Wednesday (April 26) it was revealed that Alex Bowman suffered a broken vertebrae in a crash while racing sprint cars at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa on Tuesday night. Bowman will be out for 3-4 weeks as he gets treatment and heals up from the open-wheel accident.
What is a bit concerning is that Bowman is the second driver in the Hendrick Motorsports stable to miss races this season with an injury suffered outside of a racecar. Kyle Larson and William Byron also make a number of races at dirt tracks and short tracks across the country during the year, which seems to be cause of concern for a team that fields four legitimate NASCAR Cup Series championship contenders.
Is it time for Hendrick Motorsports to intervene and save its drivers from themselves? This week Vito Pugliese and Wyatt Watson weigh the risks and rewards in Two-Headed Monster.
Just Say Woah
What do Chase Elliott’s broken leg and Alex Bowman’s broken vertebrae have in common?
Besides providing Josh Berry a crash course on Next Gen car control and set up, absolutely nothing. For Hendrick Motorsports to have two drivers put on the shelf for several weeks in first half of the season is less than ideal, and has to have Mister H and Jeff Gordon squirming in their respective chairs a bit.
What Elliott and Bowman do have in common is no wins yet this year, and while Bowman has three top fives thus far, the first race he’s going to miss is Dover – where he won two years ago. That is going to put a strain on an organization that already has had one of its drivers injured this year – and very well could have had another injured at Talladega last Sunday judging by the condition of Larson’s rollcage.
Speaking of Larson, might it be time for HMS to pull the reigns in on its dirt star to help preserve him for its multimillion-dollar Cup operation it has for its championship driver? I mean after all it is still self-funding the No. 5 for the third straight season.
HMS has been one of the more lenient when it comes to allowing drivers to pursue extra-circular racing activities. Jeff Gordon, Elliott and Jimmie Johnson have all raced in the 24 Hours of Daytona and Byron has made a number of super late model starts.
In 2024, Larson is also slated to attempt the Indianapolis 500 with Arrow McLaren and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, becoming the fifth driver to manage the feat. Given the number of injuries from concussions that drivers suffered last year with the Next Gen car, is it time for ownership to pump the brakes a little and put a pause on the after-hours risk taking?
I feel that it needs to be.
HMS may be a different type of racing operation in that it never wants for sponsorship or investment in personnel or equipment by its owner. Rick Hendrick has proven to be the most dedicated and involved owner over the nearly 40 years that HMS has been a fixture in NASCAR. He’s also among the most understanding of his drivers’ desire to compete in other racing series beyond NASCAR, with cross promotional sponsorships often helping to fund those efforts.
What we’ve seen in recent years, is that risk come back to bite a number of drivers. Tony Stewart most prominently, the first time being a tragic accident that resulted in the death of another driver and the second a wreck and resulting mechanical failure that led to a severely injured leg that prematurely brought about an end to his Cup Series career as a driver.
Kyle Busch in 2015 broke his right leg AND left ankle in an Xfinity Series race the day before the Daytona 500. He rebounded to win the championship, but only after missing a third of the season and being granted a waiver – which has become the norm for NASCAR.
You could make the argument that more NASCAR drivers have been injured and sidelined in their actual NASCAR vehicles rather than the dirt or short-track appearances they make throughout the year. With all of one weekend off the entire season, it puts an additional workload on a team to have to suddenly prepare a car and tailor it to a substitute driver’s needs should one of these incidents occur.
Yes, drivers have to be able to live their lives and pursue their passion and hobbies, but at the detriment of a team built around trying to win races and championships during a season that is way too long at 10 months, its taking undue risk and placing an additional burden on the team in the process.
The softening economy is only going to make sponsorship even that much harder to secure in the coming months and year ahead. If you’re asking a company to spend several millions of dollars a year to back a driver who might get hurt on a Thursday night tumbling down a fence line in a sprint car, is that going to be seen as a wise use of corporate capital?
Knowing all of those factors and stress it puts on everyone at the shop to the marketing teams at the company who need to coordinate appearances and activation packages, it might be time for even an organization as deep as Hendrick Motorsports to keep the walking wounded intact for the rest of the season. – Vito Pugliese
Let the Drivers Do What They Do Best: Race
With the recent injury of Bowman this week after a sprint car accident Tuesday night, the topic of driver safety is thrust into public debate again.
Should Hendrick Motorsports drivers be limited or restricted from participating in third party races?
My answer: absolutely not!
This hasn’t been the first time a driver has been injured as a result of extra-curricular racing, nor will it be the last. For instance, in 2013, Stewart broke his leg during a sprint car race and missed considerable time in the car. Did that stop him from racing in NASCAR or in other dirt series? Not at all. As a matter of fact, he’s still kicking it in NHRA, posting his first career win there in the Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals in Top Alcohol Dragsters.
Hendrick hasn’t placed undo restraints on his drivers in the recent past and this recent development with Bowman — who was driving an Ally-sponsored sprint car, shouldn’t change that.
Granted the injury will more than likely force Bowman to have to win his way into the playoffs. However, he is driving for HMS and he has arguably the best equipment in the garage at his disposal to use to get himself at least one win this year. That’s the advantage of this playoff format.
The decision should stay with the drivers if they want to participate in other forms of racing. Drivers such as Bowman, Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Zane Smith, Hailie Deegan, Larson and more compete in all forms of racing, be it in sprint cars, trophy trucks or the SRX Series.
Every single one of these drivers have known and continue to acknowledge the risk of going out on the track, whether its NASCAR or something else, risking their health and, frankly, their life suiting up to drive whatever they want to race.
Although I can understand why owners would hold discouragement or just outright prohibit drivers from competing in other forms of racing outside of NASCAR, as is the case for Christopher Bell and Joe Gibbs Racing, I believe that taking the right from drivers to race at their own leisure is downright inhumane.
Professional racecar drivers have been doing this their whole life. Taking away the right for them to do what they love is simply unjust.
When it comes to driver at the Cup Series level, these are professionals and are adults. They have every right to go to any track they want to during the middle of the week and race any style of racing they are comfortable racing in. They know their limits and understand the risks associated with racing. For HMS to suddenly change course would be doing a disservice to its drivers. – Wyatt Watson
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