NASCAR President Steve Phelps says the sport continues “this journey toward getting better” and “bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment, whether at the race track or you are watching on television.”
Phelps made the comments Saturday night on NASCAR America on NBCSN before the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
He spoke after a remarkable week in sports that saw athletes halt play to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“For us it really is getting back to this, what’s action can we take?” Phelps said on NBCSN. “I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless. And so, for us, it’s continuing down … this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment, whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome.”
“Listen, the events of this week are difficult for sure. The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented with games being canceled and athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds what needs to happen, what needs to change.
“I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta, you know, kind of that moment of listening that we had as a sport in Atlanta and then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that, you know, we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack, which is something that we have done. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega.”
Before the June 7 Cup race at Atlanta began, the cars were stopped on the frontstretch. Pit crews stood on the wall behind the pit boxes. Phelps then addressed competitors and fans.
“Those watching at home, thank you for your time,” Phelps said. “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard. The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
“The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection to acknowledge we must do better as a sport and join us as we may now pause and … listen.”
« We want to have this great sport open to as many people as we can. »@NASCAR president @StevePhelps spoke with @KristaVoda and @BradDaugherty43 on the work they’ve done to fight racial inequality. pic.twitter.com/JxTieGaKmP
Krista Voda: We are joined now by the president of NASCAR, Steve Phelps. It is never easy to see our country have divided. What are your observations from the sports world this week and what’s the sentiment inside the NASCAR community?
Steve Phelps: Well, first of all, thanks for having me on, Krista. It’s a pleasure to be with you and Brad. Listen, the events of this week are difficult, for sure. The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented, with games being canceled and athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds, what needs to happen, what needs to change. I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta, you know, kind of that moment of listening that we had as a sport in Atlanta and then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that, you know, we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack, which is something that we have done. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega, which, you know, for all of us that have been in this sport a long time, as you, Brad, and Krista, have been, just seeing that sense of community and that sense of family that exists at NASCAR, watching the support of Bubba – I just thought it was extraordinary.
Brad Daugherty: Yeah, it was absolutely remarkable. And Steve, as you go back to June, I mean, going forward, coming forward to now, the seismic shift in all of our cultural ideologies has changed dramatically. And at the forefront of that has been pro sports figures and pro sports teams. You talk about Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA, most notably, but also in the origin of all this was NASCAR and you stood behind a pretty defiant stance and took a really big chance with NASCAR, being one of the leaders, speaking out and taking a stand against social injustices. Why is now the right time for NASCAR?
Phelps: Well, you know what, Brad, that’s a really good question. You know, for us, and again, I’ll go back to June, it was a moment in time in this country that it appeared like everyone really was interested in understanding what was happening. An opportunity for us to listen. That’s where we were as a sport. You know, Bubba, who I think we would all suggest that he’s shown nothing but class and courage in this whole thing and he always has kept it up here, never has gone down here. It’s all about love, understanding, welcoming people to this sport and that’s really what we’re about. And I think that for us at this moment in time, where we were in June, was something that was important for our sport. We want to have this great sport open to as many people as we can. And the events that happened in June really showcased who our sport was, so, I was super proud of it. I know that the two of you have, I’ve had conversations with you about this, so I think it was, again, time and place, that was our time. There’s still work that needs to be done, for sure, and since June, you know, we’ve done a lot of listening with our own employees, with our industry broadly, with our many partners, Comcast, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Geico and many, many others about the role that sports can play, the role that our athletes can play and the roles, frankly, that our broadcast sponsors and our sponsors can play in what’s going on in our sport.
Voda: You bring up some great points, I think we’re all just trying to be better human beings overall. What is the biggest, I guess, takeaway or learning through all of the conversations and impact that you’ve had, you know, even dating back just to June?
Phelps: Yeah, listen, there’s so many, Krista, and they just kind of all blur together. But for us, it really is getting back to this, what actions can we take? I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless. And so, for us, it’s continuing down this continuum of this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome. And that’s really, you know, we say it a lot, but I think our sport does that better than any other, frankly, in terms of this sense of family and this sense of community that exists.
Daugherty: Steve, we get through February, the pandemic hits, everyone’s scrambling, trying to figure out, especially in the sports leagues how they’re going to get their seasons done or in. Here we are, we’re coming to the end of the season tonight, the regular season. How in the world did you guys come up with this ending at Daytona? You’ve hit it out of the park, my friend. This is going to be epic. I want to know a little bit, I’ve known you a long time, I want to know about the thinking that went into this, because this is going to be an epic night for the playoffs to begin after this.
Phelps: Well, I think you go back, Brad, just getting back to racing as we did on May 17th in Darlington, first without fans and then with fans. You know, here tonight, we’re going to have over 20,000 people, which is both, you know, an extraordinary accomplishment, you know, all the protocols that are in place, both for our competitors and our fans, but here we are, race 26 of the regular season. This has been circled on my calendar since the schedule came out last year and you just think about, you know, even at the time, switching from the July 4th date and frankly, we were heavily criticized for doing that and bringing it to tonight, this is why we’ve done it. You think, DJ. said, if you have eight people — there are actually 17 individuals, drivers that could get in tonight that are in the top 30 that can win their way in or point their way in. It’s going to be — not that Daytona’s not always a wild ride, it’s going to be a wild ride.
