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Drivers voice feelings to NASCAR in safety meeting

NASCAR President Steve Phelps says "safety is the single most important thing," as he recognizes the need to make the rear of the Next Gen car safer, and admits they should have had an all-driver meeting months ago.

CONCORD, N.C. — Cup drivers voiced their feelings to NASCAR about the sanctioning body’s safety efforts in a meeting that some competitors called productive, but one likened to the “airing of grievances” from the “Seinfeld” show.

Saturday morning’s meeting at Charlotte Motor Speedway lasted 75 minutes. A NASCAR spokesperson said officials were open to another meeting since they couldn’t complete their presentation because drivers had so many questions and comments. Multiple drivers said that they hope they meet with officials again in the near future.

Saturday’s meeting took place a day before three full-time drivers will miss the same Cup race because of crash-related injuries. This is believed to be the first time in at least 20 years that has happened.

Kurt Busch will miss his 12th consecutive race because of concussion-like symptoms. Alex Bowman will miss his second race in a row for the same issue. Cody Ware is skipping this race after suffering an ankle fracture two weeks ago in a crash at Texas.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke at the beginning of the meeting and told competitors that officials care about driver safety. John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR, led much of the session. John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of Racing Innovation, also spoke. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France attended the meeting but did not speak.

Kevin Harvick, who has been one of the most outspoken drivers about NASCAR’s safety efforts this season, said he wants to see more.

“Actions are a lot louder than words,” Harvick told NBC Sports and The Associated Press. “That’s what we need to see.”

Harvick also said that Saturday’s meeting was “a good step in communication.”

Asked if he felt safe in this car, Harvick said: “There’s definitely more risks than we’ve seen in the past, as we’ve seen with three of the 36 guys out.”

Asked if he could remember a time when so many drivers were out by injures, Harvick said: “I just don’t want to see it be like 2001 (the year of Dale Earnhardt’s death in the Daytona 500).”

NASCAR told drivers that Wednesday’s crash test of the rear bumper structure and rear clip went well. Those new pieces will be on the car next season. Based on driver comments, series officials will begin to examine the front bumper structure.
NASCAR executives did not speak to the media after the meeting, but Phelps will be on Sunday’s Countdown to Green (1 p.m. ET on NBC) before the Cup playoff elimination race.

A NASCAR spokesperson said the sanctioning body was pleased with the meeting and called the discussion “candid” and “frank” but not emotional.

Denny Hamlin, who also has been a vocal critic of NASCAR’s safety efforts and called for the car to be redesigned, said that he felt that “there’s a sense of urgency on (NASCAR’s) part.”

Joey Logano, a member of the Drivers Advisory Council who has been a part of safety discussions, called Saturday’s meeting “productive.

“It was good. It was open. They’re listening to us and there’s work to be done and some work has been done already, which is good. It’s a start.”

Erik Jones described the meeting as “a lot more Seinfeld airing of grievances than a meeting from a lot of guys.”

Corey LaJoie, a member of the Drivers Advisory Council who has been a part of safety discussions, left the meeting frustrated.

“Guys don’t let it move forward,” LaJoie told NBC Sports of his fellow competitors. “They want to talk about the process of how we got here instead of the process of how we get from here forward. It’s so frustrating.

“We want to argue about this or that or that crash data … we have what we have right now. Guys, we are going to drive these cars today. It doesn’t matter how we got to this car. It’s about how we move forward, and nobody’s allowing NASCAR to talk and address those issues.”

Christopher Bell said the meeting was “definitely tense” from the driver side.

“NASCAR did a good job of trying to answer the questions the drivers asked,” he said, “but you can tell that there’s frustration.”

Logano also noted the questions from drivers.

“I think everyone talked honestly about their feelings and their experiences and want to know why we’re in the position we’re in. That’s a fair question. I think NASCAR understood those were fair questions and weren’t very defensive about it.”

Tyler Reddick said the meeting proved helpful.

“We’re in a lot better spot now than before we went into that meeting,” he said. “Obviously, we all agree we have a lot of things to work though. The plan is to do it together.”