NASCAR held a meeting with its competitors at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday morning to discuss efforts by the sanctioning body to improve driver safety in light of a recent spate of concussions and other injuries in the Cup Series' Next Gen car. According to a report by NBC Sports, the meeting between NASCAR brass, competition officials and drivers lasted 75 minutes, with an abundance of driver questions and comments preventing a NASCAR presentation from being completed.
The most major development to come out of the meeting was the confirmation that NASCAR would make changes to the Next Gen car in 2023, giving it a new rear bumper structure and rear clip in order to address concerns with the car not crumpling in rear impacts and transferring too much force to the driver. Those improvements reportedly performed well during a crash test on Wednesday, and NASCAR will now begin to examine the car's front bumper structure based off of driver feedback.
A NASCAR spokesperson reportedly called the meeting "candid" and "frank," while others compared it to the fictional Seinfeld holiday Festivus, implying an airing of grievances by the competitors.
"Sometimes we need that," Brad Keselowski told reporters. "… You're gonna have ups and downs and some viewpoints of, 'Oh, I didn't see it that way but now I understand the logic,' and then some disagreements. But I think more or less we're on the right path, just not pleased with where we're at today."
Brad Keselowski compared the NASCAR safety meeting to Festivus (the airing of grievances). He said “more or less, we are on the right path” while not pleased with where they are at today. pic.twitter.com/yAbPwbDhur— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) October 8, 2022
The meeting comes one week after driver tensions and frustration with NASCAR boiled over in the media after Alex Bowman suffered concussion-like symptoms in what appeared to be only a minor accident at Texas Motor Speedway. Bowman became the second driver this season to suffer a concussion in a rear impact, joining Kurt Busch, who has been sidelined with a concussion since Pocono in July. Cody Ware also opted to skip this weekend's race at the Charlotte Roval as he continues to recover from a foot fracture suffered in a head-on collision with the Texas Motor Speedway wall.
The absence of three full-time drivers from Sunday's race -- something that hasn't happened in over 20 years -- highlights the safety concerns that have come to color much of the past month in NASCAR.
Several drivers gave the sanctioning body credit for their approach on the problems that have arisen. Denny Hamlin, who has been particularly vocal in his criticism of NASCAR, told reporters he felt there was a "sense of urgency" on the sanctioning body's part. Even so, there was room to lament that the Next Gen car has not proven as safe as the previous generation of Cup car, and also that the issue was not addressed until it became a major problem affecting driver livelihoods.
"The frustrating part is it took way too long to have that meeting," Joey Logano said after winning the pole for Sunday's race. "That meeting should have happened Monday after Kurt's crash, not waiting until Alex had his crash to have a meeting and at least hear us out.
"I'm not saying they weren't working on it after Kurt's crash, but the communication in-person is so important … We should be in-person, having those meetings, a lot. Not when we need to, but before we need to. And I think those messages were heard loud and clear."
Kyle Larson, meanwhile, is hopeful the improvements are a step in the right direction.
"They are in a box with this car being quite a bit different than the previous car. But they're working towards trying to make things a little bit better on us," Larson said. "What they've learned is not as good as the previous car still, but it's a decent improvement. So that side of things is good."
The Next Gen car, which presented a radical departure from previous generations of stock cars and is more of a "kit car" built from pre-assembled parts rather than built and fabricated by the teams themselves, is nearing the conclusion of its first season of competition. And as the 2022 season has gone on, its warts -- particularly in terms of its rigidness and effect on driver safety -- have become more apparent.
Those warts have proved to be a blemish on NASCAR's track record on safety, which had been nearly unimpeachable since a safety revolution that followed the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500. However, it's far from unheard of for new technology or engineering in NASCAR to experience teething troubles.
Brad Keselowski compared the current discourse around the Next Gen car to the early 1980s, when cars were made shorter with a 110-inch wheelbase that is still in use today. He also drew a parallel to the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow in 2007, a chassis which was lauded for its safety improvements but panned for its aesthetics and effect on competition to the point that it was heavily altered and eventually became the precursor to the Gen6 car run from 2013 to 2021.
"There's a growing process here of learning this new car. When car manufacturers build a new model car, it's not uncommon to have things that don't work out," Keselowski said. "... This is really just part and parcel for when you bring a new car out – There's bugs that need to be fixed and there's frustrations that build up. You've just got to work through them. I think we're doing that."