NASCAR president Steve Phelps says he will tell drivers this weekend that “we care” about them and their safety.
Phelps and other series officials are scheduled to meet with the drivers on Saturday morning to discuss safety measures with the Next Gen car.
Three drivers will miss Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Charlotte Roval due to crash-related injuries.
It is believed to be the first time in more than 20 years that three full-time Cup drivers will sit out the same race due to injuries sustained in accidents on the track.
Kurt Busch will miss his 12th consecutive race on Sunday. Concussion-like symptoms have sidelined him since a July 23 crash in qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He recently said that he is “hopeful” of returning, but didn’t have a timeline. There are five races left in the season.
Alex Bowman will miss his second straight race due to ongoing concussion symptoms following his Sept. 25 crash at Texas Motor Speedway.
Cody Ware will sit out Sunday’s race as he recovers from an impact fracture to his right ankle suffered in a crash Sept. 25 at Texas. Ware stated this week on social media that given the “great footwork required for a road course event, I don’t feel like I can give 100% of my effort to my team, my sponsors or Ford.” He plans to be back in the car the following week in Las Vegas.
Drivers say the impacts they’re feeling this year are stronger with the Next Gen car. Busch and Bowman were injured in rear-end impacts.
The car was beefed up to help protect drivers in serious crashes, like Ryan Newman’s 2020 Daytona 500 crash and Joey Logano’s 2021 Talladega crash. By making the car safer for those types of crashes, impacts are felt strongest in the most common crashes.
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have been the most outspoken drivers about NASCAR’s safety efforts.
Hamlin questioned NASCAR’s leadership and called for the car to be redesigned last weekend at Talladega. Phelps met with Hamlin a day later.
“Denny and I have a good relationship,” Phelps told NBC Sports and The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We do. He says things that sometimes I don’t agree with. I’m sure there are things I say that he doesn’t agree with.
“I probably would have gone with a different approach, understanding some of what he knows is going on in the process. I’m certainly glad we had a discussion. I gave him my opinion. he gave me his. I thought there was a healthy discussion.”
More drivers began raising concerns last week about safety issues with the car, including Chase Elliott.
“We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make our drivers feel safe in the vehicles and make them understand that we certainly care about their safety because we do,” Phelps said.
“We’re working on things with our own people internally, our race teams, (manufacturers) and drivers to make sure we have a plan moving forward so, I don’t know if it’s gaining trust, but doing better.
“Our goal is to be the safest motorsport on the planet… that’s what we aspire to do.”
NASCAR this week conducted a crash test of a rear clip and rear bumper structure at an Ohio facility. Series officials are also examining elements with the headrest foam and working with Wake Forest University to test the nozzle’s sensors that track the driver’s head movements in a crash.
Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council and an analyst for NBC Sports, says he has had regular communication with NASCAR on behalf of the drivers.
“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” Burton said last week at Talladega regarding safety issues. “We know the commitments of NASCAR. They have made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments fulfilled. I think we will do it regarding the changes to the car.”
As for his message to drivers at Saturday’s meeting, Phelps said he would tell them, “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure when you get in that car, you feel safe.”
2. “Ridiculous statement”
NASCAR suspended crew chief Rodney Childers for four races and penalized Kevin Harvick 100 points for deck lid modifications this week.
The penalties were discovered at the NASCAR Research and Development Center. Series officials typically bring a couple of cars from most events to the Research and Development Center. There you can do more complete inspections than on the track.
NASCAR took the cars of Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. after last weekend’s race at Talladega. Truex’s car had no problems.
There are some who would suggest that NASCAR was getting revenge on Harvick for recent critical comments about NASCAR’s safety efforts.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ response to that notion?
“I would say it’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney Childers at all. Or Stewart-Haas Racing. That is a ridiculous statement.”
As for the inspection process, Phelps said: “Our (officers) are going to look at it, look at it again, look at it a third time to make sure if there is a penalty, that penalty is the correct one. If the No. 4 team thinks that’s not right, they’ll file an appeal and we’ll go through the appeal process.”
