DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The latest version of NASCAR’s Next Gen car is still awaiting a real-world test. It’s sure to come in the Daytona 500.
Reacting to driver complaints and concussions to Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman, the sanctioning body made changes to the crumple zones in the backend of Cup Series cars in hopes of reducing the effects of rear-impact collisions.
The revisions received mixed reviews following the Clash exhibition at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum two weeks ago — fan favorite and 2020 series champion Chase Elliott said he “didn’t think it was a ton different” — but those punishing hits came in tight turns and amid aggressive, short-track driving that involved widely varying speeds.
Daytona’s high-banked tri-oval might provide a better evaluation, where bumping and banging — while somewhat tempered — are an integral part of superspeedway racing and often result in more violent crashes.
“Do I think it was everything that could be done? No,” 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski said. “But I think there was significant progress. I suspect this conversation will be one that doesn’t go away for quite some time. The level of severity and the frequency we discuss it may perhaps diminish over time.”
Keselowski said the Gen 7 car was designed to handle “worst-case survivability" crashes often seen at Daytona, pointing to harrowing wrecks involving Austin Dillion, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch.
“The changes that were made have real potential to move the needle forward," Keselowski said. "It’s fair to say we are not where we want to be with the medium- to low-severity impacts compared to the Gen 6 cars. Hopefully, that will be just a quick footnote, and we’ll find some ways around it.”
NASCAR has worked tirelessly to find solutions and believes, in time, the revamped car will prove safer.
“Safety and competition, those are the two factors that we are always chasing and we’re going to continue to do so," NASCAR President Steve Phelps said.
Busch, a two-time series champ, was the first involved in a high-speed wreck at Daytona International Speedway this year, but his No. 8 Chevrolet went nose-first into the outside wall during a qualifying race Thursday.
In replays, Busch’s helmet could be seen traveling what appeared to be a significant distance considering he was tethered to a head-and-neck restraint system. But he declined to provide insight into whether the crash felt any different than the ones he was part of in 2022.
“I don’t think any wreck feels good,” Busch said. “You wanna ride with me?”
NASCAR's completely redesigned car led to two documented concussions in 2022: Kurt Busch was forced to retire following a July crash in qualifying and Bowman missed five races after a September hit at Texas. NASCAR responded by trying to soften impacts when cars back into walls.
Bowman didn't think there had been much of a difference at the Clash.
“That’s such a unique environment the way we run into each other there and the way everybody stacks up,” he said, cautioning the comparison between the half-mile Coliseum and the 2 1/2-mile Daytona track. "You’d like it to be better. If you took the old cars there, I don’t think half the guys who finished would have finished. It’s just different and part of adapting to this race car.”
Specifically, NASCAR made several bars in the rear clip smaller in diameter, thinned surrounding walls and added holes (triggers) in other bars to make them bend more upon impact. It also removed two other support bars and angled two more that allows them to bend more.
The changes should reduce the car's rear rigidness and redirect some of the energy that was landing directly on drivers.
“The simulation that NASCAR’s done, the crash-testing that NASCAR’s done, the engineering that NASCAR’s done is all positive and sound,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development. “Like anything else, the real experience is going to be in what happens on the racetrack.
“We’re going to see that — good, bad or otherwise. It’s going to happen, and we’re going to continue to collect data. We’re satisfied that NASCAR continues with the mentality that there’s no such thing as a perfectly safe racecar and it’s something that all of us as an industry have to remain focused on and committed to continual improvement.”
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