NASCAR Cup Series drivers were vocal last week about their feelings of displeasure after Atlanta Motor Speedway officials announced an upcoming makeover on the track without getting any driver feedback. On Sunday before the race in Atlanta, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and several other drivers shifted their sights directly to NASCAR and another hot topic, voicing their concerns about potential safety issues with the Next Gen car.
And they didn’t hold back.
Kevin Harvick calls out NASCAR
Last week, rumors started swirling around potential safety issues with the NASCAR Next Gen car, scheduled to debut in 2022. According to various sources, the car had performed poorly in crash tests, including test dummies suffering what would be considered fatal injuries.
On Sunday, before the Cup Series race at Atlanta, Kevin Harvick addressed the drivers’ concerns and called out NASCAR in the process:
“As we sat in the drivers’ meeting that NASCAR had with us (in May) to show us everything, I think that the most frustrating part of the whole process is the fact that the safety piece to the drivers and the conversation with the drivers, which was asked for by the drivers, was had at the very end of everything. And as you look at that, I think the guys driving the cars are owed at least the respect enough to at least be a part of the process of what’s going on. Everybody is just a little bit frustrated with how all that’s been handled.”
Harvick said he was impressed with NASCAR’s presentation and what they had done with the car, but frustration still exists due to timing.
“When the drivers were a part of the process is why everybody is a little bit frustrated with that,” Harvick said. “And here we are, supposed to go to Bristol in a month with our car to do a tire test and can’t get chassis. Chassis are held until the crash testing is done.”
Denny Hamlin equally frustrated by NASCAR’s silence on safety
Denny Hamlin was one of the most vocal drivers last week when he came out and ripped Speedway Motorsports Inc. following its announcement of the changes to Atlanta Motor Speedway. On Sunday at Atlanta, Hamlin directed his frustration at NASCAR itself and the frightening silence within the organization.
“When it comes to the crash stuff, I’ve asked questions to two different NASCAR people, executives. I can’t get a response. That, to me, makes it even scarier,” Hamlin admitted. “Man, the disconnect right now between all the parties — NASCAR, the tracks, and all the drivers, it’s tough right now. It’s not a good place.”
When asked whether drivers need to come together and form their own council, as has happened in the past, Hamlin didn’t have specific answers but offered his thoughts on the next steps:
“In seven years, I’ll be a team owner only, but these drivers, they need to get organized. Their safety is at risk. They need to know what they’re getting strapped into. So they need to get organized and they need to have a voice. They deserve to have a seat at the table, whatever that table is.”
Kevin Harvick ripped NASCAR for safety issues earlier this year at COTA
Kevin Harvick has had issues with NASCAR’s safety record in the not-so-distant past. In May at COTA, the 2014 Cup Series champion blasted NASCAR for allowing the drivers to race in rainy conditions, which reduced visibility and many of the drivers felt was unsafe.
“It’s the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot,” Harvick said. “I let off and the guy behind me hit me wide-open because he never saw me. It’s unbelievable that we’re out there doing what we’re doing because we’re in race cars that aren’t made to do this, and if you can’t see going down the straightaway, it’s absolutely not safe. Not even close.
“We don’t have any business being out in the rain, period. All I can say is this is the worst decision that we’ve ever made in our sport that I’ve been a part of, and I’ve never felt more unsafe in my whole racing career, period.”
Harvick, Hamlin, and other drivers have repeatedly voiced their concerns with NASCAR about the safety of their sport. Whether or not NASCAR responds, or more importantly, does something tangible to address the concerns, appears to be very much up in the air.