Within the confines of the NASCAR garage area is an insular community where most everyone knows or has worked with everyone else. And it's also fertile grounds for gearhead gossip to spread, such as the rumors that have surrounded the development of NASCAR's Next Gen car.
Last week, NASCAR was forced to issue a response after rumors alleging that there had been safety issues in Next Gen crash testing leaked into the public sphere, and such efforts continued Tuesday when NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller addressed the "fiction" that has surrounded the matter during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
In a memo shared with its drivers that was released to the public on Friday, NASCAR had shared that a preliminary review of crash test dummy data from a recent test at Talladega Superspeedway indicated "good and comparable performance when compared to other right frontal dummy data" from non-Next Gen crash testing, and that the crash test dummy used had functioned "nominally" through both sled and full vehicle crashing.
According to a report by Matt Weaver of Autoweek, the rumors that had arisen from Next Gen crash testing had been a byproduct of driver and team frustration over a lack of communication from NASCAR and the rollout of the car behind schedule, as chassis are being held until crash testing is complete. Speaking on the issue at hand, Miller emphasized the time necessary to put together a comprehensive crash report, which will include a review by a panel of independent experts in the fields of biomechanics and automotive safety.
"What everybody needs to understand is when we were able to do that testing, and any safety testing that we do, there are reams of data that come off of that. And we, as far as the timeframe goes, it always takes awhile to piece together a complete report on what we saw in a crash," Miller said. "It's not like anybody should have expected that we would go crash that car and look at a couple of graphs and say 'Hey, we're done analyzing this data.' We see absolutely nothing in the data that's alarming, but we want to have a comprehensive report. And I have no idea how all of the rumors started that it didn't go well. Because it did go well."
The rumor that had spread was that the crash test dummy being used by NASCAR kept "dying" in crash testing, an idea which was further propagated when Cup rookie Chase Briscoe answered a fan question on whether that outcome in testing meant that a comparable accident in real life would be fatal.
However, the sequence of events shared by Ryan Blaney this weekend suggested that the "failure" of Next Gen crash testing entailed an operational issue rather than an outcome issues.
"I was told the crash test 'failed,' so I took that as, 'Oh, they killed the dummy.' That's not what happened," Blaney said. "The sled malfunctioned and it literally wouldn't go. So when they said it 'failed,' the test failed. They didn't even get to crash the car."
While NASCAR's track record on safety in the last two decades speaks for itself -- a driver has not died as a result of a crash in one of NASCAR's national touring series since 2001 -- there have been some concerns that the Next Gen car is lighter and stiffer than it needs to be for a driver to not be susceptible to injury in crashes.
Despite the rumors surrounding crash testing and another that suggests the debut of the Next Gen car could be altered in 2022 or pushed to 2023 altogether, Miller maintained that the car was on track to debut in 2022 and that the results of crash testing were forthcoming.
"It shouldn't be too much longer. But to expect that was going to happen in a day or two was unrealistic to begin with," Miller said. "And maybe we should have communicated that better up front. It's not like because it's taking time it's not good. That's obviously how all the rumors get started. So we might have, should have, told everyone up front 'Don't expect a comprehensive report because it takes time.' That's where we are with that."