Steve Phelps details the NASCAR safety issues, crash test, business model and competition
At the start of the 2022 season, NASCAR introduced the Next Gen car. It’s billed as a safer and more competitive car.
However, like any new car, bugs need to be worked out. And, as we’ve seen throughout the season, blunt rear impacts have been an issue inside the cockpit.
The car is stiffer than the previous car. It’s more durable when it comes to banging other cars on the track but throughout the season, we’ve seen issues with wall impacts.
Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Cody Ware have all been sidelined in recent weeks following a crash.
Really all season, drivers have been voicing their concerns. This week, NASCAR took action on multiple fronts. First, they conducted a crash test with an updated rear end. Then, on Friday, NASCAR hosted an all-driver meeting.
In that meeting, NASCAR heard from the drivers on a multitude of safety issues. At the same time, it gave NASCAR a chance to speak to the drivers about what the progression of the Next Gen car will be in 2023.
NASCAR president addresses safety issues
“Safety is the single most important thing for NASCAR,” president Steve Phelps stated via NBC.
“We have a two decade history that would suggest that is a true statement. Are there things that we need to do to this racecar that make it safer? Yes, particularly in the rear of the car.”
“But, there are things in this car that are safer than the last car. We are going to continue working with our drivers.”
“Yesterday, we had an all-driver meeting which was terrific. We have another group that gets together with the drivers, it’s called the ‘Driver Advisory Council’. It’s got a great executive director who happens to be Jeff Burton. But, there are seven Cup drivers on there and we talk about all kinds of different things.”
“That group has a number of different things it talks about, including safety. With that said, as good as the Driver Advisory Council has been, there’s nothing as good as an all-driver meeting. And we probably should have had one, months ago to try to deal with the safety issues and what drivers were feeling in the racecar. So, that’s on me.”
“With that said, we are going to have all-driver meetings, for the rest of the year. We’re going to do them on a weekly basis. I thought the meeting was incredibly productive. The drivers were candid. We showed them a path forward on, for example, the rear of the car to take out some of the stiffness. A bigger crush panel.”
“We want to hear what they have to say. We care about what they say and we’re going to continue to make the car safer.”
“We had a crash test this week that crashed the rear of the car,” Phelps added.
“It created a bigger energy transfer, into the back of the car. Versus an energy transfer into the driver himself.”
“They’re taking hits that don’t look bad. But, they’re feeling it. We understand they’re taking bigger hits.”
“We want to make sure that when we get to the Clash at the Coliseum that the drivers know this car is going to be successful and that we have made changes to the vehicle that are going to soften the blows they’re taking.”
“Race fans probably don’t care about team profitability,” Phelps added.
“I’m telling you, fans should care about team profitability. Because it creates better competition on the race track. That’s what fans care about.”
“If teams don’t have the money to be able to compete on the race track, we’re not going to have as good of racing. As the sanctioning body, we’re moving forward. Having discussions with the teams that would suggest we’re going to give the teams more money from a revenue perspective.”
“But, we also need to work with the teams on the expense side as well. There’s a balance there. Like an good business, revenue in, expenses and look at the profitability on the bottom line.”
“We’re going to do that. I’m confident we’re going to do that and get to a good place with our race teams. We’re not going to talk about the negotiations but I’m excited about what they future is going to look like with our race teams.”
“NASCAR and our teams coming together, that’s a better thing in order to help promote the sport.”
New NASCAR team owners?
“The interest in NASCAR ownership, it’s never been as high as it is right now.
“I’ve had discussions with those that are in the industry as well as those that are outside of the industry who want to come. The sport’s growing again, which is fantastic.”
“We want to make sure we’re retaining the people who want to be here but we have a pipeline of people who want to come to this sport. If I’m a new team owner that’s coming in and I can see that there’s a way to have profitability but also be competitive on the race track, on day one.”
“Which frankly, we’ve seen. You look at Trackhouse Racing, 23XI Racing, they’re winning races.”
Next Gen competition
“We want to make sure this is the most competitive field in NASCAR that we’ve ever had,” Phelps added.
Ahead of Charlotte, there’s been 19 different winners already in 2022. Five of those are first time winners.
“The car has done everything it’s supposed to do from a competition point. We’ve had more green flag passes for the lead then we’ve ever had in the history of the sport, since we’ve been doing loop data. Passes throughout the field, the most we’ve had through 31 races so we’re going to break that record too.”
“It’s exciting. We had a meeting yesterday with one of our race teams, who some people would consider to be kinda, ‘the back of the grid.’ This principal said, ‘Every single time I go to a race track, I believe we can win. I’ve never felt that before this Next Gen car.’ “
“Isn’t that what we want? That the underdog can come in here and win?”