NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR drivers discuss safety following Erik Jones’ crash, broken back at Talledega
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR drivers discuss safety following Erik Jones’ crash, broken back at Talledega

Published Apr. 29, 2024 11:46 a.m. ET

DOVER, Del. — Erik Jones tried not to think about someone else driving his car Sunday as a compression fracture in his lower back sidelined him from the race at Dover Motor Speedway.

After doctors told him two days after his hard crash at Talladega Superspeedway that he would have to sit out this week, he pretty much resigned himself to the fact. And he didn't think it would bother him too much ... until he got to the track Saturday morning to help the Legacy Motor Club team and substitute driver Corey Heim.

"It's tougher when you get here, and you see your suits hanging in the closet," Jones said Saturday at the track. "You wake up on practice day and know you don't get to put those on." 

Jones is the first driver this year to have to sit out a race because of injury and the first to break his back in the Next Gen car. After the first year of the Next Gen car had drivers clamoring for change, NASCAR took significant steps in making the car absorb more of the energy in an accident than the driver.


The Jones injury didn't create an uproar for drivers as much as the general concern that comes with any driver injury. 

"We probably don't have a good one reason why the injury happened yet, ... but overall, I'm standing here talking to you," Jones said.

Jones hopes to get back in his Legacy Motor Club No. 43 car as early as possible, leaving the door open for Kansas this coming weekend. He characterized his compression fracture as "mild" and has additional scans scheduled for this week. One of his best tracks, Darlington, is scheduled for the week after Kansas.

"Darlington is definitely a goal, for sure, at the latest to be back," Jones said. "I would love to obviously come back next week at Kansas. ...  We will take more scans, see how the back is healing and make sure it's healing good and the way they want to.

"And again how I'm feeling to every day — as long as I'm feeling better and better, I feel like I can get in and do some simulator work, get some motion on my back and see how it feels."

There isn't much he can do when it comes to rehab other than some walking.

"I've been taking obviously some supplements, trying to get the bones strong and drawn back as quick as I can," Jones said. "A lot of it is rest. ... It's going to be a wait and see."

Erik Jones shares thoughts on his accident, injury and missing races

Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time Cup champion who co-owns Legacy, promised the team would be prudent on when Jones would return.

"We will go through the right steps and make sure that Erik is truly ready when he gets back in the car," Johnson said. "Driving is one aspect of it, but going through another significant impact and crash, that is something that we have to be mindful of."

As far as how Jones broke his back, Jones said NASCAR officials still have the car at its Research and Development Center. He said the data of his accident was similar to that of Ryan Blaney's last summer at Daytona.

Blaney said that accident had a G-force recording of 70Gs. Blaney was uninjured. Jones is a couple inches taller than Blaney.

 "There's some stuff we got to dive into looking at seats, compared to myself and Ryan about what the difference is there," Jones said. "Obviously, our bodies are different too. So trying to figure that out is the next step."

Jeff Burton, a former Cup driver who leads a driver advocacy group, will help coordinate the research into the comparisons of what occurred in Blaney's crash and what occurred in Jones' crash, Blaney said.

"They're going to dig into what's different with my seat angle and his seat angle, maybe some belts — everyone is a little bit different in how they like everything," Blaney said. "They want to look at what's different and can we learn from it and can we go from there? The biggest thing is can we get the cars better? They're on top of it."

After Jones' accident at Talladega, he was released from the infield medical center relatively quickly. He then later returned to the care center where an x-ray showed a chip in a vertebra in his lower back.

"I've never broken a bone in my life, so I didn't even know what that would feel like," Jones said. "I got out of the car on my own, and I was feeling better. Obviously, adrenaline is going, and I'm pumped up still.

"I got to the care center, told them what was wrong — that my back was hurting. They poked and prodded all over me, like they normally do, and I said everything felt OK and I told them multiple times that it felt like muscle strain to me. From there, I got up and I was getting around. I walked into the care center. I got up to leave, and was feeling good."

And then he was getting in and out of his motorhome.

"I went back to the motorhome, my wife, Holly, saw me getting in and out and suggested highly I take a trip back to the care center and ask them again — and tell them really how bad the back hurt because I probably didn't let on the first time how bad it was bothering me," Jones said. 

Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch on Erik Jones' injury

A back injury at Talladega is not uncommon as two drivers (Greg Van Alst and Stewart Friesen) suffered broken backs in truck series crashes at the track last fall.

NASCAR has been studying the causes of those injuries and will add Jones' injury to that research for any recommendations.

But injuries also are part of sports, and auto racing certainly is one of the most dangerous.

"It is a dangerous sport, but you hate to settle for that as the answer," said driver/race team co-owner Brad Keselowski. "If you settled for that for the answer, the cars would still look like they did in the '50s and '60s. 

"You want to continue to evolve. But you have to have some amount of discipline to respect that the cars are never going to be perfectly safe."

For now, Jones will do his best to heal — and not sneeze.

"The allergy season has been tough," Jones said. "I didn't realize it hurt so much to sneeze until the last week. But that's gotten better, too."

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


Get more from NASCAR Cup Series Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more