What drivers said after Las Vegas Cup race

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Here is what drivers said after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Kyle Larson – Winner: “It feels good. I guess I didn’t know if I’d ever have an opportunity to win a NASCAR race again. To get this awesome opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports and Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) taking a massive chance on me, then going out there and being strong all year, it’s been great. I knew we were close to getting a win. Our pit crew done a really good job all season long. (Crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) and everybody has been bringing really fast racecars to the track. For the most part I’ve been doing my job, too, on the racetrack. I knew if we could continue to do that, we would get a win. Today we put it all together, had a dominating race car to go along with it. Made my job behind the wheel a lot easier. Cool to get a win this early in the year, now focus ahead and try to win a lot more, rack up Playoff points, put ourselves in a good spot once the Playoffs start.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 2nd: “It’s such a strange year. I think every company is a little different. Inside every company, the teams are a little different. I think there’s a fair amount of companies that have probably punted to (the) NextGen (car), which is sensible. Then there’s some companies that have really doubled down on this year’s car, their team and lineup, which makes sense, too. To each their own. It’s hard to tell in the first three races who’s done what. I felt like all along, Vegas was the clearest indicator of what we’re going to see for a lot of the season. Both of these races, Vegas and next week in Phoenix, I think they represent what it’s going to take to win the championship, being good on tracks of these two types. We can tell the most from these races. As far as teams that might be ahead or behind others, it’s still pretty early. Certainly cause for concern if you weren’t towards the front today.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 3rd: “We fought hard obviously. We were a little behind the eight ball at the start of the green flag and just were super, super tight all day long. Ben (Beshore, crew chief) and the guys made awesome adjustments to and I was trying to give the best feedback I can to give them good information that they can base that off of and make the good adjustments. We improved each time. I don’t know where we missed it so far from the simulator, but that’s two weeks in a row where we’re not apples to apples. … Ready to keep working on it and keep improving. We were just a little off on pace, overall pace, overall lap time from the fast guys.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 4th: “We got it in the short runs, but not enough long run speed. I thought it was a great start for the FedEx Camry team, gathering data trying to figure out what we can do to be better when we come back here when it really counts. Overall, good start. We will see, gather all the data and I will figure out this week what we have to do.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 5th: “I thought it was a pretty solid day all day. We had to start pretty far in the back from our bad finish last week, and was able to make it up to ninth, I think, before the comp caution and got third in the first stage and then like fifth in the second and ended up fifth. I thought we could have run second or third. The 5 was really the fastest one all day long. It didn’t matter where he was he just drove through the field, but, overall, a really good effort by our group. We really needed that after having three pretty bad races to start off the year. It’s nice to kind of finally get a good run and just a no problem day, just having a solid car and working on it throughout the day. I’m really proud of Todd and the whole 12 bunch and nice to get a good finish. Now we can get rolling here.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 6th: “These tracks are really tough, it’s a real big guessing game on what cars to bring and what kind of approach to take. You kind of get guessing on a lot of different things – the weather, the wind and all this kind of stuff. Overall, I think our cars were decent. We definitely have to find some more speed to run with some of those guys. I would say for us, we were probably a little bit off from where we were last weekend. Definitely some stuff to build on for all of us across the board. We’ll obviously talk about it all and figure out what we need to do to be better.”

Christopher Bell – Finished 7th: “It was definitely a good week to build on. I’m really happy with the turn around from last week at Homestead, another mile-and-a-half. We were significantly better this time. It’s something to build on for sure. I felt like my Craftsman Camry drove really well. We just need to dial a little bit of speed in it.”

William Byron – Finished 8th: “We had a couple of issues. Just execution things. We struggled a little bit on pit road and then I stalled it and that killed us. We had a shot at the lead then and I could never really make it up. The Liberty University Chevy was really good and congrats to Kyle (Larson, race winner). That’s awesome. Our cars are fast right now. He did a great job.”

Joey Logano – Finished 9th: “We just weren’t as fast as we wanted to be today. There’s a little bit of confusion at the moment to figure out exactly where it is and what we need to do better. There are two different theories and hopefully we can figure out what those are, but, overall, we tried some strategy stuff to get up there in a stage, led a couple laps, but fell off on the older tires, and then tried some more strategy stuff with tires to try to pass two cars and it just seemed like we were a ninth-place car. That’s where we ran most of the day. That’s where we were on restarts. That’s where we were on the long runs, it’s just where we were. We’ve got a little bit of work to do to make up that difference, but it’s a top-10 finish. Hopefully, it keeps us up towards the front in points. We didn’t get many stage points. I’m not sure where we’re at yet, but we’ll head off to Phoenix.”

