TALLADEGA, Ala. – Cup drivers met Drivers Advisory Council director Jeff Burton on Friday and discussed safety issues ahead of this weekend’s playoff race, which will be without two drivers due to concussion-like symptoms resulting from accident.
Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will not race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
Busch suffered a head injury in an accident at Pocono in July. Bowman’s injury followed his crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Both were injured in crashes where the rear of the car hit the SAFER barrier first.
Two drivers injured in less than three months – and the series of races on a track where accidents are likely – are increasing the tension in the garage of the Cup.
Denny Hamlin blasted NASCAR on Saturday, saying it was “bad leadership” for failing to address safety issues drivers were having with the car. Hamlin also said the Next Gen vehicle needed to be redesigned.
Burton, who is also an analyst for NBC Sports, said in an exclusive interview that Friday’s meeting was long because there were several topics to discuss. Burton didn’t go into detail on every topic.
Safety was a key element of this meeting. Burton, whose role with the Drivers Advisory Council is to coordinate the group and communicate with NASCAR, discussed the level of cooperation with NASCAR.
“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” he said. “We know NASCAR’s commitments. They made real commitments to us. We want to make these commitments a reality. I believe we will when it comes to the modifications to the car.
“We want this to end as soon as possible. They’ve made commitments to us and showing us what’s going on, communicating with us regarding the timeline, and we want it to end, like they do.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to make any changes until last weekend. It just takes a long time to test things.
NASCAR has scheduled a crash test next week on a new rear clip and rear bumper. Even if the test goes well, there is not enough time for such changes this season with five races to go.
The drivers’ frustration — and voiced by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — is that NASCAR has been told about issues with a stiffer car for over a year. Some questions have been raised after William Byron crashed during a March 2020 test at Auto Club Speedway.
“William Byron broke his ass at (Auto Club) Speedway and that should have raised a red flag from the start,” Harvick said on Saturday.
Hamlin said more drivers need to voice their concerns about the car.
“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they won’t be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said.
Byron looks for changes to make.
“I want to have a long career and I don’t want to have a series of concussions that would force me to step away from the car or think about long term things,” he said.
Chase Elliott also shared his frustrations on Saturday.
“You come out of a week like we had in Texas and somebody gets hurt and then you get here, where chances are we’re all probably going to hit something at some point (Sunday) and probably not lightly,” Elliot said. .
#NASCAR …I asked Chase Elliott about the race at Talladega in light of how the impacts led to 2 drivers suffering concussion-like symptoms. He talked about that and his disappointment that he did the car well. pic.twitter.com/gBzeGBUwFS
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) October 1, 2022
So what do the drivers do?
“You just don’t show up?” said Elliott. “You just don’t run? I don’t think it’s doable to ask. There is always an inherent risk in what we do and always has been.
“My frustration is… I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we find ourselves in right now. It’s just disappointing that we put ourselves here and had a choice. We’ve done this to ourselves as an industry.
“It never should have been. We shouldn’t have put ourselves in the box we’re in right now. So my disappointment is that we’ve had years, time and the opportunity to do this thing before we put it on track and we didn’t, and now we have to fix it.
“I just hate that we did this. I think we are smarter than that. I think there are just a lot of men and women who work in this garage who know better and we shouldn’t have been here.
Burton told NBC Sports that the drivers did not discuss in Friday’s meeting single-file racing in Sunday’s race as a protest.
“It wouldn’t be surprising for me to see just one file (race on Sunday) because of what happened in Texas and what could happen next week (at the Charlotte Roval),” Burton said. “Drivers need a period of calm.
“There was no discussion, collaborative effort or anything about how you race (Sunday). This conversation did not take place at this meeting.
Harvick said Saturday he would continue to speak out on safety issues.
“I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure these guys are in the right place,” Harvick said. “All I have to do.”
Harvick later said, “I don’t think any of us want to be in that position. We have to have the security we deserve to go out and put on a great show and be comfortable with that.
“Obviously we all took the risk of being racing drivers, but there’s no reason we should be in a worse position than last year.”
Harvick said it was a matter of trust.
“The reality of the situation is very different from what they envision,” Harvick said of NASCAR officials. “I think the level of confidence is obviously not where it needs to be to fix it. I think they’re going to have to regain the level of confidence to react quickly enough to do the right things. Driver opinion, especially when it comes to safety, must be more important than data or more important than cost Safety cannot be a budget item.
Corey LaJoie, who is a board member of the Drivers Advisory Council, said while challenges remain with the car, he sees the effort being made by NASCAR.
“Nothing happens quickly in this deal when you have 38 teams and you have seven cars per team,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “It has to be a well-thought-out process to implement the changes.
“It’s easy to get upset when we have guys like Alex and Kurt. You never want that to happen. Every conversation I have is what we as the Driver Council are trying to communicate to NASCAR and NASCAR by proactively making changes and aggressively increasing timelines to try to implement those changes.