The Cup Series playoffs are the top story now that the 16-driver field is set, but there are some other pressing concerns that the biggest names in NASCAR want to be addressed. Specifically, they have been vocal about the safety of the new cars.
Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, and Kyle Busch are only some of the drivers that have been vocal about how much harder the hits feel and the toll on their bodies. These comments have only increased in frequency with Kurt Busch out of the playoffs due to a crash at Pocono Raceway on July 23.
“Yeah, it’s not better from a crashing standpoint,” Harvick said during media day on September 1. “The hits are violent. At Sonoma, I hit the back of the 2 car so hard that it locked my HANS out, and I kept going. It was just over the hill, they checked up and I hit him, and it locked my HANS. Every hit is violent and some of the smallest hits hurt like they shouldn’t hurt.
“Everybody knows the car is too stiff and I think when you look at the crash data it just doesn’t represent what the drivers are feeling in the car. They’ll say, ‘Well, it was only a 15 g hit.’ Well, I’m telling you some of those 15 g hits feel like 50 compared to what they have been in old cars.”
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NASCAR Provided 1 Explanation That Sparked Discourse
With so many drivers talking about the severity of these hits, there are questions about the cause. Those that have experienced the crashes say they have become worse due to the stiffness of the cars. NASCAR provided a different explanation by saying that the angles of the crashes are different while the speeds are higher.
According to AP Sports, Dr. John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR, said that the drivers used to hit the walls at angles between 14 and 16 degrees. He said that the data shows they are now reaching the high teens or the low 20s.
“I don’t believe that. No way,” Kyle Busch said emphatically during his media session. “We have had 30 years with that design of that older car, 40 years, whatever it is, and how many crashes have there been recorded or whatever else and now you’re telling me about different speeds at different angles? No way, no way.
“The crash that I was in, which was that same crash, I got up on the wall and then was brushing it basically and then I hit the car in front of me and got hit by another car. I felt it way more than I would have in the old car. You can see that because the car crinkled or crushes a little bit and people are like, ‘oh, he can continue on, it’s not that bad.’ In a Gen 6 crash, I would have been done for the day. The radiator would have been knocked out of it, the rear bumper cover would have been knocked off of it. The wrecks just don’t look as bad because the drivers are carrying the brunt of it.”
Drivers Have Expressed Frustration With the Data
Numerous drivers have talked about the violence of the hits, and Christopher Bell has even mentioned that he has experienced headaches after two seemingly minor incidents. These statements don’t match the data. Dr. Patalak said that the crash data is similar to that collected over the years in the Gen 6 era.
As Denny Hamlin explained, he doesn’t know if the Next Gen car is as safe as it can be. Teams no longer have control over the parts that they use to limit these impacts. NASCAR controls everything, and it’s “up to them” to ensure that the teams have the safest equipment.
What Hamlin does know, however, is that the crash from Daytona International Speedway had lingering effects. Lingering soreness kept him from competing in the Xfinity Series race on September 3.
“The best way I can describe it is like I got beat up at a bar and somebody was kicking me in the ribs while I was on the ground,” Hamlin said on September 1. “That’s really all I can equate it to is that the whole right side just felt smashed. It was one when I hit the wall for sure — that initial hit to the wall — and then somebody came and hit me on the left side. That was another pretty heavy spike as well. I’m not really sure which one did the most damage.”
The interesting aspect is that the violence of the hits was a major talking point early in the season, but the conversation died down during the middle of the regular season. Now the drivers are becoming even more vocal about their concerns as they approach an intense stretch of the season.
“I think everybody calmed down [earlier in the year] because they thought something was gonna be progressively getting better,” Harvick said. “And I think everybody is wound up now because it keeps happening and now you’ve got one guy hurt, one guy that’s kind of hurt from Denny’s standpoint, and I think everybody wants to know what is the progression here?
“How are we gonna make this better? What’s the plan? If it’s not gonna be this year, what’s the plan for next year? What are we doing? How are we gonna keep guys from getting hurt? So, I think everybody is a little bit frustrated that the progression is as slow as it has been.”