Erik Jones – Finished 10th: “It was a really good day for us in the Richard Petty Motorsports Medallion Bank No. 43 Chevy. It was a good day to build. It was way better than last week. We’re really headed in the right direction. We tried a lot of different things this week and made a lot of different changes and it’s just nice to see them pay off and get a Top 10 out of it. That was definitely our goal for today, I felt like. So, hopefully we can keep building on that and continue to get better and better each week.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 11th: “It was a really solid day for our No. 47 Kroger team. We had a really strong run here last year, and our intermediate track program has really been improving over last year and this year. Consistency is key and with a solid run last week and a better run this week, this is exactly what we need to keep our momentum going and continue improving. Everyone at JTG Daugherty Racing has been working really hard and our pit crew has had some really solid weeks. I’m looking forward to continue improving next week at Phoenix Raceway.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th: “The No. 3 BetMGM Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was definitely better at the end of the race today than it was to start off. We were extremely loose for a majority of the race, but it started to come alive late in Stage 3. We were tight at the end, which is not surprising because we had a ton of wedge in our car. I tried to get the No. 47 at the end, but he was pretty good and I just had to keep backing up my entry. We didn’t have the greatest of cars, but we hung in there and turned it into a decent day. Good job by (crew chief) Justin Alexander and all of the crew on their hard work to turn things around in the race. We have some work to do, but we will get it.”

Ryan Preece – Finished 15th: “We were kind of all over the place to start the race in our No. 37 Natural Light Naturdays Chevrolet. I felt like we needed to be in the track a little bit more from the start, and Trent (Owens, crew chief) did an excellent job on pit road of adjusting every time we came down and getting our car to where it needed to be. We were strong at the end and I’m proud that we were able to hold our track position and get a top-15 finish out of it. We’re running really strong between us and our teammates and all we can do is keep digging.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 17th: “Not the day we were hoping for in the Love’s Travel Stop Ford Mustang. We just got behind a little bit with some of the adjustments and just needed a little bit more speed. The car drove pretty well. We could stay wide-open for quite a long time, but just needed a little bit more speed. That was a fight all day. We finished 17th, not terrible, but we were hoping for more. I’m really proud of everybody and keep the good finishes rolling here and head to Phoenix, my home track. We’ll have some fun with the family and looking forward to being in my hometown.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 19th: “We just really missed it today on our setup, we could never find the balance that we needed with the Monster Energy Chevy. It is disappointing for everyone, but there is no quit in this team, so we will go back and evaluate.”

Chase Briscoe – Finished 21st: “It felt like every race so far I’ve learned a ton just throughout the race. Obviously I wish I could start the race kind of where I end, knowing what I need from a speed standpoint. I feel like I learned a lot today, and hopefully when we come back here it’ll help. It’s just hard with no practice to show up and go, but I feel like we made gains on it, and right now I feel that’s the most important thing.”

Tyler Reddick – Finished 22nd: “Today was a tough day for our No. 8 Ben Gallaher / Quartz Hill Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, but I’m thankful to my team for sticking with me and fighting all day. I started off the day just way too edgy in the rear and couldn’t run anything but the bottom. We started to make some gains on it throughout the race, but it just stayed a touch free pretty much all day. Unfortunately, we had a tire rub towards the middle of the final stage and I thought we had a tire going down, so we had to pit outside of our window. Luckily, we ended up being able to stretch the fuel long enough to just make it to the checkered flag without pitting again. My team and I kept after it as much as we could today and will study this race to learn how to be better for our next trip to Las Vegas.”

Anthony Alfredo – Finished 24th: “We ran inside the top 25 and even inside the top 20 for the majority of the day. We actually stayed out at the start of Stage 2 on old tires, like five or six-lap tires, not that old. But I got eaten up. I was the last car to stay out on old tires, so all the guys on new tires split me four and five-wide. There’s just nothing you could do. It just stalls your momentum so bad. I did my best to get rolling again, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get all that track position back that we gave up. But we still came home in the top 25 – another 24th place finish. I can’t be disappointed with that. I’m just a little frustrated because I know we had a lot better speed than that. Still, a solid day. We finished the race, ran a lot of laps, and learned a lot. I’m excited for the next one.”

