Elliott: "There's no excuse for going backwards" on safety

As concerns about the safety of the Next Gen car grow, Chase Elliott took some time to speak on the issue during Saturday's media availability at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

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Elliott's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman was sidelined this week after suffering concussion-like symptoms following a crash at Texas Motor Speedway. He is the second Cup driver to be forced out of the car this year due to a concussion, with the other being Kurt Busch.

Both Bowman and Busch hit the wall rear-first in fairly tame accidents, but several drivers have stated that those impacts hurt far more this year. 

This weekend, the playoffs head to the high-speed Talladega Superspeedway where the wrecks are big and happen often. Despite this, not racing is not an option, according to Elliott.

'We did this to ourselves'

"You come off a week like we had at Texas and somebody getting injured and you’re coming into here, where odds are we’re probably all going to hit something at some point tomorrow and probably not lightly," said Elliott. "Do you just not show up? Do you just not run? I don’t think that’s feasible to ask.

"There’s always an inherent risk in what we do and it’s always been that way. My frustration, as I’ve referenced here in the past few minutes, is I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we’ve put ourselves here and we had the choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry and that just should have never been the case. We should not have put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. So my disappointment lies in that, that we had years in time and opportunity to make this thing right before we put it on track and we didn’t. And now, we’re having to fix it and I just hate that we did that. Like I said, I think we’re smarter than that and I think there’s just a lot of men and women that work in this garage that know better and we shouldn’t have been here."

NASCAR has worked tirelessly to become a leader in safety, and a driver hasn't lost their life in the top level of the sport since Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the 2001 Daytona 500. For all the criticisms of the Car of Tomorrow (which debuted in 2007), it was continuously praised for its safety advancements. Drivers walked away from horrific accidents completely unscathed. Then there's Ryan Newman, who was injured but survived a massive crash in the Gen 6 car, where he took a direct hit to the roof his car.

Now, there seems to be a driver almost every week calling an incident the hardest of their career. Two drivers are sidelined, and Elliott believes "we should have (never) ever been in this position to begin with."

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Growing more concerned

Elliott continued: "We should have gone forward with a new opportunity at a new car, in my opinion. You have all of these years of experience, knowledge, time of racing, crashing these cars and teams working on them and building them. It just blows me away that we can have something new in 2022 that offers all of this technology and all of this time and experience of so many super talented people in this sport and we allow it to go backwards, especially with safety. It’s just super surprising to me that we allow that to happen. But we did and now it’s just about how do we go forward from here; making sure we’re making the right choices to improve what we have and keep things like what happened to Alex (Bowman) this week from happening. And what happened to Kurt (Busch).. those types of incidents didn’t result in injuries in the past handful of years from just me watching. Obviously, I’m not doctor, but I’ve watched a lot of cars back into the wall and those guys be fine.

 

"I just hate to see that. No one is immune to it. It could be me next week, or it could be any of my peers or fellow competitors. Nobody wants to see that no matter how much you like or dislike a guy, in my opinion. I just hate to see us go backwards and I’m afraid that we have in some of those areas. But look, it’s just about how do we come together and how do we go forward from here. I think there are a lot of really smart individuals to try and help make that happen, and I’m confident that we will. But it’s crucial that we do, in my opinion, because having guys out during the playoffs right now – or any time for that matter – shouldn’t be happening and I think it’s taking away from our product on Sunday. That should be the focus; who wins, who loses, how the race was, how a guy did driving his car and how his team executed a good or a bad race.”

Veterans speaking out

NASCAR has scheduled a crash test next week at a facility in Ohio, and discussions are ongoing regarding how to lessen the impact from crashes in the new car. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have been two of the most outspoken.

After the Bowman news, Harvick tweeted: "Completely unacceptable that those in charge have let things get to this point. I remember it like it was yesterday -- Denny Hamlin in the presentation of the new car to the drivers pleading that the car was to stiff. Data didn’t agree. TIME TO LISTEN TO THE DRIVERS CRASHING THEM!"

Hamlin posted on Twitter as well, saying: "Pretty disappointing that our sanctioning body refuses to acknowledge or accept any responsibility for drivers getting hurt. It’s the same THEY said. WE knew better. It’s wrong (how) these drivers continue to get taken advantage of by the system."

 

Elliott was asked if he feels powerless in this process, to which he replied: “There’s probably more of a process and more of a group now to potentially voice some of those opinions and try to get them across ... probably more than there’s ever been. You can say and voice those thoughts and that’s really kind of the end of it. It’s not our sand box, so at the end of the day, we might have an opinion or might try to voice it and do it through the correct channels, but ultimately the final decision is not up to us. So from me personally, that’s kind of where you lead it and you can just hope for the best. Like I said, it’s not our sand box and there’s not really a whole lot we can do about it.”

Multiple times on Saturday, Elliott expressed frustration with how this new car, which was originally supposed to debut in 2021, was delayed a year and yet these issues remain. This year, the Cup Series has also seen problems with numerous tire failures and fires igniting inside the car. Has the sport really taken a step backwards? 

"There’s no excuse for going backwards," said Elliott. "We have too many smart people, too much technology, too many years of crashing and racing at all of these same race tracks to have some of these things going on, in my opinion. Test next week or no test next week; we should not be in the position that we’re in. When you come out with a new product, you should take steps forward; not stay the same or go backwards, especially in the safety category, in my opinion.

"And look, don’t take me the wrong way. we’re very fortunate and I’m very grateful to do what I do. This is my job and that’s crazy, right. I’m not ungrateful for what I have and the opportunities that have been presented to me. But you just hate to see something take steps the wrong way.”

Being at the forefront of safety

Elliott was also quick to praise NASCAR for its improvements over the years, which is part of the reason why the current situation perplexes him. "There’s been a ton of gains in how the cars are built," he said. "I feel like, in the past, we always as an industry and even from the outside looking in before I was a part of it; if they weren’t on the forefront of something happening, they took those experiences that they had and they made it a lot better in a short period of time and that has been going on for years.

"Granted, there’s been some bad accidents and we’ve lost drivers over the years and nobody ever wanted to see that; but the safety aspect has improved and gotten better and better. I feel like NASCAR has been super on top of that in years past and that’s why I’m just so disappointed and shocked that we went backwards in what we did, especially in this day in age and all the things we have access to and whatnot.

 

"That’s my point and I’m not going to say much more than that, other than I’m just disappointed that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in. We’re better than that. We shouldn’t be here. We had plenty of time to build this car the right way; to crash test it the right way, come out of the box and hit the ground running to put on a great show for the people that are watching. Let that be the story and put the best foot forward to keep drivers from getting injured. There’s always going to be risk and that’s part of it. We all accept that and we’re all very grateful to do what we do. I certainly am very lucky, whether we’re in the position that we’re in or not.

"So don’t take me the wrong way, but I just hate that we got ourselves in the box that we’re in because we shouldn’t be here.”

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