This week, 21 NASCAR teams have been hitting the Charlotte Roval behind the wheel of the Cup Series’ Next-Gen cars, the name that NASCAR has given its high-tech and redesigned machine set to debut in 2022. But three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin still isn’t convinced the car is ready for racing — especially when it comes to safety.
This isn’t anything new; Hamlin has been concerned about safety since the Next-Gen car was released. This week, he reiterated those concerns as testing continued, saying, “When it comes to the crash stuff, I’ve asked questions to two different NASCAR people, executives. I can’t get a response. That, to me, makes it even scarier. Man, the disconnect right now between all the parties — NASCAR, the tracks, and all the drivers, it’s tough right now. It’s not a good place.”
Hamlin’s full quote is shown in a video recorded by journalist Bob Pockrass:
“In seven years, I’ll be a team owner only. But these drivers, they need to get organized,” Hamlin continued when he was asked if there needs to be a return to the driver’s council. Their safety is at risk. They need to know what they’re getting to be strapped into… they deserve to have a seat at the table.”
Hamlin also goes on to respond to criticisms that drivers just care about their personal agenda: winning. Instead, he asks that NASCAR and tracks tell drivers their agenda, especially as it pertains to the introduction of new technologies. He offers the example that drivers may not enjoy superspeedway racing but are in fact qualified to advise NASCAR on a safe, effective way of achieving superspeedway racing.
“We are the biggest asset that NASCAR, these tracks, have. Just tell us the goals,” he said.
Several weeks ago, on Racing Spaces, a live racing discussion that takes place every Tuesday on Twitter Spaces, Hamlin gave his very candid opinion about the cars: Next-Gen cars are going to cause more wrecks while also admitting that simulator data doesn’t provide an accurate enough comparison to how the car will perform in real life.
Earlier this year, Jalopnik spoke with NASCAR driver Tyler Reddick, who was one of the few drivers to test the Next-Gen car at the time — and one of the first drivers to have an accident behind the wheel. He offered a similar opinion to Hamlin’s, that the new car was more susceptible to crashes, albeit with a much more positive spin: “With the Next-Gen car, you have to respect that if you overdrive it, you can crash it pretty easily. You have to respect the car, and I find that a very nice, rewarding, refreshing challenge that hopefully we’ll have at a lot of these other big tracks.”
Reddick also noted that, where the current generation of car either washes up to the fence or drops to the infield, the Next-Gen car has remained in the middle of the track after a crash. That opens up the possibility of multi-car crashes due to cars staying in the path of danger.
Hamlin’s concerns are valid, since there are still plenty of unknowns surrounding the introduction of 2022's machine. Whether or not his concerns play out on the track, though, remains to be seen.