Cole Custer – Finished 25th: “That was not the day we were looking for. It was a struggle all day to find rear grip, and we couldn’t attack the corners the way we wanted to on entry and exit. We’ll do everything we can to improve our performance for the next one. We have a lot of season left.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 26th: “We were off at the beginning of the race today. The front of the car was bouncing a lot. My crew made a lot of changes and we got it pretty decent by the end of the race. We will keep working and be better in Phoenix.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 28th: “Big bummer there. I really struggled in dirty air all day, but we were pretty fast. Once things got strung out and we could get going and get some clean air on the race car, I had an issue when we pitted and some stayed out on the restart; got back through the field, got back to ninth and then cut a left rear with like 15 (laps) to go. We definitely should have at least had a solid Top-10 day for Ally and Hendrick Motorsports. But a big congrats to the No. 5 (Kyle Larson, race winner) team. That was really cool to see Kyle get a win early. Hopefully we can join him in that next week and have a good one in Phoenix. I’m looking forward to getting to a short track.”

Friday 5: NASCAR President says ‘We care’ about driver safety

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps says that he will tell drivers this weekend that “we care” about them and safety.

Phelps and other series officials are scheduled to meet with drivers Saturday morning to discuss safety measures with the Next Gen car.

Three drivers will miss Sunday’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval because of crash-related injuries. 

It is believed to be the first time in more than 20 years that three full-time Cup drivers will sit out the same race because of injuries suffered in on-track accidents.

Kurt Busch will miss his 12th consecutive race Sunday. Concussion-like symptoms have sidelined him since a July 23 crash in qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He said recently that he is “hopeful” of returning but didn’t have a timeline. Five races remain in the season.

Alex Bowman will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms after his Sept. 25 crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Cody Ware is sitting out Sunday’s race while he recovers from an impaction fracture to his right ankle suffered in a Sept. 25 crash at Texas. Ware stated this week on social media that given the “extensive footwork required for a road course event, I don’t feel I’m able to give 100% effort to my team, my sponsors or to Ford.” He plans to be back in the the car the following week at Las Vegas.

Drivers says that the impacts they are feeling this year are harder with the Next Gen car. Busch and Bowman were injured in rear-end impacts.

The car was strengthened to help protect drivers in severe crashes, such as Ryan Newman’s 2020 Daytona 500 crash and Joey Logano’s 2021 Talladega accident. In making the car safer for those types of crashes, it’s made the impacts feel harder in more common crashes. 

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have been the most outspoken among drivers about NASCAR’s safety efforts. 

Hamlin questioned NASCAR’s leadership and called for the car to be redesigned last weekend at Talladega. Phelps met with Hamlin a day later.

“Denny and I have a good relationship,” Phelps told NBC Sports and The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We do. He says things that sometimes I disagree with. I’m sure there’s things I say that he disagrees with. 

“I probably would have gone with a different approach, understanding kind of what he knows what’s going on in the process. I’m certainly glad we had a discussion. I gave him my opinion. He gave me his. I thought there was a healthy discussion.”

More drivers began raising concerns last week about safety concerns with the car, including Chase Elliott.

“We need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make our drivers feel safe in the vehicles and have them understand that we certainly care about their safety because we do,” Phelps said. 

“We’re working on things with our own people internally, our race teams, (manufacturers) and drivers to make sure that we have a plan in place moving forward so that — I don’t know that it’s gaining the trust — but doing better. 

“Our goal is to be the safest motorsports on the planet … that’s what we’re aspiring to do.”

NASCAR conducted a crash test of a rear clip and rear bumper structure at an Ohio facility this week. Series officials are also examining elements with the headrest foam and working with Wake Forest University to test mouthpiece sensors that track a driver’s head movements in a crash. 

Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council and an analyst for NBC Sports, says he’s had regular communication with NASCAR on behalf of the drivers.

“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” Burton said last week at Talladega in regards to safety issues. “We know the commitments from NASCAR. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments through. I believe that we will in regards to changes to the car.”

As for his message to drivers in Saturday’s meeting, Phelps said he would tell them: “We’re going to do our best to make sure that when you strap in that car, you feel safe.”

