NASCAR is investigating a series of car fires that left a championship contender furious after his Ford exploded into an inferno during the opening race of the playoffs.
Kevin Harvick lashed out at NASCAR and the new Next Gen car after it inexplicably caught fire at Darlington Raceway. The Next Gen debuted this season and is a single-source parts spec vehicle that aims to level the playing field and reduce costs.
Next Gen has achieved some of its goals, but has also raised non-fire safety concerns involving the force of the impact drivers are having in crashes. Kurt Busch has been out with a concussion since late July.
Now comes a fire problem that can’t be ignored any longer after Harvick’s car caught fire Sunday night on national television. Although Alex Bowman’s Chevrolet caught fire at Darlington in May, the fire problems have predominantly affected Fords. Chris Buescher and Joey Logano caught fire at the Indianapolis speedway, and Chase Briscoe’s car caught fire at Richmond.
“I’m sure it’s poor quality parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the security stuff. We just let it go on and on,” said Harvick, who finished 33rd because of the fire.
“The car started to burn and as it burned the flames started going through the dash. I ran a couple of laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning things. The fire was going through the dash. What a mess for no reason “. We didn’t touch the wall, we didn’t touch a car and here we are in the pits with a burnt out car and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of shitty parts.
Harvick added that it stopped where it did on the track, prompting a warning that some say took NASCAR too long to call, “because the flames were coming through the dash and I couldn’t bring myself to sit there and get burned.” ”
The fire dropped Harvick, a winner of two races this season, to last place in the 16-driver playoff field going into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway. Four drivers will be eliminated from the competition after next week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
NASCAR, which has already been researching next-gen stiffness based on driver feedback, acknowledged “it’s unacceptable for cars to catch fire” and senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said series officials they are investigating.
Meanwhile, NASCAR directed teams to replace a portion of the polymer panel used in the passenger-side door area with stainless steel. The design is intended to keep debris away from conductors. NASCAR is also allowing changes to the coating material used on the cars and mandated a side seal on the engine panel.
Miller rebuked Harvick’s notion that NASCAR hasn’t addressed the Next Gen issues.
“Saying that NASCAR doesn’t care is as far from the truth as it gets. I think he actually knows that we care,” Miller said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“We have been working on different solutions for different things on the road that seem to be the trigger. Obviously, we still have work to do,” Miller added.
Miller also said NASCAR is keeping a close eye on Ford’s exhaust clearances “because they seem to have more of a problem with this than the others.”
“There is a lot of work going on, a lot of collaboration within the industry to get to the bottom of it. We have to get to the bottom of this fast, obviously,” she said.
One theory is that rubber buildup on the track gets trapped inside cars and then ignites, which is why NASCAR has mandated that the splitter seal “reduce tire debris migration into the splitter area.”
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