Is NASCAR’s new style of racing causing more concussions? | WFAE 90.7

We often think of concussions as a risk in sports like football, but car racing could also be a contact sport. The NASCAR playoffs visit Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend and two drivers, Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman, will not compete due to concussion symptoms. Some have pointed to NASCAR’s new race car as the culprit. WFAE’s Woody Cain has covered racing for over 30 years and joins Claire Donnelly to talk about this new car.

Woody Cain: Therefore, the new next-generation racing car is supposed to be safer. It is not uncommon to see accidents. Remember, we’re talking about races where drivers routinely go 180+ miles per hour or more, and they have a lot of extra protection, like helmets and fire suits and extra padding around their seats and head. However, the new car was primarily an effort to bring race cars closer to what manufacturers sell to ordinary people in their showrooms across the country. The old car was essentially based on technology from the 1960s, but this next generation car includes things like independent suspension, rack and pinion steering, everything you see in commercials when they talk about cars. It also uses stock parts that teams can just bolt on instead of making their own like they used to. And that was a cost-cutting measure.

Donnelly: Why do some drivers blame the new car for their concussions?

Cain: Well, some drivers say that some parts of the new car don’t have as much flexibility as previous versions. So when a driver like Alex Bowman spins and hits the wall in Texas, he doesn’t seem to deform as much or absorb energy. He later said that it was the strongest blow he had ever felt. Here’s Bowman’s teammate, 2020 champion Chase Elliott, when asked about it last weekend.

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Chase Elliot: I’m amazed that we can have something new in 2022 that, you know, offers all this technology, and all this time and experience from so many super-talented people in the sport, and we allow it to set back, you know, especially with security. I just think, it’s… it’s super amazing to me, you know, that we let that happen. But we did. And, you know, now it’s just about how we move forward from here, making sure that we’re making the right decisions to improve what we have and prevent things from happening like, you know, what happened to Alex this week. And what happened to Kurt? You know, those things, just those kinds of incidents, didn’t result in injuries. And the last few years just me watching, obviously I’m not a doctor, but I saw a lot of cars hit the wall and those guys were fine. So I hate, I hate to see that, you know. And no one is immune to it. It could be me, you know, next week, or it could be any of my teammates or fellow competitors. And no one wants to see that, no matter how much you like or dislike a guy. My opinion. So yeah, I hate to see us go backwards. And I’m afraid that… I’m afraid that we have.

Donnelly: So what does NASCAR say about all this?

Cain: Well, not much in public, Claire. But they did run additional crash tests this week to address some of those specific concerns we talked about and determine what can be done. Results are not available, but NASCAR has indicated changes to the car likely won’t be implemented until next season. There is concern that trading him at this point wouldn’t be fair in the middle of a playoff battle.

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Donnelly: And what next? I mean, the next race is this weekend at Charlotte.

Cain: Well, multiple reports say that NASCAR plans to meet with team owners and drivers in the coming days. And we’ll see if that alleviates some of the concerns. But this has been building for quite some time. Here’s Christopher Bell, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing at Huntersville. Back in August.

Christopher Bell: It needs to be addressed, without a doubt. I mean, from some little bumps I’ve taken, you feel it a lot more. And most of the time, it’s in your head, not your body.

Cain: So if competitors aren’t satisfied with what they’re hearing from NASCAR, they’ll likely talk even more in the coming weeks.

Donnelly: It’s okay. Thank you very much, Woody. That’s Woody Cain from WFAE. Practice and qualifying are tomorrow at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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