INSIGHT: Kurt Busch concussion puts NASCAR Next Gen crashes front and center

While there’s no denying Kurt Busch has had a series of hard hits this season, his fellow NASCAR Cup Series drivers are questioning the role of the car as Busch continues to be sidelined with concussion-like symptoms.

“We have all the data on it [and] he’s taken a lot of hits over 25gs,” Busch’s team co-owner, Denny Hamlin, said. “The body can only take [so] much. We had pause with this car and our bodies not matching the data that [NASCAR’s] showing us for a while, but I don’t think they really have any answers for us right now, and we don’t have any more questions other than we know what it feels like when it gets hit.”

Busch will miss his third straight race this weekend. A crash on his qualifying lap at Pocono Raceway where his No. 45 Toyota spun around and backed into the wall has yet to see Busch cleared by doctors. Ty Gibbs remains his substitute driver.

The good news is that Busch is staying active on social media, sharing about his recovery. Last weekend, Busch was in the team shop following the activities from Indianapolis. Earlier this week, he posted about being at the Charlotte FC soccer game to integrate himself into a loud environment.

In the meantime, the safety aspect of the Next Gen car remains a topic of conversation. NASCAR officials gather data from each wreck through “black boxes,” which are crash data recorders, and there are also cameras focused solely on the driver to show what they experience in an incident. NASCAR officials have also been working with drivers on mouthguard accelerometers to register an impact on a driver.

A number of drivers have noted that the impacts this year are noticeably different. Former Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick was particularly pointed with his comments at Indianapolis. Never one to mince words, Harvick questioned the sanctioning body’s safety priority with Next Gen versus the competition on the racetrack.

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“I think when you look at the things that happened with the accidents, I think these are the exact concerns that the drivers had from the very first day we saw the car,” said Harvick. “There hasn’t been a lot of progression other than we changed some of the rear clip stuff; we changed some of the impact stuff. But these cars don’t crash like the other cars crash. They’re violent impacts, and they feel a lot different than what the crash data g-load is. It goes straight through the driver’s body.”

Harvick continued by saying of NASCAR, “I saw a list of stuff from them, and it’s not the top thing on the priority. It’s always about competition. And I know that they won’t tell you that but the concerns that the drivers have just hasn’t seemed to resonate into a really, really quick response in trying to make that better.”

Harvick stressed that no one but the drivers understands the extent of how bad the hits are. He said there have been times when there was a full extension on the HANS device after a driver rear-ended another car on a restart.

“And it takes you a second to really figure out that your hood’s not caved in and the ductwork is still in it and things that have happened,” Harvick said. “I don’t think anybody really understands, except for the drivers that have crashed into something, the violence that comes in the car.”

Harvick believes NASCAR has been more reactive than proactive.

“There’s not an easy fix, but it needs to be a much higher priority than what it is right now,” he said. “I know that safety is always a priority, and we’ve done a good job at that, but from the get-go, everybody could see this car was way too stiff. When I crashed it at Fontana, I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off, and it just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer.”

Chase Briscoe doesn’t know if he wants to know the data and all the information from Busch’s accident. While Briscoe does think about what’s going on, he knows NASCAR officials aren’t going to put a worse car on the racetrack, and he understands it’ll take time to understand it better when it’s put in certain situations.

“We’ve changed quite a bit on this car already, and as we get more data points, we can take away from those and hopefully make it better every time,” said Briscoe. “But, truthfully, until we crash it hard a couple of times, it’s going take a set of data points to find out what we need to do different.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to do that, but that’s the truth of it. I don’t really care to see (the numbers). If I crash big, OK, yeah, I’d like to know how many g-forces it was or whatever. But to be honest with you, the numbers, I don’t really know what I’m looking at anyway, so it’s not like it’s going make a huge difference for me.”