Safety Topic at Talladega Driver Meeting

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Cup drivers met Friday with Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers’ Advisory Council, to discuss safety issues ahead of this weekend’s playoff race, which will be without two drivers due to concussion-like symptoms from crashes.

Alex Baumann and Kurt Busch will not race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Bush suffered a head injury in a crash at Pocono in July. Bowman’s injury follows his crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Both were injured in incidents where the rear of the car hit the SAFETY barrier first.

Two injured drivers in less than three months – and the series racing at a crash-prone track – is raising tensions in the Cup garage.

Denny Hamlin criticized NASCAR on Saturday, saying it was “poor management” for failing to address drivers’ safety concerns with the car. Hamlin also said the next-generation vehicle should be redesigned.

Burton, who is also an analyst for NBC Sports, said in an exclusive interview that Friday’s meeting was long because there were several topics to discuss. Burton did not go into detail on all the subjects.

Safety was a key element of this meeting. Burton, whose role on the Drivers Advisory Council is to coordinate the group and communicate with NASCAR, discussed the level of cooperation with NASCAR.

“We feel we have a partnership with NASCAR,” he said. “We know the commitments of NASCAR. They have made real commitments to us. We want to fulfill these commitments. I believe we will in terms of changes to the car.

“We want to see this finished as soon as possible. They’ve made commitments to us and they’re showing us what’s going on, they’re communicating with us in terms of the schedule, and we want to see it finished like they do.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make some changes before last weekend. It just takes a long time to test things.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on a new rear bracket and rear bumper. Even if the test goes well, there is not enough time for such changes this season with five races remaining.

The drivers’ frustration — expressed by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — is that NASCAR has been informed of problems with a stiffer car for more than a year. Some questions were raised after William Byron crashed in a March 2020 test at Auto Club Speedway.

“William Byron busted his butt at (Auto Club) Speedway and that should have raised a red flag right away,” Harvick said Saturday.

Hamlin said more drivers need to talk about concerns with the car.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they’re not going to be happy when their brains are messed with for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said.

Byron is looking for changes to be made.

“I want to have a long career and I don’t want to have a series of concussions that make me either step back from the car or think about long-term things,” he said.

Chase Elliott also shared his frustrations on Saturday.

“You come off a week like we had in Texas and somebody gets hurt and then you come here where chances are we’re all probably going to hit something at some point (Sunday) and probably not lightly at that,” Elliott said.

So what do drivers do?

“Don’t you just show up?” Elliot said. “Don’t you just run? I don’t think this is possible to ask. There is always inherent risk in what we do and always has been.

“My frustration is … I just hate that we’re putting ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we put ourselves here and had a choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry.

“This was simply never meant to be. We shouldn’t have put ourselves in the box we are in now. So my frustration is that we had years and time and opportunity to fix this thing before we put it on the rails, but we didn’t, and now we have to fix it.

“I just hate that we did this. I think we are smarter than that. I think there are just a lot of men and women working in this garage who know better and we shouldn’t be here.

Burton told NBC Sports that the drivers did not discuss at Friday’s meeting running single file in Sunday’s race as a form of protest.

“It wouldn’t be surprising to me to see one file (race Sunday) because of what happened in Texas and what could happen next week (at Charlotte Roval),” Burton said. “Drivers need a period of calm.

“There was no discussion or collaborative effort or anything about how you race (Sunday). This conversation did not appear at this meeting.

Harvick said Saturday that he will continue to speak out on safety issues.

“I’m going to do what I have to do to make sure these guys are in a good place,” Harvick said. “What I have to do.”

Harvick later said, “I don’t think any of us want to be in that position. We have to have the safety that we deserve to go out and put on a great show and be comfortable with that.

“Obviously we’ve all taken the risks of being race car drivers, but there’s no reason we should be in a worse position than we were last year.”

Harvick said it’s a matter of trust.

“The reality of the situation is a lot different than what they’re looking at,” Harvick said of NASCAR officials. “I think the confidence level is clearly not where it needs to be if we fix it. I think they will have to earn the level of trust by being quick enough to do the things that are needed. Driver opinion, especially when it comes to safety, should be more important than data or more important than price. Safety cannot be part of the budget.

Corey LaJoie, who sits on the Drivers Advisory Council board, said that while challenges remain with the car, he sees the effort NASCAR is making.

“Nothing happens quickly in this deal when you have 38 teams and you have seven cars per team,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “There needs to be a well-thought-out process for implementing the changes.

“It’s easy to get up in arms and get irritated when we have guys like Alex and Kurt. You never want that to happen. Every conversation I’m having is what we, as the Drivers’ Council, are trying to communicate to NASCAR, and NASCAR is making proactive changes and moving the timelines aggressively to try to implement those changes.”

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