It is no secret by now that NASCAR Cup Series drivers are concerned about the safety of the Next Gen race car that they’ve been piloting this season. Adding fuel to the fire is a rash of injuries, including concussions that ended the 2022 Playoff hopes of Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman.
In all, there are three full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers (Busch, Bowman, and Cody Ware) that will not compete in this weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval due to injury.
On Saturday, NASCAR and the NASCAR Cup Series drivers met for approximately 75-minutes in a frank discussion about safety that many involved have called tense, yet cordial. Over the course of the session, drivers aired their grievances about the safety of the car, while NASCAR listened.
“Everybody had a little bit to say,” Brad Keselowski who is a part-owner of the RFK Racing team and drives the team’s No. 6 car. “It was maybe a little bit of a Festivus. But that’s okay, sometimes we need that.”
Additionally, NASCAR provided data from their most recent crash test, which occurred on Wednesday and featured proposed changes to the rear clip, bumper structure, and center section of the car.
According to NASCAR, the changes implemented produced encouraging results, and the expectation is that those changes, which allow the car to crumple more when backing into a wall, absorbing more of the blow, will be added to the Next Gen car for the 2023 season.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell did agree that the data from the crash test did show obvious improvements to the rear of the car.
“The screen that they showed us, they have made improvements with rear impacts. So, that’s a good step in the right direction,” Bell explained.
While the improvements were noticeable, Bell will hold off on calling it an official fix until he has the components installed and has gone through a crash where he backs into a wall.
“I don’t know. I won’t know until I get the updated pieces and have another incident like that. But, by the paper they showed us, it should be directionally better,” Bell said.
Of the three full-time drivers that will miss this weekend’s race, Ware’s incident was the most dramatic-looking. Ware suffered an impaction fracture in his foot in an absolutely terrifying head-on crash at Texas Motor Speedway but was cleared to drive the following week at Talladega Superspeedway.
Ware opted to sit out this weekend, due to the road course requiring more footwork.
While the Next Gen car held up incredibly through Ware’s crash that looked horrendous, the eye-opening thing about the Busch and Bowman incidents was the mildly calm-appearing nature of the crashes that led to their head injuries.
Busch has been out of action since July when his car spun around and backed into the outside wall during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. This weekend will mark the 12th-consecutive race that the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion has missed.
Bowman’s incident looked even tamer than the one that put Busch on the shelf. Bowman collided with the outside wall at Texas Motor Speedway, but the damage to his car was so minimal that he was able to finish the remainder of the event.
While there was hope he would be able to return during the Round of 12 to keep his Playoff hopes alive, he will be eliminated this weekend as he’ll miss his second-straight race.
With each growing week, the voices of drivers like Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick had been getting louder and louder. Something had to give.
While Saturday’s meeting between NASCAR and the drivers was a positive step in the right direction from a communication standpoint, Bell believes that there could be a stronger line of communication between the sanctioning body and the competitors in the sport.
“I think that there could be more,” Bell, who admittedly took a back seat to the veteran drivers in the sport who led the conversations, stated.
NASCAR vows that they are improving communication between the sanctioning body and the drivers. NASCAR says that they were able to get into about 90 percent of the topics that they and the drivers had hoped to talk about during the meeting and that a second meeting could take place as early as Sunday before the Bank of America Roval 400 or in the coming weeks.
Regardless, when the next meeting happens, NASCAR wants the drivers to understand that they are heard. And NASCAR is actively working on a resolution to the stiff rear ends of the Next Gen car.