Voda: Well, thank you, Steve. We appreciate both your time and your transparency on these topics and we’re going to see Steve again later in the show. He’s going to present Kevin Harvick with the award for regular season supremacy.
William Byron scored his first career Cup win when he needed it most, securing a spot in the 16-driver playoff field Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was collected in a late wreck and finished 17th, missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year. DiBenedetto beat Johnson for the final playoff spot by six points.
Chase Elliott finished second and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace.
Two laps from the scheduled distance, the pack was tight at the front and trouble ensued. Joey Logano was in the middle lane when he had contact with Denny Hamlin and bounced off Bubba Wallace on the outside lane as they raced for the lead. Byron went between them, as the leaders went four-wide in Turn 1 with Hamlin on the bottom.
Byron made contact with Logano, who slowed and was hit from behind by DiBenedetto. That contact turned Logano into Matt Kenseth in the bottom lane. That contact and contact from behind by Christopher Bell sent Kenseth up the track and into Johnson, slamming Johnson’s car into the wall. Johnson’s car suffered significant damage.
The race was stopped eight laps from the scheduled finish after a multi-car crash triggered when Tyler Reddick moved up in front of Kyle Busch for the lead.
Said Ryan Newman, who was in the crash, about Reddick: “The 8 car obviously just ran out of talent. It seems like you can win a couple of Xfinity championships and still stick your head where the sun don’t shine when the time comes right.”
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: William Byron scored his first career Cup win in his 98th career start. … Daytona 500 champ Denny Hamlin placed third for his seventh top-five finish in the last eight races. Bubba Wallace’s fifth-place finish marks his third career top-five finish, his second at Daytona. His other top five came at Indy last year.
NOTABLE: Cole Custer clinched the Rookie of the Year honors by being the only rookie to make the playoffs.
NEXT: The Cup playoffs begin with the Southern 500 at 6 p.m. ET Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN.
Kyle Busch‘s winless streak will go to 26 races after he was eliminated in a large wreck with eight laps left in the regular-season finale Saturday at Daytona.
Busch was leading when the lap started. Going into Turns 3 and 4, rookie Tyler Reddick, running in second, moved to the bottom in an attempt to take the lead. Reddick then quickly moved up in front of Busch and made slight contact with him.
That caused a chain reaction and a wreck that included Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell and Ryan Preece.
“Slide job gone bad,” Kyle Busch told NBC. “I saw him coming and even checked up and we still ran into each other.”
“(Reddick) obviously just ran out of talent,” Newman told NBC. “It seems like you can win a couple of Xfinity championships and still stick your head where the sun don’t shine when the time comes right. I’m just disappointed. It was kind of an average race sitting there waiting with our Guaranteed Rate Ford and never got a chance to show how good a car we had.”
Austin Dillon will start from the rear of tonight’s Cup regular-season finale at Daytona (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC) after his No. 3 Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection twice.
The Richard Childress Racing driver is locked into the playoffs thanks to his win at Texas Motor Speedway on July 19.
One of the people who could keep Jimmie Johnson from a chance at a record eighth Cup title is the man who helped Johnson win seven championships.
Tonight’s Cup regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC) features the last chance to make the playoffs. Johnson enters as the first driver outside a playoff spot. Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, whose crew chief is Chad Knaus, holds that final spot.
Byron leads Johnson by four points. Matt DiBenedetto is within range of both. DiBenedetto leads Byron by five points and Johnson by nine.
While scenarios exist where both Johnson and Byron make the playoffs, there’s the chance the two could race for the last playoff spot.
Knaus, who served as Johnson’s crew chief for 17 seasons before partnering with Byron last year, feels the same way.
“I just reached out to him, and we had a good laugh about it,” Johnson said. “We certainly both look at the year and know there are moments that could have kept us both from being in this position, but it is what it is and we’re going to Daytona, which makes it even more awkward.”
Much is at stake for both on personal levels. Johnson seeks to avoid missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. This also is his last chance at an eighth Cup title because he’s said this is his final full-time season in the series.
Knaus seeks to continue his streak of making NASCAR’s postseason every year since the Chase was created in 2004 and morphed into the playoffs in 2014.
“You know, quite honestly, up until this year, I always thought it was pretty easy to make the playoffs,” Knaus said. “So, I hadn’t put a whole lot into (his streak). Obviously, the desire is extremely high to get into the playoffs. That’s what I want to do for sure, one hundred percent. But I hadn’t really thought about that a whole lot. It’s just what you’re supposed to do. It’s just part of the job, right? The expectation is to be in the playoffs. I never looked at it as anything other than just what you’re supposed to do.”
Johnson entered last season’s regular-season finale at Indianapolis outside the final playoff spot. He crashed while racing beside Byron.
“I think we’re going to be around each other, there’s no question, at some point of the race,” Byron said. “But there’s also so many cars that come into play at a place like Daytona. Dover, we were around each other at the finish. Things went well and we were able to race clean and all of that.
“I’ve never had issues with Jimmie – maybe my rookie year a couple of times, but that was just learning situations and understanding the Cup Series. I think we’ll be fine. Last year, we were locked in on points. I think we were three-wide, Indy is a narrow track, so I don’t really think that applies at all this year. We’re going to race and try to push each other towards the front and try to get both of us into the playoffs.”
“We all understand the storylines,” he said. “I’m excited, I’m ready to go. I’m not one to spend too much time getting overly sentimental. I’m more excited about the opportunity to go racing and drive that 48 car. So, I’m just excited to get there and get to work.”
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