As a father of two young children, Denny Hamlin’s analogy for the need for a new driver council is apropos.
“A lot of times what happens in the past is that – and sometimes you see this in the RTA meetings – where the kids get chasing around a soccer ball, and the next thing you know, we’re way off-topic, and things just don’t really get done,” Hamlin said. “I think if you just have one person in the room relaying messages that it certainly will let that group collaborate and make things better.”
The formation of the driver advisory council was announced a week ago. Hamlin is one of several drivers who will serve as the board of directors. Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, and Joey Logano are the others.
Kyle Petty is also on the board, and Jeff Burton will serve as director of the council. Petty was a good choice, according to Burton, given the many things he’s experienced and seen in the sport as well as his passion for it.
Burton and Petty’s roles are the most important, as they will be the messengers to NASCAR.
“I think this just gives us one uniform voice,” said Hamlin. “I guess we’re going to be speaking through Jeff and Kyle a lot. What it allows us to do is internally talk about issues that we see or things that we think could help make the sport better, talk about that and then let them deliver that one voice.”
A previous driver council was formed in 2014, in which Hamlin played a crucial role. However, it faded away over time as the communication between NASCAR and the garage got better, and the goals of that time were accomplished. According to Hamlin, creating this new council was a long time coming.
“I think the biggest difference now is the line of communication,” Kurt Busch said. “We started in the underground four or five months ago, and Jeff Burton has volunteered his time. A lawyer, administration group, has volunteered their time. Everybody is in a sense of volunteering right now.
“Our goals that we have are long term, and it’s similar to a Formula 1 driver advisory council when they’re working with the FIA, or they’re working with specific tracks or if they’re working with specific TV contracts. It’s all a collaborative effort within everybody in the industry. It’s the right timing.”
Busch praised Burton for the work he’s done with NASCAR, the tracks and other partners. And the council has already solved things that are popping up, such as a lesson learned after testing at the new Atlanta Motor Speedway. Busch was there along with Ross Chastain and Chris Buescher, and questions arose about why the frontstretch is five lanes wide. The answer was for the other events the track hosts.
“I was like, well, now we have more of an angle and trajectory that we’ve learned from all of our NASCAR data and the crash results that we’ve got to tweak the wall and add safer barrier to this spot on the racetrack,” Busch said. “Similar to the dogleg out in Phoenix on how we changed that front straightaway there and they adjusted that with better-curved angles and the safer barrier and the foam behind it. SMI didn’t hesitate one bit and it was, OK, this is great, this is good traction. SMI really helped us absorb just our first issue as a group together.”
Burton acknowledged the council has a lot to learn, but the only way to get things done is to put in the work.