When reviewing the first season of the Next Gen car, it will be noted that two NASCAR Cup Series drivers were sidelined from competing because of injuries. That’s two drivers, not three: Cody Ware, injured on Sept. 25 at Texas Motor Speedway, doesn’t include himself in the same conversation as Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman, who suffered concussions.
“It was definitely a very tough period there,” Ware tells RACER. “Obviously, Kurt was still out, and Bowman also sat out after Texas, and I became some of the focal point of a lot of the conversation happening, but it was separate incidents.
“What everyone else is dealing with is the rigidity of the rear end of these cars and how that’s affecting concussions and head impacts. My wreck would have been egregious whether it was a Gen 6 car or Gen 5 car or a sports car. You hit a wall head-on like that, you’re going to have problems.”
A loose race car finally snapped on Ware on lap 168 at Texas, sending him into the Turn 4 wall. The impact crushed the front of his Ford Mustang, which resulted in a stuck throttle. Ware was then along for the ride as his car came back down the track and hit the wall on pit road.
Ware was diagnosed with an impaction fracture to his ankle, two torn ligaments and two hyperextended ligaments. He showed up the following week at Talladega Superspeedway in a walking boot and on crutches but was cleared to race, which he did without issue.
In the garage at Talladega,and Fox Sports that the safety equipment did its job, and he felt the crash could have been worse. Ware did not suffer a concussion or any other injuries.
NASCAR has since revealed to RACER that Ware’s impact is the largest frontal impact recorded since the sanctioning started a crash database in 2011. Ware was going 160 mph when he hit the wall.
The reason Ware feels his incident is different from Busch and Bowman’s is that his crash would be categorized as a ‘catastrophic incident.’ It’s the type of crash the NASCAR industry had in mind when building the Next Gen car. However, the smaller impacts, or the rear-end impacts in the case of Busch and Bowman, have been a serious issue for drivers.
“I think the car was designed — especially after Ryan Newman’s hit back in 2020 — (NASCAR is) trying to have drivers survive these impacts and walk away and still race,” says Ware. “I think for me that was proven at Talladega the next weekend.”
NASCAR COO Steve O’Donnell said Friday at Phoenix Raceway during the state of the sport address that the No. 1 priority has been protecting drivers from catastrophic incidents. From there, the sport has learned that other areas (more minor hits) need to be addressed.
Ware was down to one crutch the week of the Charlotte Roval, which he did not compete in and where some began to talk of three NASCAR drivers missing races because of the new car. Ware didn’t race because he understood the physicality of the Roval and knew his ankle wasn’t up to the task. It was Ware’s decision not to run, even though he was cleared to do so.
By the Las Vegas race weekend, Ware was walking without aid. Then by Martinsville, about a month after his crash, Ware felt he was finally walking regularly. As far as all regular activity, Ware is about 95% as the season ends and still doing physical therapy.
Ware’s injuries came from the first impact, the head-on impact into the outside wall that crushed the nose of his car. Immediately, Ware knew his right foot was “messed up pretty bad,” but everything else happened so quickly before Ware could process if anything else was wrong.
“As far as why I think my foot got injured, we still don’t have a definitive answer,” says Ware. “What we think happened is the floor-mounted pedals, my feet didn’t have anywhere to go in that high-G impact. So, my right foot either got wedged between the brake and the gas pedal, or it got wedged between the gas pedal and the leg brace that runs alongside you in the car.
“We’re not sure, but it’s not really the Next Gen car’s fault. It’s just a matter of different pedals and different cockpits and not necessarily a failure or a fault of the Next Gen. It was just something that, by the design of the car compared to what we ran with the old car that might not have happened.”
Ware is adamant that his Texas crash shouldn’t be lumped in with the concussion-causing wrecks that piled scrutiny on the Next Gen cars. John Harrelson / Motorsport Images
Although he was already in pain from the foot injury, Ware says the overall physical feeling of the impact from the pit wall was actually worse.
“It’s not a SAFER barrier, it’s just a concrete wall,” Ware says. “Other than my foot, I actually felt OK. I was out of breath, but of course, you’re going to be out of breath if you take a 50-plus G impact on the wall. So, other than being out of breath, nothing else with my body was indicating to me that I was hurt or out of it from the first hit.
“But the second hit was definitely more physically painful from the lack of a SAFER barrier and having the throttle hung. I didn’t have any way to get the car slowed down leading up to the second impact. It was definitely not fun being a passenger in your own vehicle.”
In the days after his wreck, Ware reviewed all the information from the crash with his team and NASCAR and looked at his safety equipment. In addition to feeling like everything did its job and he was protected the best he could be, Ware concluded that even in the old car, he probably wasn’t going to walk away scot-free and might have just traded one injury for another
“Obviously, it sucks to have the impaction fracture and some torn ligaments from the wreck, but I think I the old car, I probably would have been sitting out from concussion protocol and things like that,” Ware says. “I think the wreck could have been a lot worse than it was. For how bad it was, from the data I’ve looked at with NASCAR, it’s one of, if not the hardest, G force and delta (numbers) we’ve ever since in the past decade or so.
“To walk away from that and be in the car seven days later, I think, is a testament to the durability of these cars … The car was designed for a heavy hit, and I took one of those heavy hits. Obviously, I was on crutches and struggling at Talladega, but I was still able to participate in the race days after a major wreck like that. In the Gen6 car, we might not have seen that happen.”
Just because the car did its job in his wreck, Ware doesn’t deny there are weak areas of the car and agrees with the complaints of his fellow drivers. But Ware also said the communication between NASCAR and the garage has improved in the last few weeks and things are being done.
What Ware would like to stress from his crash is where NASCAR is at safety-wise with catastrophic hits. His foot might have been damaged, but Ware said he didn’t have bruising or a concussion and passed all the protocols to keep racing.
“I’ve taken worse hits in less safe cars and kind of been dazed and confused and out of it for some time,” he says. “Again, just talking about my experience, overall, I’m fairly happy. To be able to finish out the season and prepare for next year meant the world to me. It was very tough sitting out the road course but to finish out the season with my sponsors and my team, it’s been a blessing after all that.”