Chase Elliott, Cup drivers talk about NASCAR’s next-generation car safety

Eric Jones (43), Ross Chastain (1), Ryan Blaney (12), Alex Bowman (48), Martin Truex (19), Kevin Harvick (4) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (47) compete in the NASCAR Southern 500 auto race Sunday, Sep 4, 2022, in Darlington, SC Jones wins the race after taking the lead from Kyle Bush when Bosch blew out an engine with 30 laps left in the race.

Eric Jones (43), Ross Chastain (1), Ryan Blaney (12), Alex Bowman (48), Martin Truex (19), Kevin Harvick (4) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (47) compete in the NASCAR Southern 500 auto race Sunday, Sep 4, 2022, in Darlington, SC Jones wins the race after taking the lead from Kyle Bush when Bosch blew out an engine with 30 laps left in the race.

AP

When asked if he thought NASCAR was doing enough to boost the safety of its drivers after a rain-shattered race in Daytona and a fireworks in Darlington, Chase Elliott put off his veteran peers.

“Men like Kevin (Harvick) and those guys who’ve seen these generational changes and watched these cars change over time, I think they’re more qualified to talk about these things and maybe even talk,” Elliott told reporters on Tuesday. “I definitely don’t think the cars should go up in flames to not do anything wrong, not have any damage, not have any engine problems or anything,” he added.

Questions surrounding NASCAR’s driver safety have been thrown into the spotlight for a second weekend in a row after Sunday’s race in Darlington, and the talk spilled over into Tuesday as drivers and NASCAR officials reflected on the error that occurred.

The start was in Daytona on August 28, when rain caused the leaders’ cars to lose control of the highway and gathered much of the stadium that had been fighting for their lives into the annex. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin spoke at Media Day last week about how drivers “feel” more wrecks than they did in previous generations of cars, with a minor injury keeping Hamlin out of the Xfinity race in Darlington.

At Sunday’s Darlington Cup race, Harvik’s No. 4 car caught fire out of nowhere in Lap 275. The 46-year-old driver and former NASCAR Cup Series champion got out of the car immediately and settled for 33rd. Next, he had selected words for the situation – Saying that the combustion was caused by “bad parts in the race car” and that we “didn’t fix anything. … It’s kind of like the safety stuff, we just let it go.”

NASCAR Vice President of Competition Scott Miller told SiriusXM Radio NASCAR Tuesday morning that the association was “looking into the cause” of how Harvick’s car caught fire.

“It’s unacceptable for cars to catch on fire, and we’re working on different solutions to different things along the way that seem to be the trigger,” Miller said in the interview. “Obviously we still have work to do. … There is a lot of work going on, a lot of collaboration within the industry to get to the bottom of the matter. And obviously we have to get to the bottom of it quickly.”

The issue of next-generation car catching fire has been a problem all year: Chris Bucher and Joey Lugano spent the greater part of their races in Indianapolis with cars in smoke. Chase Briscoe also suffered a fire in Richmond.

“We talk to everyone, and no one wants to see this happen,” Miller said. “I think everyone would be willing to try and help us as an industry to get to (understand) what exactly creates this. And in fairness, Ford wasn’t the only one who had a problem. But I think some of the other problems that we’ve seen, we’ve come up with, but we can’t continue to get this.

“It’s all on deck with the teams and the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and everyone trying to get to a place where that’s not a story.”

If Elliot wins 2.JPG
Chase Elliott is introduced to fans before the auto race for the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday, November 7, 2021, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo / Rick Scuteri) Rick Scuteri AP

Elliott also talks about issues in Darlington, and looks forward to Kansas

Elliott did not have a good weekend in Darlington, as he ended up losing control in the first stage and having to exit the race early after his car sustained irreparable damage. He told reporters on Tuesday that the early exit was ultimately the result of a spin to Chase Briscoe – who was accelerating near his rear – and damage to the Elliott’s right rear wheel suspension (broken toe linkage and lower control arm).

The NASCAR Cup Series regular season champion sits ninth on the points list, and is still in a tight race to reach the 12th round of the Cup Playoffs, which begins in Talladega on October 2.

On what he will learn from Darlington: “I think for me, I’m going to stick to my limits no matter what happened last week or two weeks ago or a month ago. I’ll go with my gut feeling for what I think is right in the car. I think that’s the best way for me personally to do my best, is to go with what I think It’s the best at that particular time, and I wouldn’t modify that at this point.”

Looking forward to the upcoming weekend at Kansas Speedway, the place where he finished 29th in May: “It felt like we had an eventful KS, had some issues, and eventually this tire problem ended our day (when a left rear tire fell off a No.9 Chevrolet while he was going sixth), so hopefully we don’t have one more weekend. And we can put together another strong weekend, trying to go in the right direction.”

Alex Zietlow writes about NASCAR, Charlotte FC, and the ways sports intersect with life in the Charlotte area for The Observer, where he has been a reporter since August 2022. Zietlow’s work has been honored by the NC and SC Press Association, also as an APSE, which gave him a Top 10 Ranks in the Beat Writing and Short Feature categories in the 2021 Writing Contest. Previously wrote for The Herald in Rock Hill from 2019 to 22.

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