NASCAR Insiders Roundtable: Industry panel debuts, takes on the sport’s topics

A panel of experts hold a conversation from the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the NASCAR Insiders Roundtable
NASCAR Studios

The timing felt right to gather a cross-section of stock-car racing industry figures in the sport’s shrine. As NASCAR’s 75th anniversary celebration winds down and the details surrounding a new season draw near, the floor was open for a range of topics — on where the sport has been but also the course that it charts to move forward.

The NASCAR Insiders Roundtable, a two-part video series, debuted Monday with a panel of distinguished guests offering their candid insights on a list of topics, with the goal of sharing perspectives on potential improvements for the sport. The second part airs at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday on NASCAR’s YouTube channel.

WATCH: NASCAR Insiders Roundtable, Part 1 | NASCAR Insiders Roundtable, Part 2

Steve Letarte, a race-winning crew chief turned analyst with NBC’s broadcasting team, moderated the discussion from the Hall of Honor in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Contributing guests included Cup Series Playoffs drivers Christopher Bell and William Byron, NASCAR competition officials Elton Sawyer and John Probst, and Team Penske competition director Travis Geisler.

Part 1 dives primarily into the NASCAR schedule — its current 36-race length, the variety of tracks and markets that the circuit visits, and the impact of temporary street courses. The discussion touched on what used to be a “rinse and repeat” schedule — “I mean, I knew when my kid’s birthday was based on what race we’re going to,” Geisler joked — but that has since become more vibrant with a more interesting mix of events. That topic included debate about how the postseason should look, being selective about which 10 races will settle the Cup Series championship.

“I personally like the playoffs being the Wrigley Field-type race tracks, like Darlington,” said Byron, who posted one of his six victories this year at the historic South Carolina raceway. “Watkins Glen could be one. I think those tracks, in a competition standpoint, that’s like, ‘OK, you bring your best, and this is where it shows.’ “

The aftermath of the inaugural Chicago Street Race was also up for discussion, from the international appeal of Shane van Gisbergen’s victory to the logistical challenges the event presented. Bell mentioned drawing in new competitors to NASCAR as well as having stock-car stars explore other series would be a “win-win” situation. Geisler amplified that point, saying doubleheaders with a mix of racing series would be worth exploring.

“I think that some of those, maybe they’re street courses or somewhere, we should be able to link up with those guys and run with the IndyCar Series or run with some other series, just to have some kind of cross-pollination of fans and give people a little bit of a different taste for things,” Geisler said. “I know to go run street courses takes a tremendous amount of logistical planning and money to make all that happen, to shut the city down. Why not knock out two events?”

NASCAR's Elton Sawyer, left, and Team Penske's Travis Geisler watch as William Byron speaks from the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the NASCAR Insiders Roundtable
NASCAR Studios

Wednesday’s final part explores the future of rules packages for the Next Gen car, specifically the configuration for short tracks and where alterations — in aerodynamics and horsepower — might make a difference. Part 2 also closes on the ever-evolving topic of safety, specifically after a pair of dramatic crashes in the Cup Series’ regular-season finale at Daytona.

Probst provided detailed insights on the nature of the crash investigation, saying the information-gathering process began nearly immediately after the checkered flag. All the measurements, data and calculations from the wrecked cars and computer modeling were crunched in the NASCAR Research & Development Center, and the early findings after Ryan Preece’s dramatic flip prompted a modification to the window-net assembly.

“When you’re at the R&D Center, there are a lot of Next Gen cars sitting around that have been crashed,” says Probst, a NASCAR Senior VP and Chief Racing Development Officer. “I think that as fans, it’s easy — and even sometimes as industry guys — we get caught up in the entertainment. It really is dangerous what these guys do and the stuff they put themselves through, and we lose more sleep just worrying about their safety, but as a fan, you don’t always see that.”

Wrapping the roundtable was the topic of communication and how these issues are discussed — among teams, drivers, manufacturers and competition officials. The panel consensus was that the channels of communication are more open than ever, with regular meetings and updates scheduled among the groups.

“I think this forum is an example of that,” Geisler said. “This is really kind of a place that’s a bit unheard of, I think. We haven’t typically sat down and just had a conversation with drivers and NASCAR and teams and just said like, here’s all the challenges. Let’s try to figure out how we fix some of the fans’ problems. That’s the most important thing for all of us, right?”