2. “Ridiculous statement”

NASCAR suspended crew chief Rodney Childers four races and penalized Kevin Harvick 100 points for modifications to a deck lid this week.

The penalties were discovered at NASCAR’s R&D Center. Series officials typically take a couple of cars back from most events to the R&D Center. More complete inspections can be done there than at the track.

NASCAR took the cars of Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. after last weekend’s race at Talladega. Truex’s car had no issues.

There are some who would suggest that NASCAR was getting back at Harvick for recent critical comments of NASCAR’s safety efforts. 

NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ response to that notion?

“I would say it’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney Childers at all. Or Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s a ridiculous statement.”

As for the inspection process, Phelps said: “Our (officials) are going to look at it, look at it again, look at it a third time to make sure that if there is a penalty given, that penalty is right. If the No. 4 team thinks that is not right, they will file an appeal and we’ll go through the appeal process.”

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday morning that it is appealing the penalty to Harvick and his team. However, Childers will sit out this weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. That way, regardless of the outcome, he will be able to return for the season finale at Phoenix. 

3. Report card

During a panel discussion at the Women in Motorsports seminar this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said that The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport provided a racial and gender report card for NASCAR, its teams and the industry for the first time. 

The NBA, NFL, WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer also have had reports done on their leagues and had the results made public. 

The report looks at the race and gender of athletes and front office personnel in those sports. Some reports examine the race and gender of officials and even broadcasters.

Phelps said that he would not disclose the results for NASCAR.

“We are doing some terrific work,” Phelps said during the panel discussion.

Phelps noted that the grades “are not going to be what they should be, but you need to face it. … We’re going to do better. One thing I will say is that the programs that we have put in place over the last few years have gotten an A.”

Asked by NBC Sports about the report, Phelps said: “It validated where I thought we were, which is why I want to keep it quiet. We’re actually doing really good work. … Hiring people of color, hiring women, promoting people of color, promoting women.

“I don’t want to lose that momentum to where our Diversity Industry Council is like, ‘Wait, wait, you said you’re doing all these things but it’s not working.’ 

“It’s going to take time. It’s not a snap your fingers (and it’s all done). Proud of the programs we’re doing.”

Thursday, NASCAR announced that 13 drivers have been invited to the Drive for Diversity combine. The program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track.

4. Change of strategy  

An appeal panel rescinding the 25-point penalty to William Byron moves him back into a transfer spot heading into Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe drops out of the final transfer spot and is tied with Austin Cindric, 12 points behind the cutline. Daniel Suarez holds the final transfer spot.

Cindric said Thursday — before Byron’s penalty was amended — that what happened to Byron would impact how he races.

“It completely changes how our race looks this weekend, how our race strategy looks, what our priorities are,” Cindric said on if Byron got his points back.

“Even if (the points) get returned, we’re still in a reasonably good spot to think we could still point our way in. It’s not a must-win for us either way, but I think it definitely changes the race strategy for us.”

Cindric explained how the strategy could change with Byron moving back into a transfer spot.

“You probably have to take higher risk to get points … or take a higher risk to just go after the race win,” he said. 

5. Appeal Panel’s changes 

William Byron’s penalty marked the fourth time this year the National Motorsports Appeals Panel or Final Appeals Officer has amended or rescinded a penalty by NASCAR.

In January, the Final Appeals Officer rescinded a $50,000 fine and six-week suspension to Ryan Bell, crew chief for Mike Harmon Racing. The team and Bell had been penalized when Harmon used one of his team’s Xfinity cars for a charity event at Rockingham Speedway. 

Roger Werner, the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer, wrote in his decision that “the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, upholding the original penalty that was issued by NASCAR, was incorrect in light of the NASCAR rulebook modification made on January 24, 2022.”

In May, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel overturned a disqualification to Matt Crafton following his fifth-place finish in the Camping World Truck Series race at Darlington.

Crafton’s truck was disqualified after NASCAR deemed the vehicle was too low in the front. The panel determined “the Appellants did not violate the Rule(s) set forth in the Penalty Notice.”

Crafton’s fifth-place finish was reinstated. No other reason from the panel was given. The panel consisted of Dixon Johnston, Tom DeLoach and Hunter Nickell. 

In September, NASCAR penalized Jeremy Clements for an intake manifold violation after his win at Daytona. NASCAR’s penalty did not allow the win to count toward playoff eligibility. 

