Kyle Larson and Others Make Alarming Comments After Clash About Intensity of Impacts in Updated Next Gen Car: ‘Very Violent Majority of Race’
Kyle Larson wasn’t nearly as outspoken as some drivers last year concerning harder impacts inside the new Next Gen car, which resulted in concussions to Kurt Busch and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman. There was a reason — Larson didn’t have much experience, thankfully. Others like Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace weren’t as fortunate and, as a result, weren’t quiet.
This past weekend in the Clash at the Coliseum, the drivers raced the car for the first time with the modifications made this offseason intended to reduce the intensity of those painful impacts. After the race on the shortest track with the slowest speeds that will be recorded all season long, the reaction from multiple drivers wasn’t good, and the remarks from the 2021 champion were the most alarming.
Kyle Larson describes impact inside cars at Clash as ‘very violent’
Kyle Larson didn’t meet expectations in 2022, earning three wins but finishing seventh and disappointingly falling short of making the Championship 4 and defending his title. The 30-year-old made several uncharacteristic mistakes during the year, including running his teammate Chase Elliott into the wall at Fontana, causing a big last-lap crash at Talladega, and inexplicably missing a turn and violently slamming into Ty Dillon on the Indianapolis Road Course.
Of all those incidents, it wasn’t an accident but cars stacking up during a restart in the race through wine country that caused the most memorable impact. Shockingly, Larson said what he experienced on Sunday in the Clash at the Coliseum was worse and on a grander scale.
“I only had like one moment last year that I remember, where it was like, ‘Wow! That was a hard hit.’ I think we stacked up on a restart at Sonoma or something,” Larson told reporters after the race in LA.
“This was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head is just whipping around and slamming off the back of the seats,” he said. “I don’t have a headache, but I can see how others do. It’s no surprise. It was very violent for the majority of the race.”
Bubba Wallace and Denny Hamlin agree with Larson
Unlike Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace had a headache. In a race where the No. 23 was the dominant car early, including leading the field to the halftime intermission, the 23XI Racing driver was running up front late when Austin Dillon grew impatient with the typical short-track beating and banging and drove aggressively into the back of Wallace, sending the Toyota for a spin before it backed into the wall.
After the race, a reporter asked Wallace about the modified car and how it felt.
“Back still hurts. Head still hurts,” he succinctly said.
Wallace’s 23XI team co-owner Denny Hamlin addressed the subject in the debut episode of his Actions Detrimental podcast this week.
“It doesn’t take much to really get these cars out of shape when you start bumper tagging,” Hamlin said. “Speaking of which, man, the bumper tag still hurts. I don’t feel anything softer. I know that’s something that NASCAR might be still testing is softer bumpers itself. Man, we need it really bad. Once you start bumper tagging in the corners, your Hans locks out, and you can feel the jar in your head. It’s still pretty abrupt.”
What needs to happen going forward?
Jarring the head, Hans locking, and very violent certainly don’t sound like improvements. More concerningly, the drivers are feeling these dramatic effects on a quarter-mile track. What happens in the official opening of the 2023 season in just over a week at the Daytona 500 when the cars approach speeds of 200 mph, and they’re involved in “the big one?”
NASCAR preached late last year about its genuine interest in listening to driver feedback and implementing those changes. By the sounds of it, something is still amiss.
Drivers and everyone can hope that this time around, it won’t take as long for top officials from the sanctioning body to respond and start addressing the issues before we end up having another Kurt Busch-Alex Bowman situation.