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Every Major Next-Gen Car Injury (So Far)

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

Erik Jones missed Dover last weekend thanks to a back injury, and his status for Kansas this weekend is still up in the air. He’s not the only driver to suffer from an injury in the Next-Gen era, and injuries have become increasingly more common in this era. This is every driver to suffer from an injury in the Next-Gen era.

  • Driver injuries in the Next-Gen era have made major impacts on NASCAR. From ending a driver’s career to potentially costing another a shot at a Championship. This era has seen some major issues, even if things have gotten better in recent years.
  • NASCAR has made some major safety improvements to mitigate the risk of injury with the Next-Gen car. Primarily, NASCAR has focused on allowing the cars to have a larger crush zone, allowing the car to absorb more energy on impact.
  • Fans are happy to see NASCAR’s recent changes, but they’re also hoping to see more improvement. Will that improvement actually come?

2022: Kurt Busch’s Career Ending Concussion

Early in 2022, drivers were speaking out about the Next-Gen car’s safety, with many complaining the hits were harder than they were with the Gen-6. While no major injuries happened during the first half of the season, the narrative shifted that summer at Pocono. Kurt Busch backed his car into the wall during qualifying, in what seemed like a pretty typical crash.

No one expected anything else to come out of the story as Busch walked off under his own power. Well, he was sidelined that weekend after exhibiting concussion-like symptoms, and he hasn’t set foot in a race car since. Busch later announced his retirement in 2023.

2022: Alex Bowman’s Season Altering Concussion

Later that fall, an eerily similar crash produced the same injury. Alex Bowman backed his car into the wall at Texas, and he ended up missing the next 5 races due to a concussion. This was a blow to Bowman’s Championship hopes, as he was in the Round of 12 before the injury.

If once was a fluke, then twice was a pattern. It was clear that impacts with the rear of the car were impacting drivers and causing injuries. Unfortunately, this was not the last injury from this race.

2022: Cody Ware’s Ankle

Cody Ware crashed hard into both the outside wall and the pit wall later on in that race at Texas. This time, Ware injured his ankle, which caused him to miss the race at the Charlotte Roval two weeks later. NASCAR went to work that off-season.

NASCAR changed the rear clip, removing a few bars to allow the car to absorb the impact better. Previously, the rear of the car was so stiff that more of the energy from the hit went throughout the car rather than being dispersed through the car. Unfortunately, this was not the last injury.

2023: Noah Gragson’s Concussion

The story of the 2023 race at Gateway was failed brake rotors, and Noah Gragson got the worst end of it. A failed brake rotor sent Gragson out of control where he slapped the wall with his left-rear quarter panel and left-side door. While he got out under his own power, concussion-like symptoms caused Gragson to miss the next race at Sonoma Raceway. Even then, Gragson told the media after his crash that he felt the accident would have been worse in 2022.

This injury, plus a horrifying crash between Kyle Larson and Ryan Preece at Talladega earlier that year caused NASCAR to make more changes. NASCAR further softened the front clip to allow it to crush more on impact and stiffened the driver door to prevent cars from bursting through it like Preece’s at Talladega.

2024: Erik Jones Broken Back

Erik Jones’ injury at Talladega marks the third season in a row a full-time driver has missed time due to an injury from an accident. Jones was turned head-on into the outside wall, and he immediately complained about his back to the crew on the radio. He was checked and released at the care center, only to go back and be admitted to a local hospital later that night.

This is the first time in the Next-Gen era that we’ve seen a back injury caused by a crash. Two major back injuries happened in the Gen-6 era with Aric Almirola in 2017 at Kansas and Denny Hamlin at Auto Club in 2013. Both drivers missed significant time due to the injuries.

The Next-Gen era has seen 4 drivers miss races due to injuries. While improvements have been made in recent years, there’s still work to be done.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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