Is there still a need for a drivers council in NASCAR?

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Is there still a need for a drivers council in NASCAR?
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Feb 13, 2019, 7:25 PM

The future of the NASCAR Cup Series’ drivers council appears to be up in the air as the 2019 season gets underway.

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M's Caramel Aric Almirola, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Fusion Smithfield Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Ford Fusion BODYARMOR Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Fusion Discount Tire Joey Logano, Team Penske, Ford Fusion Shell Pennzoil Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Axalta Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro NAPA Auto Parts Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Possibilities Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing, Toyota Camry Auto-Owners Insurance Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Dow MOLYKOTE Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Fusion Jimmy John's New 9-Grain Wheat Sub Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Fusion Mobil 1/Rush Truck Centers Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Lowe's for Pros Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Fusion Haas Automation/Monster Energy Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Credit One Bank Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry buyatoyota.com
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Ally
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Ally
 Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Express
 Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Express
 Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Discount Tire
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Miller Lite and Paul Wolfe
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Menards/Peak

The council, formed in 2015, has typically included around 10 Cup series drivers and the group meets several times a year with NASCAR executives to discuss “big picture” issues affecting the sport.

During preseason meetings with drivers last month, NASCAR officials sought input about the direction of the council, whether it should continue or its structure changed in some fashion.

In an interview last month, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said there was some debate whether drivers sitting together as a group was as or more effective than simply speaking with NASCAR executives face-to-face.

You don’t have to feel self-conscious about asking questions or bringing up ideas. Everyone is trying to work toward the greater good.

Ryan Blaney

As of this week, no decision has been made on whether to continue the council this season, although most drivers who addressed the topic seemed to think it would be a worthwhile venture.

“I think there’s value to it. Driver feedback is very crucial to putting on good racing in my opinion,” driver Denny Hamlin said during Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day. “I do think with the changing of the guard as far as management with (NASCAR Chairman) Jim France, you’re likely to see him listen to the drivers more so than what’s been in the past.

“Sometimes it kind of falls on deaf ears. Like, ‘Are they really going to make that change or is their mind already made up on it?’ Certainly you’ve seen and the owners have seen that changes are coming and changes have been made over the last year or so quicker than what has in the past.

“If there’s any time for a driver’s council, this would be the right time because you have the right people that are there to listen.”

Still needed?

Asked if he wanted to be on the council, Hamlin said he was fine either way.

“I think that there’s a good group of guys that always going to have the general interest of drivers in mind,” he said. “Certainly if I’m on it, that’s fine, but if not that’s okay, too, because I always communicate with those people that are on it if I’m not.”

Brad Keselowski, who was a member of last year’s council, said he didn’t want to speak for every driver in terms of whether there was a need for the council.

“I definitely think there’s a need,” he said. “As for a want, I would say probably not in the current way it is shaped.”

Ryan Blaney, who has been on the drivers council the past two seasons, says his experience with the group was “great.”

“We would meet with NASCAR probably three or four times a year at-track. We would have meetings on Fridays or Saturdays and it is just great to just sit there and be in a closed off group like that because there is no dumb question,” he said.

“You don’t have to feel self-conscious about asking questions or bringing up ideas. Everyone is trying to work toward the greater good. Whether that is rules changes, weekend schedules, fan packages, promotions, everything goes on in there.”

Even without the council, Blaney said he has never had a problem speaking to a NASCAR executive one-on-one or sending text messages to NASCAR President Steve Phelps or Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

“They are very open and I think that has gotten better throughout the years,” he said. “It is all about communication to try to get things better.”

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About this article

Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski , Denny Hamlin , Ryan Blaney
Author Jim Utter