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NASCAR Meets with Drivers Over Next Gen Safety

The meeting lasted roughly 75 minutes and centered over car changes


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NASCAR met with Cup Series drivers on Saturday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway to discuss matters of safety regarding the Next Gen car.

The meeting lasted roughly 75 minutes and centered around changes planned for the car specifically around a stiff rear clip that might have contributed to the sidelining of both Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman with concussion like symptoms in recent months.

There was a crash test implemented in Ohio earlier in the week and its results will eventually produce an updated rear clip, bumper structure and center clip before next season. Representing NASCAR in the meeting was league president Steve Phelps and managing director of safety engineering John Patalak.

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup Series champion and now team co-owner of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, said 'there is some really good stuff coming down the pipeline' to move the Cup Series forward 'safety wise' and that's he looking forward to it.

While drivers said the dialogue was productive, they also indicated it was intent, with Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick said to have taken a leading role representing the driver’s perspective. They have been amongst the most critical the past several months.

"Everybody had a little bit to say," Keselowski said. "It was maybe a little bit of a Festivus. But that’s okay, sometimes we need that."

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell said NASCAR only got through two slides of its presentation before conversation took up most of the proceedings.

"I think they had a lot more slides available to us, but we got stuck in open conversation that took up a majority of the time," Bell said. "I believe they showed us the data from the crash on Wednesday and it was better for the driver."

Chase Elliott, the 2020 champion who traded his usually reserved nature last weekend at Talladega for one that called for changes to the car, said he heard a lot of what he wanted out of the meeting.

"I think they get it," Elliott said. "I think they understand. They have been super up front with what they’re working on and trying to help, and I feel better about that. I wish we would’ve had maybe a talk like that a little sooner, but hey look, we had it, I appreciate it, I think it’s good, there’s a direction, so let’s make it better."

Ultimately, the biggest hurdle to overcome with the new car from a safety standpoint, is that it's a much stiffer car and energy is not dissipated throughout the car. Instead, the driver takes the majority of the impact and that's what had led to increased injuries this season. Cody Shane Ware is also sidelined this weekend at the Roval due to an ankle injury sustained in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

"We just want ... to feel less inside the car," Bell said. "You look at crashes and from the outside, it doesn't look like anything is happening. Our body seems to be absorbing the majority of the impact instead of the car. We just want the car to help us out so were not absorbing as much.

"The car is a lot stiffer and more solid than last year's car which is why we're in this position."

The crash test this past week produced rear impact numbers that were less severe than they had been this season but still worse than the previous generation of car.

Kyle Larson, the 2021 Cup Series champion, empathized with NASCAR in that they can't easily make changes without a dramatic redesign of the rear of the car -- something Hamlin had called for last weekend.

"But, they are in a box since the rear of this car is much shorter than the previous car," Larson said. "They had other priorities like intrusion and keeping the fuel cell intact. Stuff like that so there's a box they're in."

NASCAR says it is willing to meet with the drivers again on Sunday morning to go through the remainder of the presentation and continue the conversation.

Joey Logano, the 2018 Cup Series champion, expressed a degree of disappointment that it took drivers going to the media to force NASCAR to begin communicating with drivers in earnest. A common complaint from drivers is that team owners and NASCAR communicate in dialogue that drivers have not been privy to.

That has been supported by driver-owners Keselowski and Hamlin.

"Yeah, 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.

"You guys (in the media) know. You’re sitting here. We used to do Zoom media and can you tell me that when you did all those Zoom calls that it was a good as being in person? No, you can’t say those interviews are worth a crap compared to being in person. And it’s the same thing when you’re talking about your life in a race car. It’s a little bit more important than that and we should be in person having those meetings a lot, not when we need to but before we need to, and I think those messages were heard loud and clear."

Hamlin was much more reserved on Saturday after the meeting than he had been over the summer, essentially saying that he’s had his say and now it’s time for other drivers to begin providing their input, something that has happened the past two weeks.

Hamlin said he believes his vocal nature the past two weeks probably created some of that urgency.

"Maybe, I think it helped in that aspect," Hamlin said. "It helped in this situation, the urgency it created when we got on this topic, for sure."

Hamlin said he was open to meeting with NASCAR on Sunday or whenever they wanted to continue this process, but that the next step was about producing results on the matter.

"At this point, I feel like I've said everything I can on the safety thing," Hamlin said. "I wouldn't change anything but now we wait on the results. We heard what they said they're going to do and now we wait and see the results over the next three to six months."

That sentiment was echoed by Logano too.

"We need to hold them honest now," Logano said. "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."