Wednesday afternoon, NASCAR revealed the three Next Gen cars that will headline the 2022 season. These cars will help teams lower costs, but they will also play a role in keeping drivers safe. Specifically, the goal will be to limit wrecks like one involving Joey Logano in the Geico 500.
Drivers and car manufacturers met with media members on Wednesday after the big reveal to discuss the upcoming changes to motorsports. During this discussion, GM’s chief technology officer Eric Warren spoke about the safety features and how NASCAR is trying to limit high-flying wrecks.
“There’s been a lot of work over the years at NASCAR trying to keep what we call ‘liftoff speed’ down,” Warren said. “You want to raise that liftoff speed much higher than you think we’ll ever see in the race. A lot of things like impacts and crashes kind of get the car going that way that’s actually hard to prevent.
“This car, certainly a lot of effort was put in the safety features — you see roof flaps and a lot of the things — this car has that in the back of the diffuser. The flap actually comes down. All that was really engineered to raise that liftoff speed even above the car that we have now.
Speed, looks, and safety all became points of emphasis during the design process
Mark Rushbrook, the global director of Ford Performance, echoed this sentiment while discussing the design process that led to Wednesday’s unveiling. He explained that the entire sport needs to pay attention to safety and how a new car needs to be both fast and safe.
“As a sport, we are collaborative,” Rushbrook explained to media members. “And looking at liftoff and the aerodynamic effects as well. Some innovative features to take advantage of the new platform to bring some more safety in. That was an important part of the sport.”
A key part of improving safety will be tests involving multiple cars. NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell indicated during his Wednesday media availability that one such test will take place in August at Daytona International Speedway. This race track has been the site of several incidents over the years, including Ryan Newman’s crash at the end of the 2020 Daytona 500.
There are currently no details about the number of cars on the track, but several drivers will likely have the opportunity to test their skills against each other in a practice environment. They will get crucial laps ahead of the Busch Clash in February, the first official competition featuring the Next Gen cars.
Logano has pushed for improved safety since his Geico 500 crash
Immediately after his wreck in the Geico 500, Logano said that changes need to take place. He referenced Newman’s wreck while comparing it to his own. Weeks later, Logano expressed considerable happiness about the steps taken and the safety features in the new stock cars.
“As a race car driver, you are going to look at safety. You should. If you don’t, you may not be the smartest race car driver,” Logano told media members. “But I want to know I’m driving a safe race car so I can make big moves on the track to win races.”
Logano explained that the first thing he noticed when sitting in the Next Gen car is that he sits lower than in the current models. This is a key change considering that he is 6-foot-3 and that the roof was crushing his helmet after his crash at Talladega
“Initially, that’s a big win for me, sitting at a more comfortable height. Not crammed down in the car as much. [It] kind of opens up a little bit more room. Then you see the added structure around you. More support braces to the roof in case of a situation where one rolls over, which will probably happen at some point. It’s racing. Cars roll over.”
Logano continued by explaining how safety was a key aspect of the design process. “When you are building a new car, obviously, racing is a priority. Improving what we have on the race track already, which is a great product to start with. How do you make that better? Also, it’s safety. We have to keep looking at how do we make our cars safer. That’s why we are the No. 1 most safe racing in the world. I don’t think there is a safer race car you can jump in than a Cup car.”
Logano acknowledged during the media availability that he does not exactly know how the cars will handle collisions, whether they take place on a short track or a superspeedway. However, he remains optimistic about the continued emphasis on driver safety.