Clements and his team took the engine to the NASCAR R&D Center to be inspected but left the intake manifold on, which was not required to be a part of the inspection. 

Clements and his team noted to the panel that they shouldn’t have been penalized for a part that was not inspected on other engines. The panel agreed and rescinded the penalty, allowing the win to count toward playoff eligibility. The panel consisted of Richard Gore, DeLoach and Johnston. 

Then came Thursday’s decision by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel to rescind the 25-point penalty to Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas. 

The panel did not state why it eliminated the point penalty but increased Byron’s fine from $50,000 to $100,000. The panel consisted of Dale Pinilis, Kevin Whitaker and Nickell.

Appeal panel gives William Byron his 25 points back

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William Byron is back in a transfer spot after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded his 25-point penalty Thursday for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas.

By getting those 25 points back, Byron enters Sunday’s elimination playoff race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC) 14 points above the cutline.

Daniel Suarez is now in the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. He is 12 points ahead of Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Christopher Bell is 45 points behind Suarez. Alex Bowman will not race this week as he continues to recover from concussion symptoms and has been eliminated from Cup title contention.

NASCAR did not penalize Byron after his incident with Hamlin because series officials did not see the contact. Two days later, NASCAR penalized Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for intentionally wrecking Hamlin.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel stated that Byron violated the rule but amended the penalty to no loss of driver and owner points while increasing the fine to $100,000.

The panel did not give a reason for its decision. NASCAR cannot appeal the panel’s decision.

The panel consisted of Hunter Nickell, a former TV executive, Dale Pinilis, track operator of Bowman Gray Stadium and Kevin Whitaker, owner of Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

Here is the updated standings heading into Sunday’s race at the Roval:

Byron’s actions took place after the caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race that the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed

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The 13 drivers who will participate in the Advance Auto Part Drive for Diversity Combine were revealed Thursday and range in age from 13-19.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track. Cup drivers Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson came through the program.

The 2020 and 2021 combines were canceled due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that we are in a position to return to an in-person evaluation for this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine,” Rev Racing CEO Max Seigel said in a statement. “We are energized by the high-level of participating athletes and look forward to building the best driver class for 2023. As an organization, we have never been more positioned for success and future growth.”

The youngest drivers are Quinn Davis and Nathan Lyons, who are both 13 years old.

The group includes 17-year-old Andrés Pérez de Lara, who finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Sept. 15 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also among those invited to the combine is 15-year old Katie Hettinger, who will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut Oct.. 14 at the Las Vegas Bullring. She’s also scheduled to compete in the ARCA West season finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

 

Name

Age Hometown
Justin Campbell 17 Griffin, Georgia
Quinn Davis 13 Sparta, Tennessee
Eloy Sebastián

López Falcón

17 Mexico City, Mexico
Katie Hettinger 15 Dryden, MI
Caleb Johnson 15 Denver, CO
Nathan Lyons 13 Concord, NC
Andrés Pérez de Lara 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna 16 Cornelius, NC
Jordon Riddick 17 Sellersburg, IN
Paige Rogers 19 New Haven, IN
Lavar Scott 19 Carney’s Point, NJ
Regina Sirvent 19 Mexico City, Mexico
Lucas Vera 15 Charlotte, NC

 

Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications

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Two drivers have missed races this year after hard rear-end crashes. Kurt Busch has been out since an incident in qualifying at Pocono in July. Alex Bowman backed hard into a wall at Texas and will miss Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Other drivers have noted that the hits they’ve taken in the Next Gen car are among the hardest they’ve felt in a Cup car.

“When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports.

The three most crucial parameters in determining the severity of a crash are:

  • How much kinetic energy the car carries
  • How long the collision takes
  • The angle at which the car hits

Angle

The last of these factors requires trigonometry to explain properly. You can probably intuit, however, that a shallower hit is preferable to a head-on — or rear-on — hit.

A graphic show shallower (low-angle) hits and deeper (high-angle) hits
Click for a larger view

When the angle between the car and the wall is small, most of the driver’s momentum starts and remains in the direction parallel to the wall. The car experiences a small change in velocity.

The larger the angle, the larger the change in perpendicular speed and the more force experienced. NASCAR has noted that more crashes this season have had greater angles than in the past.

Busch and Bowman both had pretty large-angle hits, so we’ll skip the trig.

