*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
How concerning are the driver safety issues we have seen this year?
Richard: I’m not necessarily trying to play devil’s advocate here but I wonder if there are in fact more injuries in racing today because there actually are or because we are more aware of them due to increased safety protocols and the greater spread of information through social media and other sources?
As with most things, I think the answer is somewhere in between. No doubt, drivers such as Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Allison probably raced on multiple occasions when they probably should not have and much of the reason for that was likely those reasons mentioned above. Also though, it does seem as though there has been an increased number of injuries this season.
On this very forum we have addressed the NextGen car and the role it may be playing in terms of safety issues. Drivers voiced concerns very early during the testing process that the car was too rigid, and thus, caused hits to feel much harder than before. That seems to be manifesting itself in a number of drivers having to miss races because of concussion-like symptoms.
Several of the sport’s top stars, including Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, have been very vocal in their criticism of the car and NASCAR’s lack of response to their concerns. An injury suffered in a crash at Texas caused Playoff driver Alex Bowman to miss Sunday’s race at Talladega which seems to have amplified those cries.
But it isn’t just the NASCAR Cup Series and its new car that have come into question. The fiery crash involving NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson was one of the scariest racing incidents I have seen in a long time. The number of fires across the board has definitely been concerning this year.
Whether there actually are more injuries or just more knowledge of them, there have been troublesome situations this year. NASCAR has invested heavily in the NextGen car and probably doesn’t want to admit there might be issues with it. But if there are, there are. One thing that never works is trying to sweep problems under the rug.
It would be in the sanctioning body’s best interest to pay attention to the criticisms being levied before something really bad happens and they come off looking like their lack of responsiveness was a cause.
Michael: I think many people forget the racing is a dangerous sport. I remember when I was growing up and either seeing races in person in Atlanta or on TV once CBS started showing live races, the danger was there and seemed to be more around the corner then as opposed to now.
Having said that, I do think the car is a step backward in safety. What looks like harmless accidents now become incidents where drivers miss time. It should not be that way considering the strides in safety over the last 20 years.
The previous generations of cars would have lots of pieces of the wrecked cars come off in crashes. We don’t see that as much with the new car. Remember the COT? Those cars would leave all kinds of foam padding all over the place.
I continue to go back to Ryan Newman’s criticism of the new car last year and his refusal to take a Cup ride for that very reason. The more of these injuries occur, the more he looks to be correct about the current Cup car.
Is this the week someone exacts revenge on Ross Chastain?
Richard: There is no shortage of drivers who have been involved in confrontations with Ross Chastain over the course of the season. Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch are just three who have had run-ins with the driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. And virtually every driver who has been on the receiving end of a perceived wrong by the ‘Watermelon Man’ has vowed revenge.
Well, if some payback is ever going to happen, this would seem like the week to make it so. The Bank of America Roval 400 on the road course at the Charlotte Motor Speedway has been the site of paybacks in the past. Most notable was the incident last year when Kevin Harvick sent Chase Elliott into a wall causing damage to the No. 9 Chevrolet. Then as Elliott closed in on Harvick later, presumably to retaliate, Harvick overshot a turn and ran himself into a wall.
Chastain currently sits third in NASCAR Playoffs standings, 28 points above the cutline with this one race remaining before the field of championship hopefuls is trimmed to eight. If a driver truly wants to seek revenge, what better place to carry it out?
Something like that couldn’t be done at Talladega because it could literally take out half the field. A payback at Texas could bring about serious consequences that one would think no driver would want to inflict on another. But a low speed chicane late in the race with crucial points on the line might very well be the opportunity some previously offended driver might be looking for.
However, some of those who have such designs might do more harm than good to their own chances, particularly Hamlin and Elliott who remain alive in the Playoff hunt. And then there is the fact that many drivers often threaten revenge but never actually deal it out.
But if it is going to happen, this would be the time and place to do it.
Michael: I think if anyone was going to do a payback to Chastain, it would have happened by now. Several drivers had chances at Bristol and nothing happened.
I will say if Chastain makes it to the final 8, we might see something happen at Martinsville. It seems like we get a lot of these at Martinsville. I don’t anticipate anything happening at The Roval unless he’s in the lead on a late restart.
Is there a particular scenario you would like to see play out as the end of the season approaches?
Richard: In this most chaotic of seasons that has seen so many different race winners, there is one scenario I am kind of rooting for. It would be the most predictably unpredictable of endings to this crazy season if Ryan Blaney were to make it to the Championship 4 without winning a race then win the championship by finishing second in the finale at Phoenix behind some non Playoff driver.
It would be the ultimate surprise in a season in which the NextGen car has provided one surprise after another. It’s really the only perfect way to conclude this crazy season.
Michael: It doesn’t look like Alex Bowman is going to advance barring at win at The Roval, assuming he’s cleared to race by then. Before his injury, I thought it would be funny to see all four Hendrick cars battling for the title at Phoenix. Maybe three Hendrick cars versus Blaney could be quite the amusing storyline.
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