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Post-Race Reactions: Heluva Good ! Sour Cream Dips 400
The top 5 drivers along with an upset Dale Earnhardt Jr. give post-race comments.
Best in-car audio from the Toyota Owners 400
Take a listen to the best audio from the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway that included a very giddy Tony Stewart, a not-so-happy Kurt Busch, and an epic battle for the win.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 coming to Chicagoland
RELATED: Buy tickets for Chicagoland Photo credit: Stewart-Haas Racing 's Twitter account, @StewartHaasRcng NEW YORK – April 26, 2016 – Nickelodeon today announced that it is the entitlement sponsor of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, Sept. 18, dubbed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway . Danica Patrick has signed on to drive a special car for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 , which will be broadcast on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET, and will feature a weekend of action, activities and fun for the entire family with the iconic Heroes in a Half Shell. NASCAR star Danica Patrick , a Roscoe, Illinois native, helped kick off the partnership in true Turtles style. She unveiled her No. 10 April O’Neil/Nature's Bakery Chevrolet SS at an event at Wrigley Square in Millennium Park with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then took her car for a spin down Michigan Ave. She will join a number of other drivers with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles paint schemes for the Sept. 18 race. Photo courtesy of Chicagoland Speedway 's Twitter account, @ChicagoIndSpdwy This Sept. 15-18 marks the sixth consecutive year that Chicagoland Speedway will kick off the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . The Nickelodeon partnership will include sponsorship of the 2017 kickoff race, as well. "We are excited to partner with Chicagoland Speedway to continue sponsoring and participating in marquee racing events that resonate with motorsports fans across the country," said Anthony DiCosmo, Senior Vice President, Sports Marketing and Development, Nickelodeon. "Just as we did with last season's SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway , the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 will continue to expand our relationship with NASCAR, while working with another best-in-class ISC track to give fans a unique and engaging race experience that the whole family can enjoy." "We are thrilled to partner with a world class brand like Nickelodeon for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 on Sept. 18," said Scott Paddock, Chicagoland Speedway President. "This is an exciting opportunity for us to partner with one of the preeminent youth focused brands on the planet to deliver an unprecedented level of family entertainment while engaging Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans of all ages." "It's great to be back in my home state of Illinois to be a part of this exciting announcement for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 ," said Patrick. "The Nickelodeon-sponsored races are really cool because they truly are fun for the entire family. Nature's Bakery and Nickelodeon have put together an awesome paint scheme and I can't wait to have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and April O'Neil riding along with me in September." Patrick's unique car was designed by Chicago artist Hebru Brantley, who will also design the race trophy, additional Turtles-branded paint schemes and other visual elements. Brantley breaks down the walls of cultural boundaries through his art and inspired by his 1980s Chicago upbringing, Brantley's work touches on tough subjects in a way that may be easily digestible to the viewer, by telling his stories through youthful characters and their adventures. Brantley’s work can be described as pop infused contemporary art inspired by Japanese anime and the bold aesthetics of street art pioneers Jean Michel Basquiat, KAWS and Keith Haring. During the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 race weekend, attendees will be able to enjoy fun family activities in the Nickelodeon Kids Zone, located in Champion’s Park. The area will feature appearances from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costumed characters, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles photo station and more. Nickelodeon has a long-standing relationship with NASCAR, teaming up with the motorsports giant on several programming and racing events. On the track, the network has sponsored the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway in 2015; brought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 2014; participated in the Bank of America 500 week in 2012; and the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC in 2004. NASCAR has also contributed talent and content to Nickelodeon programming such as the Kids’ Choice Awards ( Danica Patrick , 2012 and 2013), Kids' Choice Sports Awards ( Danica Patrick , 2014, Ben Kennedy , 2015), Team Umizoomi ( Jeff Gordon , 2012), Hammer Down (2014), which aired on Nicktoon’s NickSports block, and an upcoming Bubble Guppies episode ( Jimmie Johnson , 2015). Currently in its fourth season, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is seen in over 170 countries and territories and translated in 50+ languages. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles follows four mutant turtles—Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo—trained in the art of ninjutsu by their mutant rat sensei, Master Splinter, who teaches the turtles to battle evil from the New York City sewers. Executive produced by Ciro Nieli and Brandon Auman, the series is created at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank, Calif. Additionally, this summer the Turtles will once again defend the streets of New York City in Paramount Pictures' highly anticipated theatrical movie, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which arrives in theaters June 3."
