By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – Safety has been the big keyword in the NASCAR Cup Series this season with all of the issues surrounding the Next Gen car and on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the sanctioning body sat down with the driving corps to try and carve out a path forward.
Earlier this week, NASCAR tested proposed changes to problematic areas of the Next Gen car, namely the rear end of the vehicle, in a crash test in Ohio and on Saturday, they explained that the test went well and would lead to changes being implemented starting in 2023.
Per a NASCAR spokesperson, the changes that will be made are corrections to the rear bumper, rear clip, and some changes to the center section of the car to make it less rigid and lessen the impact on the driver’s bodies that have led to two drivers being on the sidelines with concussions.
“The only thing that we know is that it hurts when we wreck,” Daniel Suarez said of the current issues with the Next Gen. “That’s all we know. There are a lot of smart people working very, very hard to make these cars better and better, and I’m sure we’re going to get there. We just have to work together.
“We have to remember and remind ourselves that we’re all in the same boat on this journey. If we’re fighting with each other, we’re going to go nowhere and the boat is going to go down. We have to continue to work and get this boat moving forward.”
After Saturday’s meeting, which Christopher Bell classified as “tense,” it appears there may be a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the safety of the Next Gen car.
“The screen they showed us, they have made improvements with the rear impact, so that’s a good step in the right direction,” Bell said.
“We want to feel less inside the car. You look at it from the outside and you watch crashes and it doesn’t look like anything is happening, but our body seems to be absorbing the majority of the impact instead of the car absorbing the impact. We just want the car to help us out, where we’re not absorbing as much of the impact.”
Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson added that it was a productive meeting between the two entities, with both sides able to provide valuable input on charting the path ahead.
“It was good conversation, I think,” Larson said. “Like I said, everybody got to voice their frustrations and stuff. I think NASCAR knew the frustrations before we ever had the meeting, but I think it was well received and good for them to listen to. Nothing got out of hand or anything like that, so I thought it went well.
Larson added that the forthcoming changes to the car are an improvement over the current iteration of the Next Gen car, but still not quite up to the standards of previous cars that have been on track.
“They’re working towards trying to make things a little bit better on us,” Larson said. “What they’ve learned is not as good as the previous car still, but it’s at least an improvement. On that side of things, it’s good.”
“It’s better than what we currently are racing, but still as far as rear impacts go, worse than the previous car. As I mentioned, they are in a box. The rears of these cars are much shorter than the past car. They had things while designing it that were high on their priority, as far as intrusions and keeping the fuel cell intact and stuff like that. There is a box that they’re trying to work within.”
Chase Elliott has become more vocal in recent weeks in regard to the safety issues that the Next Gen car has been facing and noted after the meeting that NASCAR explained the direction that they are heading in, which he and others appreciated.
“I feel like they have a direction and hopefully can get some solutions nailed down here in the coming months or so,” Elliott said.
“I think everyone’s frustrations in some ways were warranted in some areas, but it’s also, you have to be practical with like how fast can you fix things, right? You know, we have a lot of single part suppliers that you have to buy from now, right? So, to ask them to make changes that they can get to all of the teams in a timely manner is going to be very difficult.
“It would have been difficult if we were all still building these cars at our own shops, so it just takes time. It’s going to take some time to logistically get things implemented.”
Denny Hamlin has been one of the ringleaders among the driving corps to try and spurn come change out of the sanctioning body and explained after the meeting that NASCAR now has a “sense of urgency” to take some actions on the safety front with this season winding down.
“At this point, I feel like I’ve said everything I could on the safety side,” Hamlin said. “I wouldn’t change anything, but ultimately, now we just wait on their results. Certainly, we heard what they said they’re going to do, but now we sit back and wait and see if those results come through in the next three to six months.”
Joey Logano explained that he feels better about the safety issue after the meeting, but wondered why it took so long for such a meeting to take place with multiple drivers now on the sidelines due to injuries sustained in the car.
“I feel much better,” Logano said. “I feel like the meeting was very open and honest, which I feel like was necessary for all the drivers to get some things off their chest and their real concerns of what we’ve been going through and the experiences from inside the car.
“The frustrating part is it took way too long to have that meeting. That meeting should have happened Monday after Kurt’s crash, not waiting until Alex had his crash and at least hear us out. I’m not saying they weren’t working on it after Kurt’s crash, but the communication in person is so important…
“There is a plan to try to help the rear impacts, as you guys know, but we need to stay focused on the rest of the car as well. There are a lot of other spots on the car we want to make better as well.”
Logano concluded by explaining that words are just that, words, but the drivers and others in the industry need to keep the pressure on NASCAR to make sure there is actual action on the sanctioning body’s part going forward.
“We need to hold them honest now. We got a meeting out of it and I hope that’s not why we had the meeting is because a couple drivers got fired up in the media. I hope that’s not how we make change in our sport. I hope that’s not what we do. I think we’re better than that. I hope we’re better than that, but, like I said, sometimes your emotions will get, I don’t want to say the best of you, but sometimes you have to act out a little bit to make change happen and make sure you’re heard. It seemed like it definitely made something happen.”