Cole's Corner

Two strikes, shame on you: Next Gen impact sidelines Bowman for Talladega

By Cole Cusumano

The hits keep on coming for NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers … literally.

Hendrick Motorsports announced on September 29 that Alex Bowman won’t compete at Talladega Superspeedway following an incident four days prior at Texas Motor Speedway due to concussion-like symptoms. 

Much like a majority of the field in the Round of 12 opener, the Arizona-born driver succumbed to a right-rear tire issue, in which the backend of his No. 48 kissed the Turn 4 wall. After what Bowman called the “hardest hit” of his life, he went on to complete the race five laps off the pace. 

“We’re in a space where the rear impacts on these cars aren’t where they need to be and [NASCAR] has work that they need to do,” Bowman told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “I watched the video of myself from Texas and it looks like I barely hit anything. I can tell you it didn’t feel that way.”

If this had been the only case of concern at Texas, it would’ve still been one too many, but that wasn’t the case. Martin Truex Jr. took a hit similar to Bowman at the 1.5-mile track, then radioed the team the impact, “f**king hurt.” The biggest scare of the day came from Cody Ware, who pounded the Turn 4 wall and proceeded to barrel his way into the pit wall before having to be taken to the infield care center on a stretcher. 

Perhaps the most alarming thing about Bowman’s incident is it wasn’t the first to sideline a driver this season. Kurt Busch was forced to relinquish his playoff spot after a crash during qualifying at Pocono Raceway on July 23, where he was also left with concussion-like symptoms following an eerily similar impact.

Two months later, Busch has yet to be cleared to return to competition and history has repeated itself. Instead of the sanctioning body taking the incident as an immediate call-to-action, drivers continue to get rattled by the rear impacts taken in the Next Gen car. 

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers have taken to Twitter and haven’t been shy in their criticisms and pleas for change within the seventh-generation stock car. Yet there appears to be no sense of urgency from NASCAR. 

“I think things are going to change going forward, [but] we’re in a position where they can’t change the rear clip in the middle of the season,” Bowman said. “That’s part of it and it’s a learning process with a new race car. I think everybody would’ve liked it to be better – NASCAR included – and they’re working on making it better.”

The question now becomes, when will change come and how many drivers have to get hurt before then?

The Cup Series now heads to Talladega – one of the most treacherous tracks on the circuit, where speeds reach close to 200 mph, and a spot in the Round of 8 on the line for 11 drivers. How are teams supposed to feel comfortable pushing the limits for victory when their safety is clearly at risk?

The regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway saw an astonishing 20 cars wreck out of the race with only 10 drivers finishing on the lead lap. If the same trend follows at Talladega, it could continue to spell backlash towards NASCAR, and rightfully so.

When people’s livelihoods and personal lives are at stake, action must be taken.

“I wish things would’ve happened sooner, but at least we are currently working on it and hopefully it does get better,” Bowman said. “It’s unfortunately a tough spot for everybody and hopefully everybody gets out of Talladega safely.”

Per NASCAR, Bowman has been granted a playoff waiver, should he be able to resume racing activities in the Round of 12 finale at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval on October 9. Noah Gragson will take over driving duties for the No. 48, while Justin Allgaier has been tapped to pilot the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports at Talladega.

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