Energy — in pounds of TNT

A car’s kinetic energy depends on how much it weighs and how fast it’s going. But the relationship between kinetic energy and speed is not linear: It’s quadratic. That means going twice as fast gives you four times more kinetic energy.

The graph shows the kinetic energies of different kinds of race cars at different speeds. To give you an idea of how much energy we’re talking about, I expressed the kinetic energy in terms of equivalent pounds of TNT.

A vertical bar graph showing kinetic energies for different types of racecars and their energies

  • A Next Gen car going 180 mph has the same kinetic energy as is stored in almost three pounds of TNT.
  • Because IndyCars are about half the weight of NASCAR’s Next Gen car, an IndyCar has about half the kinetic energy of a Next Gen car when both travel at the same speed.
  • At 330 mph, Top Fuel drag racers carry the equivalent of six pounds of TNT in kinetic energy.

All of a car’s kinetic energy must be transformed to other types of energy when the car slows or stops. NASCAR states that more crashes are occurring at higher closing speeds, which means more kinetic energy.

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who wants to be in a crash any longer than necessary?

But the longer a collision takes, the more time there is to transform kinetic energy.

A pitting car starts slowing down well below it reaches its pit box. The car’s kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy (brakes and rotors warming), light energy (glowing rotors), and even sound energy (tires squealing).

The same amount of kinetic energy must be transformed in a collision — but much faster. In addition to heat, light and sound, energy is transformed via the car spinning and parts deforming or breaking. (This video about Michael McDowell’s 2008 Texas qualifying crash goes into more detail.)

The force a collision produces depends on how long the car takes to stop. Compare the force from your seat belt when you slow down at a stop sign to what you feel if you have to suddenly slam on the brakes.

To give you an idea of how fast collisions can be, the initial wall impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. lasted only eight-hundredths (0.08) of a second.

SAFER barriers use a car’s kinetic energy to move a heavy steel wall and crush pieces of energy-absorbing foam. That extracts energy from the car, plus the barrier extends the collision time.

The disadvantage is that a car with lower kinetic energy won’t move the barrier. Then it’s just like running into a solid wall.

That’s the same problem the Next Gen car seems to have.

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

The Next Gen chassis is a five-piece, bolt-together car skeleton, as shown below.

A graphic showing the five parts of the Next Gen chassis.
Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click to enlarge.
The foam surrounding the outside of the rear bumper
The purple is energy-absorbing foam. Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click for a larger view.

That graphic doesn’t show another important safety feature: the energy absorbing foam that covers the outside of the bumpers. It’s purple in the next diagram.

All cars are designed so that the strongest part of the car surrounds the occupants. Race cars are no different.

The center section of the Next Gen chassis is made from stout steel tubing and sheet metal. Components become progressively weaker as you move away from the cockpit. The bumper, for example, is made of aluminum alloy rather than steel. The goal is transforming all the kinetic energy before it reaches the driver.

Because the Next Gen car issues are with rear impacts, I’ve expanded and highlighted the last two pieces of the chassis.

The rear clip and bumper, with the fuel cell and struts shaded

The bumper and the rear clip don’t break easily enough. The rear ends of Gen-6 cars were much more damaged than the Next Gen car after similar impacts.

If your initial thought is “Just weaken the struts,” you’ve got good instincts. However, there are two challenges.

I highlighted the first one in red: the fuel cell. About the only thing worse than a hard collision is a hard collision and a fire.

The other challenge is that a chassis is a holistic structure: It’s not like each piece does one thing independent of all the other pieces. Changing one element to help soften rear collisions might make other types of collisions harder.

Chassis are so complex that engineers must use finite-element-analysis computer programs to predict their behavior. These programs are analogous to (and just as complicated as) the computational fluid dynamics programs aerodynamicists use.

Progress takes time

An under-discussed complication was noted by John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR. He told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long in July that he was surprised by the rear-end crash stiffness.

The Next Gen car’s crash data looked similar to that from the Gen-6 car, but the data didn’t match the drivers’ experiences. Before addressing the car, his team had to understand the disparity in the two sets of data.

They performed a real-world crash test on a new configuration Wednesday. These tests are complex and expensive: You don’t do them until you’re pretty confident what you’ve changed will make a significant difference.

But even if the test goes exactly as predicted, they aren’t done.

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.