Drivers Council brings new optimism to Sprint Cup competitors

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. extol NASCAR's commitment to the dialogue.

Drivers Council brings new optimism to Sprint Cup competitors
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Kyle Larson, Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and Kyle Larson, Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
NASCAR President Mike Helton with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and girlfriend Amy Reimann
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Tony Stewart, Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

After 14 years, it appears NASCAR’s Sprint Cup drivers have found their voice. 

Last weekend at Dover, some of the sport’s top competitors — elected by their peers — met with the sanctioning body to discuss their concerns. Yes, NASCAR has hosted town hall-style meetings in the past. But since Dale Earnhardt died in 2001, there really hasn't been that one driver that could influence the powers that be.

Now, the competitors are hopeful their collective voices will be heard. 

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who became the face of the sport following the Earnhardt era, says last Saturday’s meeting was “one of the coolest things I’ve seen happen in this sport since I’ve been in it.” 

To be able to sit in a room and have a lot of drivers that have a unique perspective on it I thought the panel was fantastic.

Jeff Gordon 

“I only wish it had happened long before my final year,” Gordon said. “I think to have an open line of communication between the drivers and NASCAR.  I think we are all on the same page and always trying to pursue the best for the sport, but we have done it in a different way; whether individually you go and have those discussions or it’s happening via other routes. 

“To be able to sit in a room and have a lot of drivers that have a unique perspective on it I thought the panel was fantastic.  I thought the openness of the conversation was amazing.  I thought that it was all very positive.”

A novel idea

Certainly, there are those pundits that don’t believe the inmates should be running the asylum, but who better to offer input to the sanctioning body than the competitors driving the cars? Particularly former champions such as Gordon and Tony Stewart. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t understand why anyone would feel it’s “a bad for the drivers and NASCAR to get together and communicate”. While NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver acknowledged meeting with the sanctioning body under less formal settings, the drivers’ council offers a more structured discourse.

Everybody wants the same thing.  We all want to have a healthy sport.  We all want the racing as good as it can be and as safe as it can be.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“Things always change, improve, evolve and this is just kind of a more organized way for us to get in a room and have conversation about everything on the table,” Earnhardt said. “I think it is awesome because you have all the NASCAR guys in there that you want to talk to that you want five minutes with.  You have a lot of great race car drivers in there with a lot of great ideas and opinions.  

“Everybody is in the room to work together.  Everybody wants the same thing.  We all want to have a healthy sport.  We all want the racing as good as it can be and as safe as it can be. 

We talk about everything.  We talk about the hot button topics and we talk about everything as far as what we think about particular tracks.  Just all kinds of stuff gets talked about in there.”

The time is right

Due to the drivers being pulled in a myriad of directions throughout the week, gathering at the racetrack makes perfect sense. Even last Saturday, the time of the meeting was changed to accommodate the different competitors’ schedules following final practice. 

However, once the drivers came together, the result was positive.

“It’s great because – I guess the thing is before we never really could organize it,” Earnhardt added. “You couldn’t get all the drivers in the same place at one time.  You couldn’t get everybody to organize to spend an hour or two and sit down and really focus on these topics and really discuss it in a good place.  

“It has got so much opportunity to be something that can really benefit the sport.  NASCAR came to the drivers and asked us to put it together.  The drivers sort of put it together and now we organize the meetings today and it’s good. It’s going to be good.”

Moving forward

Gordon, who currently leads all active drivers with the most career wins (92) and is currently third on the all-time list, says he was initially apprehensive in accepting a position on the council since he will transition to the TV booth at the start of the 2016 season. 

But he appreciates the manner in which the drivers were chosen to participate and was grateful to be included in the process.

“I thought having the drivers choose it and having certain categories and ways to go about it,” Gordon said. “And just the openness that NASCAR had to pursuing that I think it is awesome.  I really do.  I think it is one of the greatest things that I have seen.  When I look at maybe top 10 things that I see happening in this sport this is one of them.  

“I sat in that room and was in awe and just wowed by this step forward. I will do whatever they want me to do. There are certain criteria that you have to meet to stay on the panel that you could get voted off if you don’t make the meetings.  To me I want to do everything I can to continue to share my passion for the sport and thoughts and ideas and that is certainly a great way to do that.  

“But if they (still) want me, I will be on it.  If they don’t, I totally understand.  There are plenty of great drivers that are going to continue to take that to the next level over the years.”

shares
comments
NASCAR drivers concerned with the Tunnel Turn at Pocono

Previous article

NASCAR drivers concerned with the Tunnel Turn at Pocono

Next article

Brian France welcomes Driver Council

Brian France welcomes Driver Council
Load comments
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021
Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption Prime

Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a chance of redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Effectively replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith...

NASCAR Cup
Feb 11, 2021
Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon Prime

Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon

In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Roger Penske reveals the inner drive that has made him not only a hugely successful team owner and businessman but also the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Dec 28, 2020
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Prime

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future…

NASCAR Cup
Nov 18, 2020
Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture Prime

Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture

“You can’t hear me? Hey n*****” Those fateful words uttered by Kyle Larson, spoken into his esports headset on April 12, were directed at his sim racing spotter – but instead they quickly became amplified around the world via social media, including his own Twitch stream.

NASCAR Cup
Oct 29, 2020