Saturday, November 26 2022

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Harvick, the driver who replaced Dale Earnhardt after Earnhardt died in the 2001 Daytona 500, continued to beat the drum on driver safety and NASCAR‘s new Next Gen car.

While thankful NASCAR made rule changes this week to address the fire that engulfed his car Sunday at Darlington Raceway, Harvick reiterated what he has said this season that NASCAR is moving too slowly when it comes to addressing safety issues. 

He recommended a panel independent of teams and NASCAR to determine any safety changes.

“The safety cannot be slow,” Harvick said. “This car is screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. And whether the data says it or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that’s not right, and it hurts — feet hurt, hands hurt, head hurt.

“And there has to be a better solution. When we want to solve problems, we can solve them quick, super quick.”

NASCAR officials, who have said the Next Gen car dynamics have created crashes at higher speed with more severe angles when they hit the wall, said they wouldn’t get into a battle in the media with Harvick.

NASCAR’s safety record since Earnhardt’s death is impressive as no driver has died in a NASCAR national series race since that 2001 tragedy. It has a panel of outside experts it uses to evaluate crash data and make recommendations.

Safety engineers from NASCAR also meet with a driver safety council, including a two-hour meeting earlier this week with Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Austin Cindric, Corey LaJoie and Kurt Busch.

Busch is the driver who has suffered the most serious injury this year, missing his eighth consecutive week because of a concussion.

“I think the biggest concern right now is you have another Kurt Busch situation if we just keep letting it go,” Harvick said.

This is the first year of the Next Gen car, which represented a substantial shift to how NASCAR teams fields cars for races. Instead of the teams manufacturing the cars to certain parameters, NASCAR designed the car and has one specific vendor for each part and piece for the car.

That means teams have less influence and flexibility to change parts and pieces. NASCAR must approve all changes, and if it wants its vendor to make the changes, that can take a significant amount of time.

Harvick said Stewart-Haas Racing made suggestions to help with the fires that were ignored earlier this year. NASCAR did make changes to the cars to prevent fires earlier, fixes that did appear to stop fires that resulted from the exhaust pipes being bent. Harvick’s fire at Darlington was the result of rubber buildup inside the car.

The 46-year-old Harvick said this shouldn’t have been an issue in September.

“It’s just a really, really slow reaction,” Harvick said. “And, I think if the teams were in charge of stuff like that, and the proper input was put in place, we would have never had more than two fires if the teams were in charge for the whole field, because they would have collaborated and not been so slow to react.

“So the whole safety thing is really kind of second fiddle right now. And I just don’t think that’s fair to the drivers.”

In one of the changes issued this week to prevent fires, NASCAR is allowing teams to construct a steel panel that will keep flames out of the driver cockpit.

“Teams can still make parts,” Harvick said. “The teams can do way more than all these people that are making the parts. All the smart people live in the teams. All the problems get solved in the teams.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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