Tony Stewart wants to see Brian France around the Sprint Cup circuit a whole lot more.
Stewart, who is competing in his final Sprint Cup Series season in 2016, said on SiriusXM Speedway on Thursday afternoon that he would like to have NASCAR's CEO be present more frequently, both in discussions with drivers and during race weekends.
The three-time champion said France talked with him at Pocono last August. The race came as NASCAR was in the middle of testing out a high-drag rules package for races at Indianapolis and Michigan. The rules idea was the brainchild of NASCAR vice president Gene Stefanyshyn.
Stewart has advocated for less drag and downforce on Cup cars and said earlier Thursday that he'd like to see Cup cars have more downforce taken away.
"I had a disagreement with Brian France, he came up to me at Pocono and gave me a hard time saying just because it was my idea doesn’t mean it was right,” Stewart said to host Dave Moody. “And I sat there, and my head was saying, ‘Wait a minute. You’re standing up for a guy that'’s never worked on a race car, never been a part of a race team that now is making decisions on what the rules package is going to be versus guys who have been driving race cars for 20 or 30 years? So you’re telling us that that guy’s smarter than what we all are?’"
"That's where Brian France and I disagree a lot."
France has referenced multiple times (most recently regarding the Matt Kenseth-Joey Logano kerfuffle) that it's NASCAR's sandbox and drivers must abide by the sanctioning body's rules.
"You never see Brian France," Stewart said. "He shows up at the drivers' meeting and you never see him after that. But I picked up what Brian was putting down. And he's right's it's their series and they've got to make the decisions. Just because it's my idea doesn't mean it's the right idea. I would like to think in the 37 years I've been in racing that I've learned a thing or two."
The entire interview is worth a listen. You can tell that Stewart, perhaps unburdened because it's his final year as a driver, has carefully thought through what he wants to say. And he made it clear that his words were not designed to pick a fight, but rather as an impetus for improvement.
He said communication with NASCAR has gotten better, especially after the formation of the driver's council. A group of drivers has been meeting periodically with NASCAR executives to exchange ideas and feedback.
"And the problem for us, and it's getting better. It's much, much better. I know that they're going to freak out about this," Stewart said. "It's got a lot better to where we have got the driver council now. Now we meet with NASCAR more frequently. And Gene's been a part of those meetings and it's really been -- the whole demeanor of those meetings are totally different than when Gene started and Gene had his idea of going one way and all of us were telling him we thought it needed to go a different direction."
Stefanyshyn joined NASCAR in the spring of 2013. He previously worked for GM and the release announcing his hire touts innovations with consumer cars.
Drivers gave the low-downforce rules experiments at Kentucky and Darlington last year rave reviews. France wasn't nearly as effusive after the Kentucky race and said he wanted to see more pack racing. The high-drag experiments at Indianapolis and Michigan were supposed to help produce that pack racing. It didn't happen. To call those races a disaster wouldn't be much of an overstatement.
Stewart said he wanted to see France present more with meetings involving his company and its drivers so that he could hear the comments from drivers first-hand. His comments about NASCAR and France were much more candid than those about his discussion with a fan at the Chili Bowl.
"I would like for him to be there because I want to make sure that the stuff I'm talking about -- I want to know before I leave that room that he understands," Stewart said. "I want to see he cares enough to be there, not sit there and get a report from somebody"
2016 is a pivotal year for NASCAR. The lower downforce at most tracks has elevated fan expectations. If those expectations are met, fans should be happy with NASCAR for listening to the guys who drive the cars. And, if Stewart has his way, the garage should be happier if France is mingling a lot more on race days.
"I want to see Brian France at the track more," Stewart said. "I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than showing up and patting sponsors on the back and going up in the suite. I want to see him down there in the trenches with everybody and understand what's truly going on. I think that's where ... he needs to be for a while.
"I'm saying it because I care. I'm not trying to pick a fight with him."
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