NASCAR took a huge leap of faith in 2022 when it switched from its old, Generation 6 car style to its new “Next Gen” (Generation 7) car.
The new car involved spec parts produced by one provider that were the same for all teams. The goal of the change was to create better, more competitive racing and lower costs for teams.
In many ways, the American racing series giant succeeded. The racing was often much closer and far more teams competed for and secured wins in 2022. And the new car did seem to hold up better than past versions.
But that came at a major, major cost.
The series, which has prided itself on safety ever since losing legendary driver Dale Earnhardt after a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, saw a significant rise in injuries and concussions.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman was virtually eliminated from the playoffs after missing races due to post-concussion syndrome. While a concussion suffered during a seemingly innocuous qualifying crash led to former series champion Kurt Busch tearfully announcing his retirement.
The issue was, by far, NASCAR’s biggest focus in the offseason. The series made significant changes to the car in order to soften impacts in 2023.
But there’s just one problem.
It appears those changes did not work.
NASCAR Still Dealing With Safety Issues Over Hard Impacts
The series hosted its season-opening exhibition event at the LA Coliseum on Sunday and early returns indicate that the impacts were as hard as ever.
Actions Detrimental – Episode 1@dennyhamlin covers his eventful Clash race and why Next Gen hits still hurt.
Web: https://t.co/RBrcLQLQMz pic.twitter.com/2QheKpa81k
— Dirty Mo Media (@DirtyMoMedia) February 6, 2023
Veteran driver and co-owner of Michael Jordan’s 23XI race team Denny Hamlin says he was surprised by just how much the hits still hurt.
“The bumper tag still hurts,” Hamlin said. “Like, it’s, I don’t feel anything softer. I know that’s something NASCAR might be still testing is softer bumpers itself. Man, we need it, really bad. I mean, you, once you start bumper tagging in the corners, your HANS locks out and you can feel a jar in your head.
“It is, yeah, it’s still pretty abrupt and, I talked about how I feel today like I’ve never felt as bad. Again, I had both sides knocked off, both bumpers knocked off. I don’t know if it’s my carbon monoxide or what, but it’s, you [co-host Jared Allen] were on the plane with me. I was up in the pilot’s, I put on their mask, I’m like, ‘I need oxygen, I don’t feel well at all.’ And I still right now, I don’t feel good at all.” – The Comeback
Hamlin and Jordan’s driver, Bubba Wallace, aired similar complaints after the race.
.@DGodfatherMoody I think Bob asked Bubba about the car, he reaction was “the back still hurts , the head still hurts” is interesting to me and then I noticed he was rubbing his head. I wonder if @NASCAR saw that and if he would have to visit concussion Dr. #bubba
— John Palmay (@johnpalmay) February 6, 2023
Meanwhile, the series also appears to be dealing with unresolved issues regarding parts catching on fire in the car.
Flames in the No. 54 car. Ty Gibbs is out safely. pic.twitter.com/rSxQfta1PV
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 5, 2023
Ultimately, regardless of how good the racing may be, the change represents a huge step backward for NASCAR if it can’t sort out the safety concerns.