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Brian France makes 1st appearance at drivers council meeting

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Members of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Council said they appreciated NASCAR chairman Brian France coming for part of their meeting Friday night at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR's chief executive had not gone to any meetings since the group's inception last year, theorizing that the drivers might be more open without him there.

Criticized by Tony Stewart in January for not attending, France spent more than an hour in the three-hour council meeting before heading to another commitment.

"We just had a good discussion," France said as he was leaving Friday night.

The drivers seemed to agree.

"It was great Brian came," said NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., following qualifying Saturday at Talladega. "The meeting was three hours. I don't know if that was because Brian was there, but it certainly was a lot longer than I would like.

"I think we could get in there and get out in an hour and a half, but we were trying to cover a lot of stuff. Nothing groundbreaking yesterday, it was just a good, positive meeting, a lot of good things moving in a good direction. ... I didn't leave out of there frustrated on any topic at all."

Earnhardt said the nine-member council talked about a little bit of everything as far as topics, including race formats. The drivers typically don't discuss many of the details of the meeting.

Stewart, Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson are on the 2016 council. The council consists of the top driver from each manufacturer and six others selected based on experience and performance.

"It was good to have Brian in there," said Busch, who as the defending Cup champion gets an automatic spot on the council. "It's a shame he couldn't stay a little bit longer. It was nice to have him at least for the start and hear what some of our expectations are and some of the things that we have got on our side to improve the sport for the fan experience and the driver experience and the team experience."

One of the reasons the meeting might have lasted so long? Drivers apparently didn't feel muzzled.

"You can say what you want to say amongst the drivers on the council and you're not going to offend everybody," Harvick said. "Everybody has got an open mind about pushing the sport in a better direction anytime we were on any subject.

"It's not a situation where you want to hold back and not say something because you're worried about offending somebody."

The council talked about everything from aero packages to television ratings, Logano said. Aero packages last year were a source of disagreement between drivers and NASCAR, with the drivers eventually getting the reduced-downforce package they wanted for 2016.

"Any animosity we have is not necessarily something that is natural but has happened through experiences that we have to unwind," Keselowski said. "It is not natural to collaborate. It is not natural to work together for common benefits. It doesn't come easy or naturally.

"It is something we have to work through as a group and those things take time. ... There is a tremendous amount of good faith that is earned when Brian comes to the meeting like that."