If you’ve been on NASCAR Twitter or Reddit the past few days, you’ve probably heard some weird rumors about the Cup Series’ Next-Gen car. Specifically that it may be delayed. Specifically that it’s dangerous. Let’s walk through what appears to be going on.
One representative from NASCAR told Jalopnik that, “The crash test dummy being “killed” during Next Gen safety testing rumor is 100% false.” NASCAR later released a memo to the driver that noted that “the dummy itself has functioned nominally,” which means that it functioned in name only. In following up on that with the NASCAR representative, we received clarification that ‘nominally’ in this case meant that the dummy responded to crash tests as expected — which, in this case, meant that the dummy’s responses to the Next-Gen crash were consistent with responses to similar crashes in the current era car.
NASCAR’s Next-Gen Cup Series car is the series’ much-hyped upcoming iteration of stock car designed to both reduce costs and improve racing. It’ll be symmetrical, have a sealed underbody, and boast composite body panels that can be pieced together easily, without requiring teams to manufacture their bodies in-house.
Basically, the goal is to cut down on the prevalence of dirty air and to make the cars a little more challenging to drive in the hope of improving the racing product. Drivers have been testing this car for quite a while, but no one has had a chance to really see how it runs against the competition.
The goal was to introduce it for 2022's season opener at Daytona. Now, that may be pushed back.
Rumors have kicked up in the past few days that the Next-Gen car is dangerous. A Twitter account that appears to be shared by Steve and Lisa Hmiel, the former of whom worked in NASCAR for three decades, made a pretty stunning accusation about the Next-Gen car. Its test crashes have been bad.
“So painful to watch the development of the new car,” the tweet read. “The engineers could really use a real world guy to temper some of their ideas. Have seen photos of a wrecked car and hearing rumors of sled tests killing the dummy, the car may be too stiff with too few crush zones.”
Driver Chase Briscoe appeared to confirm those comments. One Reddit user asked, “Based on his tweet it sounds like if the test accidents occurred in real life they would likely be fatal? Am I getting that right?” Briscoe responded “Correct.” That response has now been deleted.
There are two interpretations here: either Briscoe was verifying that the crashes would be fatal based on testing, or he was agreeing with the user’s interpretation of the tweet.
Other Reddit users appeared to confirm the tweet as well, but so far, no one directly tied to the current iteration of NASCAR has offered any verifiable or enlightening facts to either confirm or deny the potential danger of the Next-Gen car.
Jalopnik has no way to either confirm or deny the veracity of the rumors. But in a previous interview conducted with racer Tyler Reddick, who tested and crashed the car, it was obvious that the Next-Gen machine handles a lot differently than the current car.
“With this car, if you lift too hard or try to do too much on corner entry, you’re not just going to get tight or a little bit loose. You’re going to spin it out,” Reddick told us. He also added that, after spinning, he realized that his car hadn’t spun to the apron of the track but had remained closer to the wall, where the pack of cars will be competing. He didn’t make serious contact with the wall, though, so he couldn’t share much about how the car reacted in serious crash situations.
William Byron made harder contact with the wall at Fontana during a March 2020 test. During an episode of the Door, Bumper, Clear podcast, Kaulig team president Chris Rice noted that NASCAR would be conducting tests to check on the rigidity of the car because, as DBC hosts noted, it was fairly stiff in the wreck.
The Next-Gen car has evolved significantly in the ensuing year-and-a-half, but some fans are looking at these two wrecks as indicating that concerns regarding safety have been ongoing.
NASCAR has been understandably hesitant to answer questions regarding the crash test situation with any extreme clarity. As written before, NASCAR has reiterated that the dummy ‘survived’ the crash test. Those dummies are loaded with sensors that can tell you a ton of information about any accident, so saying it survived means that it did not sustain any forces that would be consistent with a life-threatening injury.
However, saying the dummy performed “nominally” is probably not the best way to phrase things. To say that someone is nominally the boss is saying that they’re the boss on paper only, which means other folks are actually running the show. To function nominally means you have functioned as a crash test dummy: you sustained a crash and shared information about it. That does not mean you have ‘survived.’
A NASCAR rep further clarified that statement, explaining that the dummy performed as expected, which, in this case, means the crash test data was consistent with that of the current generation car.
The full excerpt of the NASCAR driver memo as shared by Jenna Fryer reads as follows:
Test was completed at Talladega on June 30th using a current spec NG vehicle fitted with a crash dummy and driven by a robot.
The processing of all that data is well underway, this includes the correlation and re-running of models. The team is also identifying additional cases for crash comparison.
Preliminary review of the dummy data from the test indicates good and comparable performance when compared to other right frontal dummy data (non-NG). There is still a lot more analysis to be completed and that has started. Worth noting, that through all testing (sled and full vehicle) the dummy itself has functioned nominally.
All of this data is being packaged up and will be sent to an independent panel made up of experts in the biomechanics/safety field (Dr Raddin, Dr Crandall, Dr Myers, and Dr Stitzel) for their review. We expect this to take roughly one week.
When all of this is complete, we will set up another review with you guys.
Astute readers will note that NASCAR is only speaking about right frontal dummy data. It does not specify any other data from any other angles. Hopefully we’ll be able to learn more from the experts.
At worst, if these rumors are true — and they’ve been circulating long before the official release of the Next-Gen car — it means that NASCAR has a very big and potentially deadly problem on its hands. At best, the rumors are completely unfounded, and this is another case of a disgruntled employee making a stink.
Either of those options may prove to be true, but there is one thing we can conclude: NASCAR fans and personnel appear to be raising legitimate safety concerns about the new car that are not being addressed in a satisfactory way.
That’s not totally unprecedented. No race series is going to be totally transparent about the development of its new car for countless reasons. First off, it doesn’t want to give away trade secrets to competing race series. It also likely wants to avoid all the armchair experts who will misinterpret the figures presented and cause more hassle.
But the complete opposite — a rigid optimism that everything is fine and is not just proceeding as normal but is actually pretty revolutionary — isn’t proving to be the way to go, either. No one is satisfied with PR-friendly answers that make everyone look good, especially not when there are legitimate safety concerns at hand. People want a clear, easily digestible answer as to how these cars are performing.
What happens next remains to be seen. Jalopnik has reached out to NASCAR for a comment on the rumors and will report back when we can. For now, the best approach may be to consider these rumors critically and ask for accountability and data to back up both the rumors and NASCAR’s refutation of them.