Bruce: Few unscathed, fewer clear fixes for Talladega turmoil
RELATED: Talladega results " Gallery: Sunday at the track Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Raise your hand if your favorite driver wasn't involved in at least one crash Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway . Anyone? Chances are, he or she was. The GEICO 500 was one of those races … let's see, how best to describe it? Wild? Yes. Intense? Yes. Explosive? Yes. Insane and I don't know why we continue to race there? Well … It is and they do, and as long as they do, drivers and fans will continue coming back. Multicar crashes certainly aren't anything new at Talladega; the 2.66-mile track has been the site of such incidents almost from the very day the track hosted its first NASCAR-sanctioned race back in 1969. As Sunday's race wore on, the number of cars involved in one melee or another continued to mount. Three cars, then three more, then seven, and they're probably still adding up all the ones involved in the latter stages of the event. What was it, 21 cars caught up in an incident on Lap 161? That's more than half the starting field. The crews that were able to push their cars back to the garage after the race were the fortunate ones. There were far too many that arrived there on the back end of a wrecker, then were cut, lifted, twisted and rolled onto the team haulers for transport back to the various race shops. It probably wasn't worth the effort, judging by the looks of several. "Body shops are gonna be plenty busy this week," one crewman said. No one was seriously injured, and for that we should all be thankful. Ever-evolving safety measures did their jobs, but that probably wasn't going through the mind of Chris Buescher when his Front Row Racing Ford tumbled down the backstretch. Or Matt Kenseth when his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took flight, then flipped and slid on its top, the asphalt grinding sheet metal into nothingness. Or Danica Patrick , whose Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet smashed into the inside wall with great force, buckling the SAFER barrier. "Racing has always been that balance of daredevils and chess players," race winner Brad Keselowski said. "Some weekends we're chess players, some weekends we're daredevils. This has always been the more daredevil style of track, which probably offsets some of the tracks that we go to where we're the chess player. "That's what makes the NASCAR season so much fun and so unique." Those who win tend to see things in a positive light. But without watching replays of the incidents, the Team Penske driver admitted it would be unwise to comment on individual situations. "I went flying last year at Daytona, and that's not fun," third-place finisher Austin Dillon recalled. "For guys that haven't done it, it's just not a fun thing to be a part of. I don't know how to fix it personally. I know NASCAR will put their efforts towards fixing it. … They've made the car safer. That's the reason why we're walking away from these crashes." Chances are, there's no "fix" for such things. Driver after driver has noted that such incidents are expected, if not quite accepted. "I hate it," defending series champion Kyle Busch said afterward. "I'd much rather sit at home." Already a winner this season, Busch noted, "I don't need to be here." Sour grapes? Hardly. Busch finished second. And on a day when the garage was quickly filling with torn-up race car after torn-up race car, second didn't seem so bad. Fans wandered through the garage, a few stopping to collect the occasional piece left behind. Darkness was descending as teams wrapped up their auto-surgery. Rain was on the way. But the big storm had already passed.
Busch, Edwards appear to have put Richmond issue in past
VOTE: Edwards' last lap move at Richmond -- clean or dirty? Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards appear to have buried the hatchet after the finish of the Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway two weekends ago. To refesh your memory, Edwards won his second straight race for JGR on April 24, doing so with a last-lap bump-and-run on Busch, who was seeking his third victory in four Cup events. As of this past weekend at Talladega Superspeedway , the pair still had yet to talk to try to resolve any tension. But on Wednesday morning, Busch tweeted a photo of the pair holding a signed award with M&Ms -- one of Busch's sponsors -- on it and the language, "Congratulations on your win," and the Toyota Owners 400 race logo. pic.twitter.com/rGgozmHOmp — Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) May 4, 2016
Right at home: Bowyer set for Kansas truck start
RELATED: Truck Series entry list Clint Bowyer is scheduled to make his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start in nearly two years, running Friday night's event as a home-state favorite at Kansas Speedway . Bowyer -- an Emporia, Kansas native -- is listed as the driver of record for the GMS Racing No. 24 Chevrolet for Friday's Toyota Tundra 250 (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Bowyer is a three-time winner in the series, with his most recent victory coming on June 4, 2011 in his only Truck Series start at the 1.5-mile Kansas track. His most recent Truck Series appearance netted a fourth-place finish at Pocono Raceway in August 2014. Bowyer will run double-duty in NASCAR national-series competition for the first time this season. He's also set to drive the HScott Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet in Saturday night's GoBowling 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for the Sprint Cup Series. Friday's 250.5-mile Camping World Truck Series event kicks off three consecutive weekends of racing for the Truck Series, with Dover and Charlotte to follow Kansas on the 23-race schedule.
