<
>

Brian France attends Drivers Council meeting, talks to Tony Stewart

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France was busy meeting with drivers Friday. First, he met privately with Tony Stewart, and then he attended his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Council meeting at Talladega Superspeedway.

France was criticized by Stewart in January for not going to the meetings, which are typically attended by NASCAR top executives. Stewart was fined $35,000 last week for the tone of his comments critical of NASCAR's commitment to safety, in reference to its not policing the tightness of lug nuts on wheels.

"It was very productive, and at least from Brian's perspective, it was well done, and he was happy he did it," NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said late Friday.

The meeting with the nine-member drivers council was held in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage and went past when the garage was closed for the night. As he waited for a gate to be unlocked so he could leave the garage, France was asked if he had delivered a message to the drivers.

"No, we just had a good discussion," he said of the drivers council meeting.

The meeting went on for nearly two hours after France left for another commitment.

NASCAR spokesman David Higdon would not go into specific topics but said the meeting covered items for 2016 and 2017 and there were no discussions about Stewart's fine.

"Brian spoke a lot," Higdon said. "He started the meeting. He interjected throughout [with] good dialogue. ... His initial feeling [was] that he wanted dialogue to be very open and he might restrict some of that conversation [by being there]."

It was the second NASCAR Drivers Council meeting with executives this year, Higdon said. France's top three lieutenants -- Steve O'Donnell (competition), Brett Dewar (operations) and Steve Phelps (marketing) -- were also all in the meeting.

The council includes the three-time champion Stewart, who earlier in the day wondered why he was being fined $35,000, considering NASCAR announced earlier this week that it would start requiring teams to tighten all five lug nuts on each wheel.

The council decided to pay Stewart's fine. Stewart declined, paid his own fine and donated the council's $35,000 to charity.

Stewart, who is retiring from Sprint Cup racing after this season, said earlier in the day that he was looking forward to the meeting.

The council membership changes each year, with the top-finishing driver from each manufacturer getting a spot the following year. The other six get voted in by categories based on performance as well as length of time driving at the Cup level.

Denny Hamlin is somewhat the de facto chairman, as he spurred the movement to develop the council. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski are also on the council.

"I'm excited about that [meeting today]," Stewart said Friday afternoon. "I'm excited to have been a part of it last year, and I'm able to be a part of it this year, before I move on, to see the foundation that is being laid.

"It's really a positive thing. There are a lot of drivers that are doing more work than I am with it right now. I'm kind of sitting back and watching what is going on because I'm only going to be on here for another six, eight months or whatever it is until the season is over. I'm really proud, and I feel really strong that there is a lot of good leadership in the council right now and that the foundation that is being laid there will carry on for years to come down the road."