A season of change has fallen upon the NASCAR Cup Series faithful. Next Gen cars have arrived, the schedule continues to change and even the number location has shifted.
So it was only natural to see drivers adapting as well, announcing Feb. 11 that a mixture of former and current competitors have come together to form the Drivers Advisory Council, a group that will effectively deal with both competitors and industry members as the sport collectively tries to push forward.
But why now? What will it accomplish?
It’s difficult to say entirely, but there seem to be a few things worth noting as the group is formed.
The council — led by Jeff Burton, whose nickname of The Mayor has proven startlingly accurate — claims that it will work toward a host of goals, from continuing to improve “the areas of safety in motorsports” to “maximizing the opportunities for drivers to achieve success both on and off the track,” all according to a release announcing the council.
Seven drivers will sit on the organization’s board of directors, including Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Kyle Petty. The mixture is interesting, providing a mixture of veteran winners and modern regulars, champions and winless drivers.
NASCAR and the Race Team Alliance have each voiced their support for the council.
“Collaboration is critical to our growth, and we welcome any opportunity to strengthen communication with our drivers,” NASCAR evp and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said. “We often look to drivers for input when making decisions that affect the sport, and the Drivers Advisory Council will help streamline that communication. Working together, we will continue to deliver the great NASCAR racing experience our fans expect and deserve.”
RTA co-chair Dave Alpert voiced support for “collaboration” among all of the sport’s stakeholders. “Having a formalized group through which the drivers can better communicate will be a great asset for all of us,” he said. “They picked the perfect guy to lead the Drivers Advisory Council in Jeff Burton and have assembled a solid board of directors to get the group started with a strong, unified voice.”
This isn’t the first time a driver’s council has been attempted. One ended just three years ago, when drivers soured on the concept after many deemed the meetings unproductive.
But with everyone seemingly on board and the sport’s entire mindset seemingly shifted since then, there seems to be renewed sense of possibility for success with the newest attempt at a council. This edition of the council seems to have a firm structure, with the right mix of experience and a respected leader that could give the group a consistent voice and lasting impact.
The timing also seems relevant. With NASCAR already embroiled in a time of change, it’s an easy thing in which to sprinkle. It’s also fair to speculate that some of the sport’s recent moves, such as the restructuring of Atlanta Motor Speedway, were met with disappointment from many drivers — both at the change and a lack of consultation.
This year seems to be off to a great start. NASCAR worked with the drivers and teams to nail down the proper rules package for the Next Gen car and all parties enjoyed the sport’s trip to Los Angeles. But there’s an opportunity for improved communications and the council could assist with that.
“As a current driver and also a team owner, I now see things from a different perspective, and that has made me appreciate the importance of collaboration across the industry,” Hamlin said of the DAC. “The new council will deliver a unified, collective voice from the drivers to help address any challenges we face and help accomplish the common goals the industry shares.”
There was a time when the sport’s leaders ruled with an iron fist, but collaboration is key in the modern era. Last week’s news promises to better clue in the on-track competitors as part of that collaborative effort, similar to other sports like the NBA.
That can only help NASCAR and its stars, so long as everyone comes in with an open mind and lives up to their end of the deal. Whether that will happen this time around remains to be seen.
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