NASCAR’s most popular driver said Saturday the sport has taken an unacceptable step backward in safety with its new Next Gen car, a rare public offering of opinion by Chase Elliott.
NASCAR’s top drivers essentially turned into an angry mob as they headed into Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway. Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch are both sidelined with concussions, and Cody Shane Ware raced with a broken foot. All three drivers were injured in crashes in NASCAR’s new Next Gen car.
The car had a honeymoon phase when it debuted at the start of the year because it delivered on its promise to improve the racing and level the competitive playing field. And while the Next Gen faced some bugs in the first seven months, the car is now experiencing serious problems during the playoff portion of the season.
Cody Ware is carried on a stretcher after a crash during the NASCAR Cup in Forth Worth, Texas
Chase Elliott (whose car is pictured on fire, right) has slammed the new NASCAR car design
That’s created a growing sense of urgency from the drivers that NASCAR must soften the rear of the cars in the interest of safety.
Bowman and Busch were both injured when the rear of their cars hit the wall. Because the Next Gen was designed to be durable, their crashes looked routine, when in reality most of the energy from the impact was absorbed by the driver.
Busch is out for an 11th consecutive race. Bowman crashed on the 98th lap last Sunday at Texas, radioed his team to say it was the hardest hit of his life, appeared unwell on his in-car camera and yet continued to drive 231 laps. He was diagnosed with his concussion on Thursday.
‘These types of incidents that result in injuries… I’m not a doctor but I’ve watched a lot of cars back into the wall and the guy would be fine,’ Elliott, who is teammates with Bowman at Hendrick Motorsport, said Saturday before qualifying at Talladega.
‘No one’s immune to it; it could be me next week. It could be any of my peers or fellow competitors. I just hate to see us go backwards and I’m afraid that we have,’ Elliott added.
Jordan Anderson lost control of his NASCAR vehicle during a race in Alabama Saturday
As his car approached the tire wall, Anderson appeared to try and escape out of the window
The jolt of the tire wall fired him out of the window and he landed on top of the barrier
Incredibly, a few hours after the interview, Jordan Anderson was airlifted to hospital in Birmingham, Alabama after suffering a scary crash which saw his car burst into flames.
Anderson appeared to try and escape the car before it hit the wall as his cockpit filled with flames, and he only just escaped as the vehicle hit the barriers – with the impact throwing him out of the window and onto a tire barrier.
Elliott last week crashed when his tire failed while leading at Texas. Although he’s been voted the most popular driver by fans the last three years, the 26-year-old son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott very rarely publicizes his opinions on controversies.
But the drivers clearly have had enough after the Next Gen was a disaster for a fourth consecutive playoff race. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have publicly called out NASCAR for not doing enough to keep the drivers safe.
NASCAR is adamant it is working tirelessly to address issues, and rules changes were made to address a sudden rash of car fires in the playoff opening race at Darlington. NASCAR could begin checking the air pressure levels on tires to determine if the recent failures occurred because teams are pushing past the Goodyear-recommended settings. But there doesn’t seem to be a quick fix on softening the chassis.
Ware’s car is towed away on September 25; drivers have complained about safety of the cars
Usually reserved Chase Elliott is leading the way and says the sport has gone ‘backwards’
Elliott said NASCAR had plenty of time to develop the car and discover these new problems. The Next Gen was announced in 2019 as scheduled to debut in 2021, but in 2020 NASCAR moved the debut to this season because of COVID-19 slowdowns.
‘Heck, we had plenty of time to test this car and crash it, do all the things that we need to do to ensure that some of these things that are happening now weren’t happening,’ Elliott said. ‘We had a ton of time to do that, and this car was delayed an entire calendar year on top of that. We got an extra year of time to work on it and we’re still in this position.
‘There’s no excuse for going backward. We have too many smart people, too much technology, too many years of crashing. We should not be in the position we are in. When you come out with a new product, you should step forward, not stay the same or go backward, especially in the safety category.’