Well, that escalated quickly.
No stranger to vocalizing his issues with NASCAR's new Next Gen cars and their continued safety problems, Kevin Harvick again put forth his concerns this past weekend at Kansas City where he was sidelined early. Speaking to reporters Saturday, the wheelman who replaced Dale Earnhardt after his fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500 railed against NASCAR for their approach to driver safety concerns.
"The safety cannot be slow," Harvick stated. "This car is screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. And whether the data says it or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that's not right, and it hurts — feet hurt, hands hurt, head hurt.”
If anyone can attest to the danger threatening drivers of the Next Gen car, it’s Harvick, who less than two weeks ago saw a blazing inferno engulf the hood of his Ford Mustang before the flames spread into his cockpit.
"And there has to be a better solution,” Harvick said. “When we want to solve problems, we can solve them quick, super quick."
Harvick’s referencing the major change to the sport this season that saw the introduction of the Next Gen car. Instead of teams like Harvick’s at Stewart-Haas Racing building their own cars around league-issued parameters, NASCAR designed the car which has one specific vendor for each part and piece of the car. For teams, that means less control over the cars they operate.
Photo: Getty Images
When pressed, Harvick revealed that Stewart-Haas Racing provided ideas on how to mitigate cockpit fires like the one Harvick suffered at Darlington, but he said NASCAR brass largely ignored those suggestions.
"It's just a really, really slow reaction," Harvick said. "And I think if the teams were in charge of stuff like that, and the proper input was put in place, we would have never had more than two fires if the teams were in charge for the whole field because they would have collaborated and not been so slow to react.”
Drivers have also complained that crashes this season have been more severe, and drivers are feeling the brunt of it. Though there have been no fatalities in NASCAR national series races since Earnhardt’s tragic accident in 2001, NASCAR's own analysis agrees that crashes have been worse, according to the Associated Press.
“We’ve heard similar things about their experiences in the car that it crashes harder or the crashes are worst,” said Dr. John Patalak, NASCAR's managing director of safety engineering.
“The really short answer is yes, the drivers are experiencing more severe crashes than in the past,” he said “But there’s more to it than that,” citing the fact that drivers have been colliding into walls at steeper angles, exacerbating the severity of the crashes.
In an attempt to accommodate the drivers’ pleas for help and ameliorate further danger in the future, NASCAR decided this week to allow teams to fabricate a steel panel barrier, designed to prevent flames from invading a driver’s cockpit.
Still, Harvick wants to see more.
"So, the whole safety thing is really kind of second fiddle right now, and I just don't think that's fair to the drivers," the 46-year-old said.
"Teams can still make parts," he added. "The teams can do way more than all these people that are making the parts. All the smart people live in the teams. All the problems get solved in the teams."
After crippling his car’s front and rear suspension in a crash at Kansas, Harvick was forced to call it quits just 32 laps into the race, earning the co-leader for most wins all-time at Kansas just one, lousy point. The veteran Harvick’s now in nearly a must-win situation at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday, Sept. 17.
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