NASCAR president Steve Phelps says he will tell drivers this weekend that “we care” about them and safety.
Phelps and other series officials plan to meet with drivers 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 on-track accidents.
Kurt Busch will miss his twelfth consecutive race on Sunday. Concussion-like symptoms have sidelined him since a July 23 qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway. He recently said he’s “hopeful” to return, but didn’t have a timetable. There are five races left in the season.
Alex Bowman will miss his second consecutive race due to continued concussion symptoms following his Sept. 25 crash at Texas Motor Speedway.
Cody Ware is out of Sunday’s race as he recovers from an impact fracture to his right ankle suffered in a Sept. 25 crash in Texas. Ware stated on social media this week that given the “extensive footwork required for a track event, I don’t think I’m going to be able to give 100% effort to my team, my sponsors or Ford.” He plans to get back in the car the following week in Las Vegas.
Drivers say the impacts they feel this year are harder with the Next Gen car. Busch and Bowman were injured in subsequent impacts.
The car was reinforced to help protect drivers in serious crashes, such as Ryan Newman’s 2020 Daytona 500 crash and Joey Logano’s 2021 Talladega crash. By making the car safer for these types of crashes, it has made impacts feel harsher in more common crashes.
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have been the most outspoken of the 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 I don’t agree with sometimes. I’m sure there are things he doesn’t agree with.
“I probably would have gone with a different approach, understanding how he knows what’s 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 have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make our drivers feel safe in the vehicles and understand that we care about their safety because we’re doing this,” 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 going forward because, I don’t know that it’s building confidence, but we’re doing it. better
“Our goal is to be the safest motorsports on the planet… that’s what we aspire to do.”
NASCAR conducted a crash test of a rear clip and rear bumper structure at a facility in Ohio this week. Series officials are also examining headrest foam elements and working with Wake Forest University to test nozzle sensors that track a driver’s head movements in a crash.
Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council and an analyst for NBC Sports, says he has been in regular communication with NASCAR on behalf of the drivers.
“We feel we have cooperation with NASCAR,” Burton said last week at Talladega regarding the safety concerns. “We know NASCAR’s commitments. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want those commitments to be met. I think we will in terms of 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 that when you get in your car, you feel safe.”
2. “Ridiculous Statement”
NASCAR suspended crew chief Rodney Childers four races and penalized Kevin Harvick 100 points for deck lid modifications this week.
The penalties were discovered at NASCAR’s R&D Center. Series officials usually bring a couple of cars back from most events to the R&D Center. More comprehensive inspections can be done there 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 back at Harvick for recent critical comments about NASCAR’s safety efforts.
NASCAR president Steve Phelps’ response to that idea?
“I would say it’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney Childers. Or Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s a ridiculous statement.”
Regarding the inspection process, Phelps said, “Our (officials) will look at it, look at it again, look at it a third time to make sure that if there’s a penalty, it’s correct. If the team number 4 believes this is not right, they will file an appeal and we will go through the appeals process.”
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday morning that it will appeal 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. Grade report
During a panel discussion at this week’s Women in Motorsports seminar at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports provided for the first time a race and gender report for NASCAR, its teams and the industry. .
The NBA, NFL, WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer have also reported on their leagues and made the results public.
The report looks at the race and gender of athletes and office staff in these sports. Some reports examine the race and gender of officials and even broadcasters.
Phelps said he would not disclose NASCAR results.
“We’re doing a fantastic job,” Phelps said during the panel discussion.
Phelps noted that the grades “aren’t going to be what they should be, but you have to deal with it. … We’re going to do better. One thing I will say is that the programs that we’ve put in place over the last few years have gotten an A.”
Asked by NBC Sports about the report, Phelps said, “It validated where I thought we were, and that’s why I want to keep it quiet. We’re actually 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 because our Diversity Industry Council is like, ‘Wait, wait, you said you’re doing all this stuff, but it’s not working.’
“It’s going to take time. It’s not a snap (and that’s it). We’re proud of the programs we’re 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 female drivers both on and off the track.
4. Change of strategy
An appeals panel overturning William Byron’s 25-point penalty moves him back to a transfer spot heading into Sunday’s elimination race at Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).
Chase Briscoe leaves the final transfer spot and is tied with Austin Cindric, 12 points behind the cut line. Daniel Suárez occupies the definitive transfer position.
Cindric said Thursday, before Byron’s suspension was changed, that what happened to Byron would affect how he competes.
“It completely changes how our race looks this weekend, how our race strategy looks, what our priorities are,” Cindric said of Byron getting his points back.
“Even though (the points) are coming back, we’re still in a reasonably good place to think we could still go for it. It’s not a must-win for us by any means, but I think it will definitely change the strategy of the race for us.”
Cindric explained how the strategy could change with Byron returning to a transfer spot.
“You’re probably going to have to risk more to get points … or take a higher risk to go after the race win,” he said.
5. Changes by the Court of Appeal
William Byron’s penalty was the fourth time this year that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel or Final Appeals Officer has modified or overturned a NASCAR penalty.
In January, the final appeals officer rescinded a $50,000 fine and six-week suspension for 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, which upheld the original penalty issued by NASCAR, was incorrect in light of the amendment to the NASCAR rulebook made on January 24, 2022.”
In May, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel overturned Matt Crafton’s disqualification following his fifth-place finish in the Camping World Truck Series race at Darlington.
Crafton’s truck was disqualified after NASCAR deemed the vehicle too low on the front end. The court determined that “appellants did not violate the rules set forth in the penalty notice.”
Crafton’s fifth place was restored. No other reason was given by the panel. The panel consisted of Dixon Johnston, Tom DeLoach and Hunter Nickell.
In September, NASCAR penalized Jeremy Clements for an intake manifold violation following his victory at Daytona. NASCAR’s penalty did not allow the win to count toward playoff eligibility.
Clements and his team took the engine to the NASCAR R&D Center for inspection, but left the intake manifold on, which was not supposed to be part of the inspection.
Clements and his team pointed out to 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 penalty, 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 say why it removed the points penalty, but it increased Byron’s fine from $50,000 to $100,000. The panel consisted of Dale Pinilis, Kevin Whitaker and Nickell.