TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin confirmed that he met with NASCAR President Steve Phelps before Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.
The meeting came a day after Hamlin’s explosive comments to the media, saying the Next Gen car needed to be redesigned and blaming “bad leadership” by NASCAR for the safety concerns with the car.
Asked by NBC Sports about the meeting with Phelps, Hamlin said: “I don’t have any details on it. I’m grateful for Steve Phelps. He is a leader that we need. He is not who I directed any of my comments toward because he’s a huge asset for our sport.
“Me and Steve talk about much bigger and broader things than the safety of the cars. He’s got a lot bigger tasks ahead of him. I don’t task him or bog him down with knick-knack things like car safety.”
Asked if Phelps discussed Hamlin’s comments to the media in their meeting, Hamlin said: “We talked about that because we have that kind of relationship. I trust Steve. Best relationship I’ve had with any president of NASCAR. He’s done a lot for our sport. I made it very clear that I wasn’t directing anything at him.”
Hamlin’s frustration — and that of other drivers — has been the hard hits competitors have suffered in the car. The new car was designed to be stronger and better protect drivers in crashes similar to Ryan Newman’s airborne incident in the 2020 Daytona 500 and Joey Logano’s airborne crash in the April 2021 Talladega race.
While the car has been improved for those accidents, the more common crashes, particularly those where the car backs into the wall, have been felt more by drivers.
Both Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman are out because of concussion-like symptoms after rear-end crashes. Busch, who has been out since late July, said this past week that he is “hopeful” to return this season. Car owner Rick Hendrick after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway said that he is hopeful Bowman can be back as early as this coming week for the elimination race at the Charlotte Roval.
The injuries to Busch and Bowman and the hard hits have raised the tension in the Cup garage.
Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticism Saturday about the car and series officials.
Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “Bad leadership.”
Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”
As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”
In regards to the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “The car needs to be redesigned. It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned. It needs to be redesigned everywhere.”
Denny Hamlin confirms he met with #NASCAR President Steve Phelps before Sunday’s race. Meeting came after Hamlin’s comments to the media about the car and more. What Denny said of the meeting with Phelps. pic.twitter.com/c5dG03Bump
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) October 2, 2022
Hamlin appeared on “Countdown to Green” before Sunday’s race on NBC and spoke with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, who also leads the Drivers Advisory Council, about the car and his comments to the media.
“It’s not about what we can do right now, it’s what we can do about the future,” Hamlin said of the car. “In my mind, if we’re redesigning something for 2024, we need to be designing it now, testing it throughout the 2023 season and then implementing it for 2024.
“There is no easy answer to this. This has been a buildup. We’ve been talking about this as drivers for over a year now. So that’s where the frustration has boiled from.
“Certainly saying what can we do to fix it next week, it’s impossible. There’s a box that we’re in that we can’t get out of now. My thing is that while a (rear) clip is a really good thing —and I think it’s a start — we need to be in the redesign process of the entire car and that has to start now if we’re to implement that anytime in the next 12 to 14 months.”
Hamlin also said in that interview that he felt a responsibility to speak on behalf of drivers, particularly the younger drivers, on such issues. He noted that it was a mantle he and Kevin Harvick have taken.
“I do feel like at times that me and Kevin have the brunt of the responsibility to go out there and voice what we hear from our competitors and our peers. But as you are starting to see in the media, guys like Chase Elliott and others are starting to voice their displeasure and what they would like to see different as well.”