By Jerry Jordan, Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Officially created on February 11, 2022, the Drivers Advisory Council was created to give drivers a concerted voice in decisions being considered by NASCAR, Speedway Motorsports and team owners but before the group was announced publicly it was already impacting the sport behind the scenes.
It happened at Atlanta Motor Speedway following a test session where former NASCAR Champion, Kurt Busch, noticed an issue with the curvature and entry angles entering and exiting the backstretch. The issue was that in redesigning the track, there were some changes and widening of the frontstretch that affected how the cars approached the backstretch in Turn 2 and coming out of Turn 4. It was something that could have been a safety issue and also affect the racing action so when the drivers’ group came forward, SMI officials took quick action to resolve their concerns.
“A simple thing is, I tested Atlanta along with (Ross) Chastain and (Chris) Buescher and they widened the front straightaway to five lanes wide and the back straightaway is three lanes wide and we asked why did we do this,” said Kurt Busch, who serves on the group’s board of directors. “They’re like, ‘Well, we wanted the front straightaway wider for other events.’ Other things that they’re doing with Super Cross and such. 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.’ It’s 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 okay, this is great. This is good traction. We just need to get good at spending other people’s money. But SMI really helped us absorb just our first issue as a group together.”
A previous iteration of a drivers council, which brought drivers together in late 2014 to discuss the rules package, was disbanded after several years. The original group was said to have been founded by Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle, who just returned to the Cup Series this weekend after being out of a full-time ride since 2016. The difference between then and now appears to be that NASCAR and SMI are more open to listening to the drivers’ input.
“I think the biggest difference now is the line of communication,” said Busch. “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. It’s, I guess, like a non-profit.
Brandon Hutchison, Executive Vice President of Atlanta Motor Speedway, said he was more than willing to hear what the drivers had to say. The track recently completed a reconfiguration that saw a wholesale change in banking, corner angles and the width of the racing surface.
“A lot of time and energy has been invested to make the all-new Atlanta Motor Speedway the best it can be, and the feedback we received from drivers at the test here last month has furthered that effort,” Hutchison said. “We’ve been able to use their recommendations to fine-tune a few areas of the track ahead of its inaugural NASCAR weekend next month. At the end of the day, that collaboration has helped us put on a better event as part of a weekend full of entertainment and thrills that our fans will remember for a lifetime. That’s what it’s all about.”
Hamlin, who also serves on the new council, said it was a long time in the making and it gives drivers a uniform voice to address issues with racing officials – something they haven’t had in a while. He explained that one of the goals of the new group will be to stay focused on the issues that matter and ensure that everyone reaches a consensus. That was also echoed by Busch, who confirmed he worked to get all of the Cup Series drivers on board with the Atlanta concerns.
“We need to communicate to everybody and just like getting 40 drivers to give a thumbs up that we’re going to announce this, I ended up Secretary of State for a couple of days trying to round everybody up, but to get that 100 percent,” Busch said.
“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,” Hamlin said. “Where 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. I think this, if you just have one person in the room kind of relaying messages, that it certainly will let that group collaborate and make things better.”