Starting at the Atlanta race on July 9, the car’s front clip will be softened to allow it to collapse better in a crash.
A 0.060 inch steel plate is being installed in the right door due to this spring’s Talladega crash involving Kyle Larson and Ryan Preece
In 2022, the sanctioning body’s Cup Series saw not only more crashes than the historic norm, but also “higher severity crashes.”
After a season in which NASCAR Cup drivers endured the most “severe crashes” since the current data system went into effect in 2011, numerous changes are being made to the current car to limit the severity of race collisions.
Starting at the Atlanta race on July 9, the car’s front clip will be softened to allow it to collapse better in a crash, while the right side will be strengthened. A 0.060 inch steel plate is being placed in the right door due to this spring’s Talladega crash involving Kyle Larson and Ryan Preece. Previously, the door plate was made of aluminum.
NASCAR Vice President of Safety Engineering Dr. John Patalak said the 2022 sanctioning body’s Cup Series saw not only more crashes than the historical norm, but also “higher severity crashes”.
“Cars hit walls at higher speeds and at greater angles than we’ve done in the past,” Patalak said. “It had nothing to do with the car itself. We had speeds and angles in 2022 that we haven’t had in the past that were very challenging for the car.
“For whatever reason, a combination of things… car setups and everything new and the feel of the car for the drivers… we had crashes that just wouldn’t have happened in 2011 in Xfinity or Cup. They were very big, heavy crashes.”
The new requirements on the right side of the car were a result of the Talladega crash. The changes to the front clip had been in development for several months. NASCAR allows teams to modify existing parts in their inventory. For those unable to modify the parts, Technique Chassis is available, the supplier that supplies the current chassis, front, center and rear body mounts. NASCAR will also be involved in helping teams absorb the costs necessary to make the changes.
NASCAR VP of Vehicle Design Brandon Thomas does not believe that allowing the teams to make the changes opens a “Pandora’s box” because “everyone has a vested interest in making this work.”
Drivers complained last year about the hard blows their bodies had to endure during the first season of the current car. Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman both suffered concussions in single-vehicle car accidents last year. Bowman returned to racing, but Busch has yet to drive a race car. Patalak cited Ross Chastain’s crash in practice at Auto Club Speedway in early 2022 and then Cody Ware in Texas later that same year as heavy blows.
“Just really, really big hits that we had to make new bars on our charts for when we go all the way back to 2011,” Patalak said. “We were surprised by that, by the severity of the crashes.”
This year, Patalak said there was a 59 mph speed differential in Larson’s Chevrolet and Preece’s Ford when Preece T-boned Larson in the passenger door at May’s Talladega race.
“That’s really hard to find on the track,” said Patalak. “What I mean by that is a difference of almost 60 miles per hour between two cars. That’s why this crash was so serious.
“It’s very rare in our racing business that you have cars with (that kind of speed differential). So when those kinds of collisions happen, it’s a big challenge for both cars.”
Patalak noted that their studies at NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, were not limited to car integrity.
“We have projects underway on head and neck supports, and helmets and head shell foam and seat inserts and seat attachment,” said Patalak. “Each driver protection system is highly bespoke. We routinely reach out to drivers when we see something that offers an opportunity for improvement. I recently contacted drivers about helmet fit, about tight chin straps. We had a HANS clip put on backwards.”
Patalak said they also conducted an in-depth investigation into Blaine Perkins’ crash at the NASCAR Xfinity race at Talladega.
“Basically, we went back to Dr. James Raddin and had him consult us on the Xfinity barrel roll,” Patalak said. “He was the lead author of the (Dale) Earnhardt study. The reason we went to him was because he had very specific experience with fighter pilots experiencing those kinds of long-term accelerations. Now the acceleration levels are low, but they are sustained for a very long time, like a second; while a crash is a tenth of a second.”
Patalak said Perkins experienced low gears during his two separate barrel rolls. He said Perkins came to the NASCAR R&D Center and they walked him through the data and his security system.
“Things that weren’t necessarily w
rong, but things that we could have done better, that the driver could have done better to reduce those accelerations on his body,” said Patalak.