Coming home: Wile prepares for new role as Daytona president
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Chip Wile has flown into the Daytona Beach, Florida, airport dozens of times during his nearly two decades in NASCAR, working in racing public relations or for Motor Racing Network or more recently as the president of Darlington Raceway . But NASCAR's most famous track -- Daytona International Speedway -- looked different to Wile this past weekend as he landed at the airport next door. It's home now. "The 'aha moment' for me was flying in from Talladega Sunday night and landing right alongside the race track," said Wile, who started his tenure as Daytona International Speedway president on Monday. "I've flown in 50 times over the past 15 years but it felt different this time. You fly in and look over and get excited because you're going to Daytona, but knowing I have a different role now here and this is now my home was the 'aha moment.' "I'm trying to take a deep breath and really appreciate this opportunity. This is a game-changer for me and for my family. I understand how important (Daytona) is and what it means to our sport, and I'm looking forward to the challenge." For sure, the 36-year-old Wile knows a little something about challenges. For the past three years he has led the iconic Darlington Raceway into a modern era, ironically, by celebrating its storied past. Under his leadership, the "throwback" theme he created for Darlington's Southern 500 has been something praised and celebrated by fans, media and drivers alike. One of the most historic weekends of competition has also positioned itself as one of the most popular weekends in NASCAR -- a feat not lost by those International Speedway Corporation executives who tabbed Wile to run the facility as Joie Chitwood III takes a new role as ISC's Chief Operating Officer. Chitwood oversaw the recently completed $ 400 million Daytona Rising project that has propelled the speedway into one of sport's greatest modern facilities. And now Wile will shepherd the project and expand the opportunities. The Darlington experience is all fantastic background for Wile, who follows Chitwood in a place Chitwood aptly steered into the top level of innovation. "When I got the opportunity to go work at Darlington, I knew how important Darlington was to NASCAR and what it meant to lead that team," Wile said. "The obligation to hold people to a high standard because of its history and nostalgia, and certainly over the past three years, we've been able to do that with the community. Making sure we hold the Bojangles' Southern 500 to a high standard and make it a unique event with the throwback. So, that certainly is something I'm really proud of. "This is an even more prestigious brand. The Daytona 500 , I would argue, is the most prestigious brand in our sport and we have to hold it to a higher standard. And this race track, and what it means to our community and our sport, transcends really anything else that is out there." That race in particular has always held a special place in Wile's heart. He remembers working at Penske Racing, where he was reminded of the iconic Daytona track on a near daily basis. "I remember Roger Penske, who I worked for, he won 16 Indy 500s, but when you walk into his shop, the first trophy you see is that 50th running of the Daytona 500 trophy," Wile recalled. "And he's won just about everything you can win, but I'd argue that was, at the time, the biggest win in his motorsports career." Wile's extensive background working in so many facets of the sport will undoubtedly be useful for him. He spent almost a decade working with teams such as Bill Davis Racing and Penske Racing before joining ISC as director of business development with its radio network, MRN. He served as a liaison between the network and the tracks in that role before moving to Darlington. All of that is why he was the logical choice for the Daytona position and why he is confident and excited in leading the charge. "I think certainly what I bring is relationships," Wile said. "The only jobs I've ever had are in this sport. And I've been fortunate over the years. People have taken a vested interest in me and helped me be successful. I feel like I have relationships in the garage and with people that are true. I value those relationships and those are the reasons I'm getting the opportunity to come here and lead this team in Daytona. "Understanding how NASCAR works and how the race teams operate and certainly on the media side with my short time with MRN, I know what makes them tick, how their business runs and now, obviously, on the race track side. "It does give you a little bit of perspective on how you view things and look at things. I think that has helped me be successful so far. And certainly the relationships, in my opinion, are the most important thing in the sport and I will continue to lean on those."
