By Cole Cusumano, contributor
CONCORD, N.C. – The successes continue to come for drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs…literally.
This sentiment comes after Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Alex Bowman will not compete has Talladega High Speed Highway (Alabama) This weekend. An incident four days earlier at Texas Motor Speedway left the 29-year-old suffering concussion-like symptoms.
Like much of the field in the opening round of 16, the Arizona-born driver suffered a right rear tire problem, in which the rear of his No. 48 kissed the turn four wall . After what Bowman called the “hardest hit” of his life, he finished the race five laps down.
“We’re in a space where the rear impacts on these cars are not where they should be and (NASCAR) has some work to do,” Bowman told Kickin’ the Tires. “I watched the video of myself from Texas and it looks like I barely touched anything. I can tell you that’s not how I felt.
If Bowman’s had been the only incident of concern in Texas, it would have been one incident too many, but that was not the case. Martin Truex Jr. suffered a similar hit to Bowman on the 1.5-mile track, then radioed to the team that the impact was “fucking bad.”
The biggest scare of the day came from Cody Ware, who slammed into the turn four wall and then careened into the pit wall. Ware had to be taken to the field care center on a stretcher, but was cleared to run earlier this week.
Perhaps the most alarming thing about Bowman’s incident is that it’s not the first to sideline a driver this season.
Kurt Busch was forced to forfeit his playoff spot after a crash during qualifying at Pocono Raceway on July 23, where he also experienced concussion-like symptoms following an impact eerily similar to the one suffered by Bowman.
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 continued to be shaken by the rear impacts suffered by the Next Gen car.
Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers have not been shy on social media in their criticism and calls for a change to the seventh generation stock car. However, there appears to be little sense of urgency from NASCAR.
Quite disappointing that our sanctioning body refuses to acknowledge or accept any responsibility for injured drivers. It’s the same thing they said. WE knew better. It is false that these drivers continue to be exploited by the system.
– Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 30, 2022
“I think things are going to change going forward, (but) we’re in a position where they can’t change the back 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 everyone would have liked it to be better – including NASCAR – and they are working to make it better.
The question now is when the change will come and how many drivers could be injured before it happens?
The NASCAR Cup Series now heads to Talladega – one of the circuit’s most dangerous tracks, where speeds reach nearly 200 mph – with a spot in the round of 16 of the playoffs for 11 drivers.
How are teams supposed to feel comfortable pushing the limits of victory when driver safety is the main topic of conversation?
The regular season finale at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway saw an astonishing 20 cars retire from the race, with only 10 drivers finishing on the lead lap. If the same trend continues at Talladega, it could continue to create backlash toward NASCAR due to these safety concerns.
Bowman stressed that when people’s livelihoods and personal lives are at stake, action must be taken.
“I wish things would have happened sooner, but at least we are working on it now and I hope it gets better,” Bowman said. “This is unfortunately a difficult time for everyone and I hope everyone gets out of Talladega safe and sound.”
According to NASCAR, Bowman has been granted a playoff bye if he is able to return to racing in the Round of 16 finale at North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 9, during the Bank of America ROVAL 400. C t’s a race in which Bowman has never finished worse than 10th.
Noah Gragson will assume driving duties from Bowman in the No. 48 Chevrolet this weekend, while Justin Allgaier has been tapped to pilot the No. 62 Chevrolet for Beard Motorsports at Talladega.
Both drivers are competing for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship this year, and while Gragson has expressed some reservations about fulfilling his remaining Cup Series obligations (although he will, he confirmed recently), Allgaier explained ahead of Sunday’s YellaWood 500 that he feels confident from a safety standpoint regarding the additional driving duties he will have this weekend.
“I won’t lie, the thought crossed my mind (of not competing in the Cup race),” Allgaier told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Friday. “But, on the other hand, there are still things I want to achieve in my career on the Cup side. For me, I’ve always been faith-based…and I know that tomorrow is never guaranteed. It doesn’t matter if I’m driving race cars, driving my touring car, or walking down the street. I’ve thought about it a lot and had a lot of conversations with my wife (Ashley)…but I have a lot of confidence in the equipment I’m riding, the way it’s been bolted together and the parts that have been used.
“I’m in the fortunate position where (Beard Motorsports) actually runs a lot of the same interior parts as we do at JR Motorsports, thanks to Noah Gragson (who drives for them). Based on that, I’m very comfortable with the seat location; I fly my own seat, so I have a lot of things specific to me that I come racing with,” he added. “Without that, I wouldn’t have taken on this role. “
This is a case where safety continues to be at the forefront of discussions, even amid the drama of a playoff battle at NASCAR’s highest level.