NASCAR….We have a problem. As good as this new Next Gen has been for on track competition during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, it’s been equally as bad when things go awry. That’s somewhat expected with newness. There’s absolutely going to be some growing pains while you learn this new car out.
However, safety should never be a part of the growing pains, but here we are. We’re in the middle of the playoffs and safety is still being questioned. Safety is at the forefront heading to a track that’s as unsafe as any on the schedule.
In some late shocking news on Thursday afternoon, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Alex Bowman will not compete in Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following an accident in the Sept. 25 event at Texas Motor Speedway.
Bowman, the title-contending driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Hendrick Motorsports, was evaluated by physicians today in Charlotte, North Carolina.
This can’t happen. Bowman crashed due to a tire blowing which is a whole other issue and had what he described as one of the hardest impacts of his life.
Last year, that would have been a routine crash. This year, he’s missing a race. Same thing for Kurt Busch’s July 23 crash at Pocono. He backed into the wall during qualifying. He’s not been back since.
A common denominator?
Rear end impacts.
As much as we’ve gained and improved in a lot of areas, we’ve taken a step back in others. Safety is one you should never fall back on and so far this season it’s proven that we have. Between the fires, tires and the hard hits, you can’t ignore the fact that this car is more violent so far than the past one.
“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Denny Hamlin said after his Daytona crash. “I feel like my jaw was one of those boxers who gets his whole face demolished. That was certainly the first real big one I’ve had in this car. Everything they’ve been telling us (about the impacts), all the other drivers, it’s true.”
Kevin Harvick had some choice words about safety himself.
“The safety cannot be slow,” Harvick stated. “This car is screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. And whether the data says it or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that’s not right, and it hurts — feet hurt, hands hurt, head hurt.”
When the drivers all say the crashes hurt harder than they have before and that they’re feeling the effects now more than they did prior, we have to listen. We’re seeing drivers sidelined for hits they wouldn’t have been sidelined for before.
For a sport as dangerous as racing is, injuries tend to happen. However, they seem more frequent this year and it’s a new car. Usually each generation of cars get safer. This one seems to not be.
Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Is this a fluke? Maybe. But it’s also a concern because it feels like we’re heading back to an inevitable and we can’t go there again when we have so many resources to be sure we don’t.
Then you have the unacceptable parts failure. Power steering units, steering racks, fires, etc, this just can’t keep happening.
“It blew the seal out and pushed all the (power steering) fluid out on the right-front tire. Just unbelievable,” Truex Jr. said. “What did (Kevin) Harvick say? Crappy parts. … You literally can’t drive the car here without power steering. You lose it, you’re done. It’s been a horrible string of luck for us, and we had another strong car tonight. We were working our way forward, every run going forward. Ready for this year to be over and start over.”
That’s exactly what Harvick said after his car spontaneously erupted in flames at the Southern 500.
“I’m sure it’s just the crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times,” Kevin Harvick said in an NBC TV interview after exiting the race. “We haven’t fixed anything. It’s kinda like the safety stuff, we just let it keep going.”
“The car started burning, and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and as the flames got bigger it started burning stuff up. I think you see all the brake fluid. It burned the brake line. The fire was coming through the dash.
“What a disaster. For no reason. We didn’t touch the wall, we didn’t touch a car and here we are in the pits with a burned up car and can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.
“I just stopped. The rocker was on fire for a couple laps. I just stopped because I couldn’t see any more as the flames were coming through the dash. I couldn’t make myself sit in there and burn up.”
That’s not all. What about the tires?
The last 2 weeks have seen a magnitude of tire failures and while there’s fault on every side, something has to be done to figure out on how not to have so many of them. It’s chaotic and not right to see so many tires blow, especially to drivers that are leading at that.
Then couple that with the officiating in these recent races and you get a massive problem in the sport right now.
Between the tough decision at Daytona for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 to where it literally rained on the pack in Turn 1. Then to Denny Hamlin being purposely spun under caution by William Byron last Sunday at Texas and Ty Gibbs nearly running Ty Dillon into pit crews servicing pit stops and NASCAR seeing none of the above, it means something needs to happen better.
It needs to happen soon.
“I have to be honest with you. When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” said Scott Miller, Senior Vice President of Competition on Sunday night when addressing the Byron and Hamlin situation.
“The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass. By the time we got to a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”
As far as what they can do better next time to ensure they don’t miss that incident in the future?
“Well, so we don’t have the cameras and — the cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating, seeing our safety vehicles, how to dispatch them, all that,” he says. “By the time we put all those cameras up, we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.
“If we would have had immediate access to the 24 in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot with being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things that we’re looking at.”
That’s all nice and all, but this has to come to a stop and you can’t have officiating stealing the show.
“So if we had seen that good enough to react to it real-time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action: one would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, and the other would be to have made William start in the back,” Miller says.
That type of statement can’t happen in a playoff race. When you have tires blowing the way that they are and cars catching on fire spontaneously the way that they are, it’s too much. It’s time to turn the onus back on the on track product…
It’s caused us not to even focus on the most important part of the season now. We’re in the playoffs, remember? It’s almost like we’re not even talking about that.
Daytona had the decision to race with a rain storm unloading in Turn 1.
Darlington saw Kevin Harvick’s car catch on fire and the problems from the JGR cars while leading late in the race.
Kansas saw tire problems.
Bristol saw an onus of tire problems and power steering issues.
Texas was a tire debacle and a officiating mess.
Now we have a driver out.
That’s where we are. It’s these stories that are stealing the headlines over the actual on track playoff drama. That’s a shame because this has been a season of parity to where anyone that’s left in the playoffs can take home this year’s championship still.