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The new Next Gen car model NASCAR introduced for the 2022 season has been a success on many fronts, but a lingering issue about the severity of impacts drivers have sustained in routine crashes should raise everyone’s anxiety as the Cup Series returns to Talladega and the largest oval track on the schedule.

NASCAR debuted the Next Gen car with the hope that a spec car for which all teams had to buy parts from the same supplier would level the playing field among large and small organizations, as well as help change the business model that prevented many potential owners from entering the sport.

Leading up to Talladega, Next Gen car has regularly provided more parity throughout the field

Christopher Bell runs into the wall at Talladega Superspeedway
Christopher Bell hits the inside SAFER barrier after contact with Kyle Busch at Talladega Superspeedway | David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It has fulfilled those hopes.

A record-tying 19 different drivers from nine different organizations have won at least one race this season, and the sport has seen new teams such as 23XI Racing, Trackhouse Racing, and Petty GMS Motorsports enter the sport within the last two years — at least in part because of the Next Gen car.

The quality of racing on the much-maligned intermediate tracks has also improved. That is especially notable since the 36-race schedule includes 14 races on non-superspeedway, high-banked tracks of at least one mile in length.

The Next Gen car has not been without problems, however. The racing on short tracks has been lackluster, at best, and mechanical failures from parts that teams no longer build themselves have been a frustration throughout the year.

Perhaps the biggest problem hasn’t even fully developed yet, and here’s praying it doesn’t.

With Talladega approaching, safety might still be the biggest issue with Next Gen car

Ryan Newman voiced his concerns about the safety of the Next Gen car during championship weekend at Phoenix Raceway in November 2021. He was preparing for his final race as a full-time Cup Series driver when he made comments that only look more prescient as the 2022 season has developed.

“I don’t feel it’s safe,” he told reporters. “I don’t, after having a career of 20-plus years, want to go to a racetrack knowing I have a 9- and 10-year-old daughter and answer to myself that I jumped into a car just for the fun of it that wasn’t safe.”

Newman said NASCAR officials had not released any data about the safety potential of the car, although NASCAR did mention a crash test in July 2021 at Talladega Superspeedway that it used to inform decisions about the final design of the car, and an independent panel of experts reviewed that crash data.

Then the 2022 season actually started, and drivers started to sustain harder hits, particularly when the rear of the car hit the wall.

Harder crashes throughout the season should raise concern about the Talladega race


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Most notably, Kurt Busch backed into the Turn 3 wall during qualifying on July 23 at Pocono Raceway and has not raced since because of a head injury.

Alex Bowman said his wreck Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway was “the hardest I’ve crashed anything in my entire life,” and Cody Ware had to be stretchered into an ambulance because of pain in one of his ankles from a crash midway through the event.

Others have complained about the severity of impacts they sustained in a crash on Aug. 28 at Daytona International Speedway, the sister track to Talladega and the only other 2.5-mile-or-larger superspeedway on the schedule.

Denny Hamlin actually sat out an Xfinity Series race he was supposed to drive the following week because of soreness from the wreck at Daytona.

The safety of the car has become an increasing topic of conversation as the season has played out.

“I’m concerned. I think everyone is concerned right now. I don’t see how you could not be,” Joey Logano said on Sep. 1 during Playoff Media Day. “When you look at competitors’ and your own experiences being brutal in comparison to what the old car was, yeah, it’s going to raise an eye.

The Cup Series now heads to the final superspeedway race of the season at Talladega in what could be one of the more wild races of the year with the 12 remaining drivers in the NASCAR Playoffs still tightly bunched in the points standings.

Unfortunately, there will surely be a heightened level of anxiety before and during the race now that plenty of examples exist about how hard crash impacts can be in the Next Gen car.

NASCAR certainly has an issue it needs to fix to make the cars as safe as possible for every driver who takes to the race track. Here’s hoping those changes don’t end up being reactionary after an incident that would strip all of the fun from what has otherwise been a highly intriguing season of racing.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.

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