Re-designing front end for safety brings complications

Strengthening the footbox and floorboard on cars is supposed to prevent the kind of injuries suffered by Kyle Busch in his Xfinity Series crash at Daytona in 2015. Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

LONG POND, Pa. -- When NASCAR announced revisions to the foot box and floorboard areas would be optional for all races except for restrictor-plate events in 2017 until full implementation in 2018, it put teams in the familiar position of trying to determine whether to go with safety or speed.

It really is no decision. Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a crash in 2015 but he knows his team won't make the proposed changes unless they have to.

The increased thickness of the firewall with other elements of the redesign will make the cars handle so differently and it would be a competitive disadvantage to run them.

"I doubt you'll see teams implementing them into their cars too early before they're mandatory," Busch said. "It just doesn't make sense to us. Obviously we're all competitors and we're going to build cars to the capabilities that we know how to make them as fast and as light and everything as possible.

"If they would implement a rule where you make all of these changes and you're able to run your car 25 pounds light, then we would all do it right away. But adding weight to the cars and then being able to take that weight back out is going to be a challenge for some of these teams so it's going to be a bit tricky."

This change isn't as simple as changing a suspension piece or a body panel. It is a big enough change that all chassis will need to be recertified by NASCAR.

The weight in the firewall added is above the center of gravity -- above the master cylinder -- that it isn't low enough to help performance and forward bite, Team Penske competition director Travis Geisler said.

"It's a massive rebuild of the car," Geisler said. "It definitely is a big departure from how we're building them right now."

Teams usually build at least some new Daytona and Talladega cars every year, so they can start working on those changes now for next season. Geisler said it might be possible to retrofit current cars but that is debatable.

He said there is a 1-inch toeboard foam that is being developed as part of the new designs. Any driver with long legs would not be able to start using the foam before then, but smaller drivers possibly could put that foam in the current car.

"There are some drivers that can put that in today and never even notice it ... because their feet are so far back," Geisler said.

Chevrolet's Sprint Cup manager Alba Colon said changes like this take time no matter how quickly everyone would want to implement as soon as possible for safety.

"When you make a change like this, you need some time to figure out the whole thing," Colon said. "You have already put all these [current] vehicles in your computer systems and simulation. You will have to go and change everything again."

The one concern likely is the challenge of making the cars so stiff that no energy is absorbed by the car in an accident.

"Obviously there's some debate as to whether or not stiffening up the cars make them too stiff when we crash and you don't have the opportunity to absorb the crash itself through the car like IndyCars," Busch said.

"We would all say those cars absorb the crash obviously. I feel like with our advancements in the SAFER Barriers that we're trying to make sure that the walls absorb our crashes and the cars stay intact for the drivers so we don't have injuries like we saw with myself or potentially have seen with Austin Dillon's [2015 Daytona] crash."