SpongeBob, NASCAR team up for new apparel
SHOP: SpongeBob NASCAR gear Do fire suits come in size square? NASCAR and Nickelodeon launched on Monday a new line of SpongeBob SquarePants-themed fan merchandise highlighting the absorbent yellow icon and his underwater cast of characters from Bikini Bottom. The new offerings include apparel for kids of all ages (yes, adults too!) as well as lanyards, beach towels, flags, koozies and more. So whether you want to show your fandom for the Krusty Krab pit crew or fly your Bikini Bottom colors with pride, the NASCAR Superstore has got you covered. But that's not all. This summer, Nickelodeon will unveil a line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed NASCAR gear as the season heats up for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway , the kick off of the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Fans can grab the new merchandise at the Fanatics Trackside Superstore and the NASCAR.com Superstore.
Ben Rhodes: Chasing dreams on-track and on-camera
Ask some of the people who work most closely with Ben Rhodes about him and you'll get the same sense -- that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie isn't an ordinary 19-year-old. Ask his crew chief. "I've known this kid since he was 15 years old and he was always very mature, very respectful and acts older than he is," Kevin Bellicourt says. "I mean, the way he has shown maturity in the race car and everything around that, I do forget that he is 19 years old." Ask the sports director who co-hosts Rhodes' TV show -- yes, his own TV show -- in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. "I'll look at him sometimes and I'll just be like, 'Look, stop it. Just be a kid.' But he's not," Kent Spencer says. "He's definitely wise beyond his years." The wisdom has served Rhodes well in all facets of his budding NASCAR career, which carried him to the K&N Pro Series East championship in 2014 and a stint with the NASCAR Next youth initiative that identifies the sport's up-and-coming stars. The next step is a full-season campaign this year with powerhouse ThorSport Racing in the Truck Series, which makes its next stop Friday night at Kansas Speedway . Even in casual conversation, Rhodes' composure comes through in a calm that belies his age, less than one year removed from receiving a high school diploma. It's a collected nature that helps him feel just as at home in front of a TV camera's lens as he does behind the wheel. Rhodes doesn't have to balance a racing career with schoolwork any more, but his focus is far from singular. "It's full-time racing now, and it's full-time everything that has to do with racing, not just being on the track or working on the cars, but sponsors, events, fans -- which is cool," Rhodes says. "I really like that aspect of it. You can't be on the track without that." The story of how Rhodes came to be on the track isn't unlike the tale of other youngsters with a dream and a heavy right foot. But it's the unique wrinkles of his narrative that make Rhodes' story ready for prime time. Early beginnings Around their home state, where the term "racing" is most commonly associated with Thoroughbreds, it's fitting that Rhodes' career choice was galvanized by figuratively getting back on the horse. Rhodes had barely entered grade school when the itch for speed struck him. He recalls helping his older brother, Chris, try to emulate his father's practice of removing the governor from their go-karts, much to their mother's dismay. The recreational -- and occasionally unrestricted -- karting soon led to competition. "We were having a blast around the house," Rhodes says, "but when we hit the race track, it didn't really click at first and it took awhile before I got in a wreck to figure it out." Rhodes recalls crashing his first time out -- the leader coming around to lap him, clipping one of his back wheels and landing on top of his kart. The wreck naturally made him gun-shy, but it took another altercation to set his course toward making racing a lifelong pursuit. Rhodes' family vividly recalls that incident at the Clark County, Indiana, 4-H Fairgrounds, where the 7-year-old driver was on the receiving end of an intentional wreck for the first time. His family worked to repair his kart while the youngster seethed, intent on retaliation. But as Rhodes began to furiously charge back through the pack, something changed in his demeanor. "Once I passed the other guy, I didn't even think about wanting revenge or whatever, I just started having a blast," Rhodes says. "Passing cars was a lot more fun than getting passed, and that's when it all started clicking for me. We started working on set-ups and had just an awesome time doing it. It was an awesome family experience." Into NASCAR Those first forays led to progression and an eventual place in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at age 16. After a partial first season, his first full campaign in 2014 netted a remarkable five victories and six pole positions, with Bellicourt serving as his car chief. The performance drew the interest of JR Motorsports, which fielded Rhodes in a 10-race slate in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015. After a seventh-place series debut at Iowa Speedway in May, Rhodes endured largely uneven results in the JRM No. 88, despite help from the team's fleet of Sprint Cup drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Kevin Harvick , Chase Elliott and Regan Smith . "I learned so much from them, but the problem is it was hard to apply it," Rhodes says of his sporadic schedule. "You have to be in the car feeling it. I had a month between times (in the car) more than once before I could actually feel what they were talking about or actually apply it. All the momentum that you had was