NASCAR safety going ‘backward’ in Next Gen car

NASCAR’s most popular driver says the sport has taken an unacceptable step backwards on safety with its new next-generation car, a rare public opinion offering from Chase Elliott.

NASCAR’s top drivers essentially turned into an angry mob as they head into Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway. Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch are both out with concussions, and Cody Shane Ware will compete with a broken foot. All three drivers were injured in accidents in NASCAR’s new next-gen car.

The car had a honeymoon when it debuted earlier this year because it delivered on its promise of improving racing and leveling the playing field. While the Next Gen faced some failures in the first seven months, the car is now facing serious problems during the playoff portion of the season.

This has created a growing sense of urgency among drivers that NASCAR needs to soften the rear of the cars in the interests of safety.

Bowman and Busch were both injured when the rear of their cars crashed into the wall. Because the Next Gen was built to last, its falls looked routine when in reality most of the energy from the impact was absorbed by the riders. Busch is out for the 11th time in a row. Bowman crashed on lap 98 in Texas on Sunday, radioed his team to say it was the heaviest hit of his life, appeared uneasy on his in-car camera, yet continued 231 laps. He was diagnosed with a concussion on Thursday.

“These kinds of incidents that lead to injuries … I’m not a doctor but I’ve seen a lot of cars go back into the wall and the guy would be fine,” Elliott, who is Bowman’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, said on Saturday before qualifying at Talladega, adding: “Nobody is immune to that. It could be me next week. It could be any of my colleagues or competitors we have.”

Elliott crashed while leading in Texas last week when his tire failed. Despite being voted fans’ favorite driver for the past three years, the 26-year-old son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott rarely publicizes his opinion on controversy.

But drivers clearly have had enough after the Next Gen was a disaster for a fourth straight playoff race. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick publicly called out NASCAR on Twitter for not doing enough to ensure driver safety.

NASCAR firmly believes it is working tirelessly to solve problems, and rule changes have been made to combat a sudden outbreak of car fires at the playoff opening race in Darlington. NASCAR could begin checking tire pressures to determine if recent failures occurred because teams exceeded Goodyear’s recommended settings. But there doesn’t seem to be a quick fix to softening the chassis.

Elliott said NASCAR had plenty of time to develop the car and discover these issues. The Next Gen was announced in 2019 as it was scheduled to debut in 2021, but in 2020 NASCAR delayed the debut until that season due to the COVID-19 slowdown.

“Hell, we’ve had a lot of time testing and crashing this car, doing all the things that we need to do to make sure some of these things that are happening now aren’t happening,” Elliott said. “We’ve had plenty of time to do this, and on top of that this car has been delayed by a full calendar year. We have an extra year to work on this and we are still in that position.

“There is no excuse for going backwards. We have too many smart people, too much technology, too many years of crashing. We shouldn’t be where we are. If you come out with a new product, you should take it [a step] forward, not stay the same or go backwards, especially in the safety category.” NASCAR safety going ‘backward’ in Next Gen car

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