NASCAR President Steve Phelps acknowledged Sunday that a meeting with Cup Series drivers should have happened before this weekend, and there will be more in the immediate future.
Phelps told the NBC Sports pre-race show at the Charlotte Roval that having an all-driver meeting was “terrific.” He also acknowledged that the Driver Advisory Council – with liaison Jeff Burton – meets with NASCAR but said group discusses various things.
“With that said, as great as the Driver Advisory Council has been, there is nothing that is as good as having an all-driver meeting, and we probably should have had one months ago to try to deal with the safety issues and what the drivers are feeling in the race car,” Phelps said. “That’s on me. We are going to have all-driver meetings for the rest of the year. We’re going to do them on a weekly basis.
“I thought the meeting was incredibly productive. The drivers were candid. We showed them a path forward, for example, in the rear of the car, to try to take out some of the stiffness that exists—a bigger crush panel. But overall, we want to hear what they have to say. We care about what they say, and we’re going to continue to iterate on the car and make it safer.”
Some veteran drivers, notably Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, have been incredibly frustrated and forthcoming with their comments this season about the new car. Frustrations have mounted, with Kurt Busch being sidelined since July with a concussion and Alex Bowman sidelined for the second consecutive week because of the same injury.
Saturday’s meeting at the Roval allowed NASCAR and its drivers to have an open conversation while the sanctioning body also confirmed they would change the car’s rear for 2023. A crash test earlier this week in Ohio confirmed the changes NASCAR will implement in the rear clip, bumper structure and center section.
“Safety is the single most important thing for NASCAR — the safety of our drivers,” said Phelps. “I think we have a two-decade history to suggest that is a true statement. Are there things that we need to do to this race car that make it safer? Yes, particularly in the rear of the car.
“But there are also things with this car that are safer than the last car. So we are going to continue to iterate on the car, working with our drivers.”
Concussions are a big concern, and Phelps wants that addressed before the first race of ’23 in Los Angeles. NASCAR officials, and some of the more vocal drivers, understand that while everyone wants changes now, it takes time to get those parts and pieces to race teams.
“We showed some data yesterday [after] we had a crash test this week that crashed the rear of the car — that created a bigger energy transfer into the back of the car versus an energy transfer into the driver himself,” said Phelps. “Both the head and the [head-surround], what happens there, as well as things they are feeling in their body, because they are taking hits that don’t look bad, but they’re feeling it.
“We understand they’re taking bigger hits, so we want to make sure that, when we get to the Clash at the Coliseum, that when those drivers strap in, they know this car is going to be successful and that we have made changes to the vehicle that are going to soften the blows they are taking.”