lost. It was just really hard for me to get adjusted to and just hard to keep the learning going, but the jump, I felt like if I ran the whole season, the jump maybe wouldn't have been that bad." An offseason to regroup also led to a new opportunity, as one of the newest faces at ThorSport Racing, a championship-caliber team with an evolving driver roster. In the offseason, Rhodes joined two-time Truck Series champ Matt Crafton , second-year driver Cameron Hayley and fellow rookie Rico Abreu under the watch of team owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson. The team's drivers have perennially lauded the resources that the Thorsons provide to compete at a high level. Rhodes found this out early on, when they sought his input to hire a crew chief for his No. 41 Toyota. He immediately thought of Bellicourt, who had just finished helping William Byron as crew chief for his K&N East championship run in 2015. In some respects, the job was a tougher sell than most, requiring Bellicourt to move from North Carolina to within reach of ThorSport's Sandusky, Ohio, shop. But it was also a commitment for his wife, his 11-month-old daughter and the baby the couple are expecting in early June. But the opportunity to move from the regional and touring level to a NASCAR national series was too good to pass up. After taking the leap, the driver-crew chief reunion went seamlessly. "The communication is back to where it was and it's like we never even left off," Rhodes says. "I remember the first time that he was up at ThorSport and I was there and we were having such a good time. None of the guys up there had seen us run before or work together, so when we came up there, they were like, 'We've got a feeling that you just brought your best friend in to work on these race cars.' That was kind of cool that we hit it off right away once again." Says Bellicourt: "We just have a good time. I understand what he's saying when he's talking about the truck, and he understands when I'm trying to make a point with him. His understanding of the race car has just come a long way since I first met him when he was 15. He understands that a lot, and all the set-up stuff. That just helps a lot, too, with the driver having that knowledge. We've just been able to roll with it so far this season." Rolling with it has meant gradual gains in the early stages of the year, but one accomplishment stands out -- winning the pole position last month at Martinsville Speedway . Though a late-race wreck saddled Rhodes with a midpack 16th-place result, the speed shown in qualifying and out front for 42 laps made a solid impression. "It felt really good to get the pole because it validates what we know that we have," Rhodes says. "We're trying to show others what my crew chief and I know. We have an awesome relationship and we know how to set up the race cars, we know how to get speed, it's just a matter of getting the experience together now. It just validates that." The fact that Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch was among the competitive field in qualifying that day didn't hurt the team's confidence, Bellicourt says. "You look at that and say there's no reason we can't run with any of these guys," Bellicourt says. "Now Ben knows it. We knew it before, but you always want to make it happen and then you just get that extra confidence. I know it, the guys know it, Ben knows it, and hopefully now everybody else sees what we're capable of. "We're looking to continue to do more of that to show that it wasn't just a flash-in-the-pan, one-time thing. We're going to try to do it at Kansas again." On the mic Rhodes has visions of keeping his racing aspirations going, climbing the ladder, chasing victories. But if his NASCAR dream somehow ended tomorrow, he has an entertaining backup plan -- in television. The 19-year-old is in his fifth season as co-host of "On Track with Ben Rhodes ," a 30-minute weekly show that chronicles his racing career and allows him to meet and interview personalities in the Louisville area. Kent Spencer -- the sports director at WHAS-11, an ABC affiliate in Louisville -- has served as the show's other co-host since its inception. "I'd met Ben before, but in kind of a different realm," Spencer says. "He was a young man trying to come up, went to a local high school, trying to make it in NASCAR, so we interviewed a few times there. This was obviously a different beast. He and I have a really good rapport together, we like to be around each other, so we kind of knew early on that this was going to work." The experience has allowed Rhodes to interact with community leaders from all walks of life. This season, Rhodes and Spencer have taken their show on the road, spending time with charitable organizations, returning to Holy Cross High School (the driver's alma mater), and paying visits to Churchill Downs, site of Saturday's 142nd Kentucky Derby. Rhodes' comfort on camera has grown not only in his hometown, but also during media sessions in the garage on race weekends. "I get to see and build new relationships with people, but it's also trained me to talk to the media and how to talk on camera," he says. "Before the show, I was really, really bad. Now that I've done the show for a couple seasons, I've done a lot better and it makes the job at the race track a lot easier for me." Even Bellicourt has noticed. "You give that kid a microphone and you're going to have to rip it out of his hand before he quits talking," he says with a laugh. "He's very outgoing and does a good job with that. He's kind of a total-package guy. He's got the marketing side, he's really good in front of the camera and obviously has performed on the race track great, so he's got an enormous amount of talent." It all circles back to the versatility and composure that extends beyond Rhodes' years. "I got that feeling from him back when he was 17," Spencer says. "You could definitely tell he's not a normal high school junior, not a normal high school senior. It's just the way he goes about things and the way he can communicate, and I think a large part of that is because the way that his mom and dad make him do a lot on his own. "If you want this dream, it's not easy. You're going to have to work for it. Every week, we get done taping the show and Ben helps tear down the set. He does a lot setting up his own schedule. He's out there and he's doing it, getting the job done, but there's a lot of times where it just blows me away." Several drivers with successful NASCAR credentials have made smooth transitions to the broadcasting booth for second careers after their driving days are done. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon added his name to the list this season, joining FOX Sports for its coverage of the sport. Rhodes says he'd love to see a similar trajectory for his career, but right now he's one-upping it -- by taking on both jobs at once. "Hopefully my racing career goes on for a long time and I can build up a great reputation and go out on TV broadcasting," he says. "I think it's really cool that drivers do that once they're done, and they're able to go up in the broadcast booth and shine new light on the subject and able to give fans kind of the inside scoop on things. As things change and progress, maybe some of the other broadcasters might not be aware of it. "New drivers like Jeff Gordon and the guys that are fresh out of the race car can show them and talk about what's changing in the sport. I think that's really cool that drivers can do that." Spoken like a kid who is wise beyond his years.
France: Collaboration with drivers, council 'better than ever'
NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France has gone from Talladega, Alabama, to Los Angeles over the past several days, taking in and sending out a wide view of the sport in the process. France kicked off a Drivers Council meeting at Talladega on Friday, then served on a prestigious speaking panel for sports business leaders in L.A. on Monday The initial stop was well-received by both the drivers and France himself -- the NASCAR Chairman & CEO kicked off the meeting with remarks, and listened to driver discussion on a variety of topics. France also met privately for a one-on-one discussion with driver Tony Stewart , a three-time premier series champion. "The Drivers Council meeting in Talladega was very productive," France told NASCAR.com. "Tony and I also met one-on-one, and it was great to hear his thoughts. I think the key is to build trust with the drivers, and we structured the Council in a way that lets them express their views in a free-flowing manner. "We want them to know that we are listening, trying to understand their issues and that it is important for us to get it right. I think the level of collaboration between us is better than ever." The drivers agree. "It was great Brian came (to the meeting)," Dale Earnhardt Jr . told reporters at Talladega. " … It was just a good , positive meeting, a lot of good things moving in a good direction. ... I think what we are doing is pretty amazing." Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson were all on the Drivers Council when it was formed last year, and remain members in 2016. Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are three new members this year, bringing the total council to nine drivers. The sanctioning body strategically shaped criteria for the Drivers Council so a variety of drivers are included. Four spots are automatically filled by performance the previous season -- the top-finishing driver for Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford, plus the top-finishing driver with less than three seasons of experience. The remaining slots are filled by driver votes from the following categories: Two drivers from the top 10 in points from the previous season; one driver from positions 11-20 in points from the previous season; one driver from positions 21-30 in points the previous season; and one driver with the most votes who doesn't fit into the previous categories. A team can have a maximum of two drivers on the Drivers Council. "The meeting on Friday was terrific," NASCAR Executive Vice President and Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell reiterated on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "It was scheduled for an hour and a half and almost went three hours. Brian was there and talked about where we see the sport going, answering a number of questions that the drivers had, and then we had some great exchanges about what we think of the current rules package, some things we may look at in the future. All in all, my perspective, … but I really believe in the process and think it's paying huge benefits for the sport and ultimately the race fans." The Drivers Council is the latest group to be formed within the industry, joining the NASCAR OEM Council, Tracks Council and the Teams Council. The intent of council creation is for better collaboration across the sport, with the manufacturers and teams -- and now, the drivers -- having an avenue for discussion and a process to elevate those discussions to industry leadership. At the Milken Conference days later, France was on a five-person panel for a session called "Stewards of the Game: The Business Leaders Behind Major Sports" that also included former NBA Commissioner David Stern and New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft. The NASCAR Chairman & CEO answered broad-ranging questions on his family legacy, the successful Daytona Rising project and the importance of digital and social media to reach and engage new fans.