Larson, has basically disappeared since his runner-up finish at Chicagoland with just two top 10s in the last six races.

Dan Beaver: I don’t think anyone belongs in their league or is likely to get there. The way the playoffs work, someone will join them with a theoretical chance for the championship at Homestead, but no one is going to seriously challenge. 

What is a racing event that you’ve never attended but is on your bucket list and why?

Kyle Petty: Isle Of Man TT races! If you know what it is, you know why … nuff said.

Parker Kligerman: 24 Hours of Le Mans. Apparently it’s an incredible festival and there is just something sacred about that race. Though I don’t want to just attend but definitely race in it … one day … one day. 

Nate Ryan: The 24 Hours of Le Mans because of its history, tradition and fan appeal. Having written about the race so many times from afar (through advance stories about American teams preparing for the spectacle), I’d love to see it in person.

Dustin Long: Growing up in the Midwest and attending numerous sprint car races with my dad, I’ve always wanted to attend the Knoxville Nationals and experience what makes that event special.

Daniel McFadin: I could say the Daytona 500, but I’ll go all out and say Speedweeks. Give me a RV and a prime spot in the Daytona infield for two weeks. Seems like heaven.

Dan Beaver: The Hell Tour: DIRTcar’s Summer Nationals that feature almost 30 races in a span of 30 days during the summer. It may well be racing’s last true endurance event.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Michigan

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Larson. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver makes it nine winners for the regular season, and that’s where it will stand, setting the rest of the playoff field by points.

Dustin Long

Kurt Busch. Stewart-Haas Racing gets its third driver to Victory Lane this season and sweeps Michigan after Clint Bowyer won there in June.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick gets win No. 7 on the year, bettering his second-place result from the first Michigan race.

Dan Beaver

Denny Hamlin won’t dominate, but he had a good 10-lap average in final practice and will come on strong if there is a long green flag run at the end.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Ford Mustang reveal, Pete Pistone

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Carolyn Manno hosts from Stamford, Connecticut, and is joined by Kyle Petty from NBC Charlotte.

On today’s show:

·        We’ll see the new Ford Mustang that will run in the Cup Series in 2019. Our own Marty Snider and all 13 Ford drivers currently competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series were on hand at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, for the unveiling. We’ll also hear more about NASCAR’s new ride from Stewart-Haas Racing’s Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, and Team Penske’s Joey Logano.

·        Stewart also made headlines by opening the door for a possible return behind the wheel next year. Nate Ryan will call in to tell us what Smoke told him.

·        Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Pete Pistone calls in to the show to discuss whether or not Chase Elliott has become the new face of NASCAR.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Bump & Run: Who had more impressive Watkins Glen performance?

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Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen was 2 hours and 13 minutes. Too short? Just right? Or did you even notice?

Nate Ryan: It seemed to go by quickly, but that also could have been because it was so highly entertaining. I didn’t know the actual duration until now, but that length seems perfect. If NASCAR can consistently package that amount of drama and storylines into that window of time, that’s the sweet spot for how a race unfolds.

Dustin Long: Didn’t notice. The racing was entertaining and the drama was taut. Shows that a race at just over two hours can be satisfying. Didn’t see anyone complaining the race wasn’t three hours or longer.

Daniel McFadin: It’s almost in that sweet spot. The race could stand to be padded by 10 laps, with five added to each of the first two stages. Other than that, I was a happy camper on Sunday.

Dan Beaver: Much too short. Road racing’s popularity is on the rise and with limited slots on the Cup schedule, one way to give the fans more would be to extend the races. And an excellent way of doing that at the Glen would be to add the extra half mile or so of the boot.

Who had the more impressive drive Sunday at Watkins Glen: Chase Elliott in battling Kyle Busch early and then Martin Truex Jr. late for the win or Kyle Busch for charging up to third without the aid of a caution after his issues on pit road?

Nate Ryan: A strong case can be made for Kyle Busch because there probably is no other Cup driver who could make a swift rally so efficiently. But Chase Elliott bookended his first career victory by winning two battles against probably the reigning two greatest drivers at Watkins Glen. Give a slight edge to the No. 9 for most impressive.

Dustin Long: While Chase Elliott’s drive was impressive, Kyle Busch’s drive was memorable. Busch was right after the race. He drove his “ass off” after falling to 31st after the pit road issue.

Daniel McFadin: Chase Elliott. Not just because he bested two members of the “Big 3,” but because he did it in such dominating fashion and with a tenacity Elliott hadn’t shown before Sunday.

Dan Beaver: The heart says Elliott because a first time winner is always a great story – but the head has to go with Kyle Busch’s drive from the back. It ranks as one of many great runs for him at the Glen.

Will there be any more new winners in the final four races before the playoffs? If so, who do you think it will be?

Nate Ryan: If there is one, it’ll be Daniel Suarez this Sunday at Michigan.

Dustin Long: Two more. Hard to think Kyle Larson won’t win before the playoffs. And I’ll throw out Ryan Blaney as joining the young drivers in Victory Lane.

Daniel McFadin: The possibility of Kyle Larson winning at Michigan is high, but I’m looking more to Bristol. Both Larson and Ryan Blaney had strong days there in April before Blaney was caught in a wreck while leading and Larson was passed by Kyle Busch with six laps to go. It’ll be interesting to see if Bubba Wallace’s team can improve on their brief time at the front in that race.

Dan Beaver: Now that the Big 3 have proven to be beatable, Kyle Larson will do just that at Michigan this Sunday.