NASCAR Cup Series driver Alex Bowman will sit out this weekend’s race at Talladega after a crash at Texas Motor Speedway left him with concussion-like symptoms. He joins a growing list of drivers to have suffered similar injuries behind the wheel of NASCAR’s new Next-Gen machine — which is an extremely bad sign just before one of the most crash-prone races of the year.
At last weekend’s TMS race, Bowman was running in eighth place in the race’s first stage when a tire exploded, sending him backing into the wall.
While the crash didn’t look terrible, those looks are kind of the problem. Crumple zones have been reduced in these Next-Gen cars; in the past, an accident like this likely would have totaled a car, as the energy of the impact would have been dissipated via broken bodywork. Now, the impacts are rattling drivers.
Bowman said on the radio that it was “the hardest I’ve crashed anything in my entire life.” His concussion-like symptoms after the event will now leave him sidelined for Talladega.
Bowman isn’t the only driver to suffer a head injury this season, though. Kurt Busch’s qualifying crash at Pocono this summer has left him sidelined for the past 10 races, and it’s not clear when — or if — he’ll get back in the car this year.
Kevin Harvick has also voiced his concerns, as reported in RACER:
“I think when you look at the things that happened with the accidents, I think these are the exact concerns that the drivers had from the very first day we saw the car,” said Harvick. “There hasn’t been a lot of progression other than we changed some of the rear clip stuff; we changed some of the impact stuff. But these cars don’t crash like the other cars crash. They’re violent impacts, and they feel a lot different than what the crash data g-load is. It goes straight through the driver’s body.”
Harvick stressed that no one but the drivers understands the extent of how bad the hits are. He said there have been times when there was a full extension on the HANS device after a driver rear-ended another car on a restart.
“And it takes you a second to really figure out that your hood’s not caved in and the ductwork is still in it and things that have happened,” Harvick said. “I don’t think anybody really understands, except for the drivers that have crashed into something, the violence that comes in the car.”
So, while the Next-Gen cars have come with an appearance of safety and some structurally sound bodywork, there are still a lot of problems going on in the cockpit.
As Harvick stated above, there have been concerns about safety since the dawn of the Next-Gen car. Jalopnik reported on rumors that sprang up on social media regarding the “death” of the crash-test dummies used in Next-Gen impact tests.
While NASCAR adamantly denied those claims by noting that the dummy “functioned nominally” after the crashes and driver Chase Briscoe deleted his Reddit comments confirming the dummy “death,” the structural safety of the cars are still being questioned.
You don’t have to look far to see it. At last weekend’s Texas Motor Speedway race, blown tires resulted in a record-setting number of cautions during the race, and buildups of tire rubber have caused fires. When it comes to crashes, it also seems as if hits to the rear clip are particularly dangerous, with multiple drivers complaining about pain and soreness after a rear-end impact. It has resulted in two Playoff-eligible drivers to sit out key rounds that could have led them to a Cup Series championship.
That these issues are prefacing a race at Talladega is also concerning. The track is known for causing “The Big One,” or massive, multi-car accidents that can collect significant portions of the field in one go — and that inevitably means we’ll see some drivers sustain rear-end collisions and, possibly, further injuries.
The No. 48 will be driven by Noah Gragson this weekend at Talladega.