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday morning that it is appealing the penalty against Harvick and his team. However, Childers will sit out this weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. That way, regardless of the outcome, he can return for the season finale in Phoenix.
3. Report Card
During a panel discussion at the Women in Motorsports seminar this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport provided a report card for the first time. racial and gender awareness for NASCAR, its teams and the industry. .
The NBA, NFL, WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer have also conducted reports on their leagues and made the results public.
The report looks at the race and gender of athletes and front office staff in those sports. Some reports examine the race and gender of officials and even broadcasters.
Phelps said he would not release NASCAR results.
“We’re doing an excellent job,” Phelps said during the panel discussion.
Phelps noted that the ratings “are not going to be what they should be, but you have to face it. … Let’s do better. One thing I will say is that the programs that we have put in place in the last few years have all gotten an A.”
Asked about the report by NBC Sports, Phelps said: “It validated where I thought we were, which is why I want to keep it quiet. In fact, we’re doing a really good job. … Hiring people of color, hiring women, promoting people of color, promoting women.
“I don’t want to lose that momentum where our Diversity Industry Council says, ‘Wait, wait, you said you’re doing all these things but it’s not working.’
“It’s going to take time. It’s not a snap of the fingers (and you’re all done). Proud of the programs we are doing”.
On Thursday, NASCAR announced that 13 drivers have been invited to the Drive for Diversity combine. The program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse drivers and women, both on and off the track.
4. Change of strategy
An appeal panel that overturned William Byron’s 25-point penalty returned him to a transfer spot heading into Sunday’s elimination race at Charlotte Roval (2 pm ET on NBC).
Chase Briscoe drops out of the final transfer spot and is tied with Austin Cindric, 12 points behind the cutoff line. Daniel Suárez occupies the last place of transfer.
Cindric said Thursday, before Byron’s penalty was changed, that what happened to Byron would affect the way he races.
“It completely changes what our race looks like this weekend, what our race strategy looks like, what our priorities are,” Cindric said of whether Byron got his points back.
“Even if (the points) are returned, we are still in a reasonably good place to think that we can still point our way. It’s not an obligation for us to win in any way, but I think it definitely changes the race strategy for us.”
Cindric explained how the strategy could change with Byron going back to a transfer spot.
“You probably have to take a higher risk to get points … or take a higher risk to just go after the win in the race,” he said.
5. Appeals Panel Changes
William Byron’s penalty marked the fourth time this year that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel or the Final Appeals Officer amended or vacated a NASCAR penalty.
In January, the Final Appeals Officer rescinded a $50,000 fine and six-week suspension on Mike Harmon Racing crew chief Ryan Bell. The team and Bell had been penalized when Harmon used one of his team’s Xfinity cars for a charity event at Rockingham Speedway.
Roger Werner, the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer, wrote in his decision that “the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, upholding the original sanction issued by NASCAR, was incorrect in light of the NASCAR rule change made on January 24, 2022.”
In May, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel overturned Matt Crafton’s disqualification after his fifth-place finish in the Camping World Truck Series race at Darlington.
Crafton’s truck was disqualified after NASCAR deemed the vehicle to be too low in the front end. The panel found that “appellants did not violate the rule(s) set forth in the sanction notice.”
Crafton’s fifth place was restored. No other reason was given from the panel. The panel was made up of Dixon Johnston, Tom DeLoach and Hunter Nickell.
In September, NASCAR cited Jeremy Clements for an intake manifold violation after his win at Daytona. The NASCAR sanction did not allow the win to count toward playoff eligibility.
Clements and his team took the engine to the NASCAR Research and Development Center for inspection, but left the intake manifold running, which was not required to be part of the inspection.
Clements and his team told the panel that they should not have been penalized for a part that was not inspected on other engines. The panel agreed and rescinded the sanction, allowing the win to count toward playoff eligibility. The panel consisted of Richard Gore, DeLoach and Johnston.
Then came Thursday’s decision by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel to rescind Byron’s 25-point penalty for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas.
The panel did not explain why it eliminated the point penalty, but increased Byron’s fine from $50,000 to $100,000. The panel was made up of Dale Pinilis, Kevin Whitaker and Nickell.