Gone are the days of a single-file procession to the NASCAR hauler. That was the message that resounded from meetings between NASCAR and its owner and driver constituencies held Tuesday morning and afternoon at the sanctioning body's research-and-development centre.

And, if the conclaves were as NASCAR vice-president of corporate communications Jim Hunter characterised them - as positive, productive and candid - they were also symbolic of a new way of doing business for NASCAR.

In the past, drivers, crew chiefs and owners were accustomed to knocking on the door of the NASCAR hauler, parked at a racetrack, and voicing their individual issues and concerns. Over time, NASCAR could gauge a consensus. On Tuesday, NASCAR heard opinions en masse, from a multitude of sources. Subjects ranged from the performance of the new racecar to marketing efforts to a discussion of the drug-testing policy instituted before the 2009 season.

"Just about everything you can think of," Hunter said of the content, "I was really impressed with the thought and the tone of the questions from drivers and owners and also impressed by some of their suggestions. We're in a new age today, like everything else.

"We're in a tough economic environment for everyone in this industry, and now's the time for all of us to get together. We've got some very, very talented people. On every team, there's someone who can bring something to the table."

Ryan Newman, who races for Stewart-Haas, certainly falls into that category. Newman indicated there was plenty of divergent opinion in the meeting, which was led by NASCAR chairman Brian France, vice chairman and executive vice president Lesa France Kennedy and president Mike Helton, but that everyone who wished to have a voice was afforded one.

"It started out as a discussion of topics, and we kind of turned it into an open forum about the topics," Newman said. "I thought it was very beneficial for us to listen - and talk - and it was good communication."

Newman had definite opinions about performance issues.

"It's interesting to hear different people's opinions about the speed of the car and talk about the engine and what the racing would be like if we didn't have as much horsepower but, in the end, for me personally, it's important to have driver control," he noted.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin, who recently called for NASCAR to disclose the substance for which Jeremy Mayfield had been suspended after a failed drug test, said he now felt more comfortable with the manner in which NASCAR conducts its drug policy.

"I'm very comfortable now," the veteran insisted, "I'm also comfortable with the way they're handling the list [of substances that will be tested for], or no list. I understand why. I'm more comfortable right now than I was, believing that, if you have something that you're taking as prescribed, I don't think you're going to lose your career. I feel much better now than I did before the meeting."

Owner Rick Hendrick praised NASCAR for its willingness to engage in a forthright dialogue with the teams.

"I think [it's good] that all the stakeholders sit down together and talk about our future and the sport and the economy and what we can do to make it better," Hendrick said, "I learned a long time ago that, if you get everybody involved, then they can't complain.

"I think that's what happens a lot in our sport is people feel like they don't have a voice. The whole economy of the world has kind of been in the ditch, and I think NASCAR has done well, if you look at the NBA and the NFL and baseball and some of the things they're going through, too.

"But I think today was a really great step, [with] Brian and Lesa and Mike and all of the folks answering questions - and taking some criticism - and explaining why some things are like they are and giving everybody a chance to speak up."

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

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