For several years, Talladega has long been a race that drivers, crews, fans, and media have known to be the track that can be intimidating, fearful, and one that many just want to survive to move onto the next week.
This year, Talladega isn’t a track they fear, because now that fear is now at every track, with every corner, practically every hit of the accelerator is now something they fear. This year’s season had anticipation, excitement, maybe some concern because of a new car, new processes, and new innovations.
Apparently, one of those innovations that seems to have not gone forward has been exposed. In fact, it’s gone backwards.
The sport has taken so many steps to make it safer for the drivers, the pit crews, and everyone involved. Yes, the catalyst to do so was the unfortunate and devastating death of Dale Earnhardt, but the sport has learned from that and when the car they were racing at the time became obsolete, leading the way to the COT generation-5 car, things changed and made it much better for everyone involved. We’ve seen improvements on pit road for safety stemming from a very frightening incident that same year where a member of Ricky Rudd’s crew got up-ended at Homestead and landed hard on the pit road.
One week later, pit members were wearing all kinds of different helmets. A year later, helmets were mandatory for all over-the-wall crew as well as firesuits. Even some of the on-air TV crew decided to wear firesuits, just showing the precautions the sport has taken.
The COT and the Gen-6 all were safe cars, and innovative cars. So, what happened?
Did NASCAR focus on aesthetics as far as looks, new equipment and new procedures with this new car, and not focus on the safety aspects?
The easy answer…yes.
Let’s face it, as good as this car looks from the outside, matching the street counterpart immaculately, we have clearly seen this car is not as safe as one would like. From in-cockpit fires to accidents that look average but turn out to be worse, the NextGen car is generations back in keeping the one at the wheel feeling they can survive a wreck.
The prior car that was used had a lot of give, just like the walls at the tracks. It would absorb some energy, keeping it from going through the driver, like when a wave loses it’s energy when crashing ashore.
But, we have seen this car doesn’t have that effect. It’s kept Kurt Busch out of the car for months. It’s keeping Alex Bowman out of the car this weekend, ending his championship run. It’s caused Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, among others, to be clearly outspoken about this machine and how it wasn’t ready for competition when the year began, and is even more frightening as the year draws to a close.
Was the car rushed, despite being in development for a few years? Potentially, since it seems drivers almost don’t want to even be at the wheel.
The season it five races from being over, but it feels like the drivers don’t even want to run these next five, let alone this one on Sunday.
Can you blame them?
Especially with the unpredictable instances that Talladega historically has brought to the sport, this car at this track, with the playoffs in full force, it could be calamity. NASCAR has a major issue on it’s hands right now, with drivers seemingly unwilling to risk putting on a good race when it means they don’t feel comfortable at the wheel.
Concussions are one thing, but that doesn’t seem like that’s enough for NASCAR to make some changes. At this race the Xfinity and Truck vehicles are more safe than the Cup car.
NASCAR cannot afford to have another driver go down to concussion, or any other injuries. They are already effected immensely after a race at Texas that should be forgotten about, and now it’s own field of drivers is calling them out as if it was post-match at UFC. They are doing so to protect their fellow competitors, especially many that have a lot of years yet to come in the sport and they don’t want to see them end their careers early because of being hurt.
Already this week there were questions as to doctors and procedures in another sport after a starting quarterback, seemingly knocked out of a game on Sunday, was able to come back, finish that game and start the next just four days later. That quarterback got sacked, and immediately clammed up, clearly hurting in the head.
Do we want, or need, someone who is not even reached the prime of their career suddenly saying they can’t race anymore due to trauma?
At the rate we are going, that trauma will happen. NASCAR, you have very few options remaining. Listen to the drivers, hear what they are saying, and make the car better.
Otherwise, those same drivers will be telling their teams, their sponsors, and fans that they will not race this car until there is for certain improvements being made.
No drivers…no racing…no sport.