NASCAR has faced ample criticism from fans, drivers, and media alike when it comes to the construction of the Cup Series’ Next Gen car — but for 2023, it sounds like the sanctioning body is going to solve those problems. At least, that’s what a leaked memo reads, as per Road & Track.
The main changes come to the rear crash structure, which has been the locus for many nasty crashes that have subsequently left drivers like Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman sidelined with concussions. NASCAR proposed alterations to the center section, rear clip, and rear bumper supports, all of which should soften impacts.
Basically, right now, the Next Gen cars are too damn rigid. So, while a crash like Bowman’s may not look bad, that’s because all the energy from the impact is channeled into the softest part of the car: the driver. You want a car that will almost spectacularly disintegrate upon impact; at least then you know that the crash energy has been dispersed before it reaches the driver.
Here are the big technical changes, per Bozi Tatarevic from R&T:
The first change noted in the document is the introduction of new rear bumper struts, which are triangular supports that hold the bumper beam to the rear clip. These struts will be replaced with a new part that will see material thickness change to 0.080 inches in order to allow them to crumple better. These struts can be seen above in red and blue. The bumper beam itself will carry over from this season.
The rear clip and center section will not be replaced, but will be altered and updated. These changes will be done as these parts are sent to Technique Chassis–the single-source vendor that builds and maintains these components–for refurbishment. The costs for the fabrication, materials and labor to make these updates during refurbishment will be covered by NASCAR and teams will only be responsible for usual finish work like painting.
The rear clip will see the removal of the longitudinal bars (marked in red in the illustration above) along with a change to the lower rails (marked in yellow). They now seem to be designed as compound mitered tubes (in green on the right). These bars sit parallel to the racing surface and contribute to the stiffness of the overall chassis. Removing and modifying them should allow that area to crumple better in rear-end impact incidents.
The center section has a number of changes, starting with the outer diagonal tubes on the rear (in purple above). These bars will be replaced with the same cross-sectional tubes that now feature a trigger on the inboard side. The outer diagonal tubes on the bottom (in orange above) will be replaced by 1.75-inch diameter tubes that feature an 0.65-inch wall along with triggers. The inner diagonals (in green) will be reduced to 1-inch diameter tubes with a 0.065-inch wall without triggers. The intention of designing certain tubing with a trigger is typically to improve the ability to absorb impact energy in a progressive and controlled manner by a local modification of material properties. This is meant to allow the deformation of the material to be introduced precisely where it forces the tubular structure to deform in a mode of high energy absorption and reduces the maximum load in a controlled manner.
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Perhaps even bigger news here is the fact that NASCAR will actually be paying for the initial updates. Expenses for building a car usually fall on teams, even though Next Gen regulations mandate that certain parts be used. Further, drivers have been critical of the fact that safety changes made by NASCAR would ultimately result in more expenses for teams.
So, it is a great thing that NASCAR is taking charge on this first round of changes — but racing will undoubtedly grow more expensive in the near future, as it appears many Next Gen parts will need to be replaced more regularly.