The playoffs are in full swing, and this is the business end of the NASCAR season, causing a lot of tension for the main characters of this sport. But last weekend, when Chase Elliott won at Talladega Superspeedway, drivers’ anxiety, which had been bubbling under the surface for much of the season, came to a head as they questioned the safety of the Next Gen car.

Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman are missing due to concussions sustained in the Next Gen car. Cody Ware confirmed on Tuesday that he will miss Charlotte Roval due to a broken leg he suffered at Next Gen. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have been vocal in their criticism of NASCAR’s approach to safety this season. On Saturday, Elliot said he feels safety is “reversing” on the show.

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With so many opinions on what is the biggest topic in any motorsport, Sportzshala turned to Ryan McGee and Marty Smith for their views on driver safety in NASCAR.

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Smith: It’s really obvious when you hear hall-of-fame champion-level riders expressing concern about who they are. Hamlin was very vocal in Talladega that the race car wasn’t as safe as it should be and that the drivers were talking about it to NASCAR over and over again. According to Hamlin, NASCAR wanted the Next Gen car on the race track at all costs, and then he repeated: at any price. I have spoken to the drivers, this is something they are very concerned about and they are calling for change. I expect NASCAR to listen to them and they better listen to them.

McGee: And I think the difference now and not so long ago, and certainly not when you and I first started covering sports, is that they will listen. You and I have lived through several generations of racing cars, and there have been complaints before, and many times the answer has been, “Well, that’s what you have. Get your people to work.” Now I really think the difference is that NASCAR President Steve Phelps is constantly talking to the drivers. He must have gotten into an unfortunate situation with multiple drivers, but it looks like they are trying to make changes as soon as possible. It is your opinion?

Smith: They need and I think they’re going to make a change. These cars are very tough. There isn’t much kickback when you fall, and they don’t crush like the previous race car. So was the previous racing car, because it had more push, it had more concessions. It wasn’t that tough. This energy was dissipated from the driver differently than it is now. Now more power is transferred to the driver because the car is much stiffer.

McGee: I go back to when I covered the Indy Racing League in the late 90s and it was like this: it was a special car, there wasn’t a lot of creative engineering in the race shop; it was, “This is your car.” They were breaking guys’ backs because everything was focused on forward punches. They didn’t think clearly about cars crashing into walls. Everyone was fine if they fell straight ahead or even if they fell from side to side, but as soon as they pulled back even with the slightest blow, their vertebrae broke. Here’s what it looks like. There was so much focus in one direction that it may have been lacking in the other direction.

Smith: Drivers will tell you, they begged NASCAR, “We need to change this.” And, according to these racers, NASCAR tried their best to get this thing on the race track, and they did it, and it happened with a lot of fanfare. You and I have been very, very praising the races and the shows, but when the show ends with guys who may not have come out of crashes like they did in past race cars, then it’s time for a change. Period.

McGee: Everyone I’ve talked to is working really hard on it right now. It’s just a matter of taking him to the race track on Sunday.

Smith: When a guy like Hamlin says out loud, “We need a complete redesign,” I don’t think he’s saying it lightly. I think what he means is that the frustration and anxiety has gotten to the point that NASCAR needs to listen to these engineers from these racing teams and I think we’re at that point. When the drivers start talking loudly and Good Morning America talks about NASCAR safety, I think the sanctioning body will listen.

McGee: And I think they are listening. The only question is how quickly they can fix it. If they could take this car with the races we’ve seen this season and fix those issues, then that would be a success.

Smith: Home run. This year’s competition has been exciting. We had a record number of winners and it was a season full of new energy and it was great to see. But that’s something the competition is very worried about, and that’s why I think NASCAR understands that it’s time to make some changes.

McGee: The only thing that can take away from what we both agree on is one of the greatest and most competitive seasons in the history of the sport is this story right here. And so you have to fix it. You must.