Kurt Busch's concussion raises questions about Next Gen safety
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
A driver missing a race due to a concussion is nothing new in racing (or many other pro sports). But this was the first major driver injury for NASCAR in its new Next Gen car.
The question Busch’s accident raised is whether there are issues that still need to be corrected with the Next Gen car. One injury doesn’t mean there is something wrong, but it does warrant some scrutiny.
"There’s always concerns," said Denny Hamlin, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and co-owns the 23XI Racing car driven by Busch. "I think that’s the first time that we had someone sit out for those reasons [this year].
"Especially with a rear impact — typically in NASCAR, drivers really don’t get hurt hitting in the back. We just have to look into it and figure out what we’ve got to do to make it better."
A NASCAR spokesman said the sanctioning body has done more safety testing with this vehicle than any previous car. There have also been more crashes this year than all of last year, giving NASCAR more data to have confidence in the car.
"It’s racing," Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Chris Gabehart said. "These are heavy cars. Going really fast. That’s a lot of energy to dissipate. There’s always concern.
"This sport is a dangerous sport. It’s always going to be a dangerous sport. NASCAR and all the race teams just do a good job of disguising that sometimes."
Drivers have said that some of their hits this year seem much harder than hits in previous years.
"These cars, they hit harder than ever," Joey Logano said after two hard crashes last month. "They’re super solid. Yeah, it hurts."
Corey LaJoie has said the cars are designed to handle the worst impacts when it comes to the driver's compartment, and that design has made what used to be a relatively routine crash hurt more.
NASCAR does collect a significant amount of data following a crash, thanks to the "black boxes" in all the cars. All Cup cars also have a small, high-speed camera focused on the driver that records when a car spins, allowing NASCAR to see video of how much a driver moves during an accident. The sanctioning body releases data to teams but not publicly.
NASCAR is in the process of collecting more data; at Pocono, seven drivers wore mouthpieces designed to record information during a crash. Four drivers (NASCAR did not name them) wore them for the race.
The NASCAR concussion protocol requires drivers to go to the medical center after crashes, and doctors at Pocono wanted to reevaluate Busch on Sunday morning, following the crash Saturday. After his evaluation, Busch was not cleared to race.
"NASCAR has done a great job of putting the drivers’ health before competition, and I respect the decision they have made," Busch said in a statement. "I’m still having concussion-like symptoms from yesterday’s impact in qualifying.
"The tests demonstrate I am still recovering."
Hamlin said he hopes Busch will miss only the Pocono race. He will have to see his personal doctor this week to get cleared for the upcoming event at Indianapolis.
"I’m very confident that Kurt can be back [next week]," Hamlin said. "He’s had a tough year as far as hits are concerned. [This one] definitely didn’t help.
"He wanted to be out there for the team. That was something that was important to him. He wanted to be a team player, but he is only able to do what he is physically able to do."
Thinking out loud
NASCAR’s disqualification of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch — the first- and second-place finishers at Pocono — for material in the front facia (nose of the car) that wasn’t permissible had to be an easy call for the sanctioning body.
Because if it had been a tough call, NASCAR probably wouldn’t have disqualified the top two finishers in the race. If it were at all borderline, it is difficult to envision NASCAR taking a hard line with the results of a Cup race.
The material in question was either a blatant disregard for the rules, a common thing teams do that they expected would be OK or a misinterpretation of the rule. More clarity could come later this week as part of any possible appeal.
NASCAR said it would rule harshly with the Next Gen car. This, apparently, is evidence of that.
Stat of the day
The last time a Cup winner was disqualified was April 17, 1960, at Wilson Speedway, where Emanual Zervakes won but was disqualified for an oversized gas tank, and Joe Weatherly was awarded the win.
They said it
"If I had raced smarter two months ago, I would have had plenty of room off Turn 1." — Ross Chastain after his on-track tussle with Denny Hamlin
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!