Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Denny Hamlin ‘Went Scorched Earth’

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Getty Dale Earnhardt Jr. has addressed the Cup Series safety concerns.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has weighed in on the rise of NASCAR drivers speaking out about safety. He said that “all the drivers would admit” there is a problem before saying that Denny Hamlin “went scorched earth” with his comments.

The Hall of Famer made the comments during the October 4 episode of “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast. He talked about all of the crash tests that took place prior to the 2022 Cup Series season and how the rash of incidents at Texas Motor Speedway put the drivers “almost in a panic” for NASCAR to help fix the problem.

“Denny went right into the media, and he went scorched earth,” Earnhardt said. “He said things like, ‘There needs to be new leadership, change the leadership.’ He then clarified on Sunday he didn’t mean they needed to fire Steve Phelps. He just feels like the people that are in charge of this particular design on the car failed to see some very critical things as the car was being tested and all these things.”

The comments Earnhardt referenced were made prior to the Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. Hamlin called for a complete redesign of the Next Gen car, and he listed “bad leadership” as the cause of the issues. The driver-owner also said that there needed to be new leadership “from the top down” to address these problems.

“The car needs to be redesigned,” Hamlin said on October 1. “It needs a full redesign. I mean, it can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned. It needs to be redesigned everywhere — front, middle, rear, competition. The whole thing needs to be redesigned.

As Earnhardt explained, the drivers don’t particularly want to go to the media with their concerns. He said that they see this option as essentially the last resort for them when they want to be heard, which resulted in big statements by both Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

Earnhardt Said That There Could Have Been More Concussions

Denny Hamlin

GettyDenny Hamlin climbs into the No. 11 at Darlington Raceway.

Earnhardt has experience with his own health concerns while competing in the NASCAR Cup Series. He missed 18 races during the 2016 season due to a concussion while Alex Bowman and Jeff Gordon replaced him in the No. 88.

Earnhardt knows how these injuries can impact NASCAR’s drivers. Earnhardt also knows that Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman are likely only two examples of drivers that have had a concussion in 2022.

“Here’s my opinion — we’re having more people step up and say, ‘I’ve got a concussion,'” Earnhardt said. “We’ve got Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman, whose out of the race car this year alone with a concussion, and those are the only two we know about.

“Let’s not fool ourselves — drivers will get a concussion and race with it. It would not shock me if several of these guys got a concussion unknowingly and got back in the car or knew that they had suffered some sort of concussion in a crash and continued to race.”

Earnhardt Agrees With 1 of Hamlin’s Points

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

GettyDale Earnhardt Jr. agreed with some of Denny Hamlin’s comments.

One point that Earnhardt made during this discussion is that he agrees with Hamlin “to a point” about the cars. He believes the Next Gen design needs to be revisited with a focus on side impacts, front impacts, rear impacts, and other concerns.

As he explained, the new car is a significant departure from the Gen 6 and other eras. Earnhardt compared the new vehicles to those competing in IMSA. Though the major difference is that IMSA only competes at road courses while the Cup Series cars are heading to both road courses and ovals where they can slam into walls.

“Personally, me, I want to go, ‘Well, d******, why did we have to go this far with this design?’ Why did this car have to be so far removed from what we were doing, to begin with? Why did we have to jump to the other extreme? I mean, we’ve basically got a sports car running around these ovals. A car designed for road courses now racing at mile-and-a-half oval tracks.”

Earnhardt also pointed to the comments being made after Talladega Superspeedway about how “safety is a never-ending quest.” He said that if this statement is true, the people involved in the design of the car need to take what they learn from fixing the rear impacts and use it to fix the other concerns, such as side impacts.

NASCAR is taking time to test one potential fix for the 2023 Cup Series season. There is a crash test at an undisclosed location in Ohio where the sanctioning body will examine a potential new rear clip and a new rear bumper structure. If these tests are successful, the new pieces could be implemented in 2023. Though they would only address some of the complaints from Hamlin and other drivers.


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