Larson: Aftermath of violent Talladega wreck ‘unsettling’

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Kyle Larson has survived near-death experiences on the track in all kinds of racing series.

Even by those harrowing standards, the 2021 NASCAR champion still found the aftermath of the full-contact hit from Ryan Preece last week at Talladega “unsettling.”

It twisted and busted the support bars in Larson’s Chevrolet’s roll cage. Kyle Busch compared the wreckage to a “brick getting rammed into a stick of butter.”

Larson walked away. So did Preece. Both drivers are in good health and ready to race again Sunday at Dover Motor Speedway.

Larson, who drives for Hendrick Motorsports, was thankful the wreck wasn’t worse. The Next Gen car is entering its second NASCAR season, and the organization is still making needed changes to improve safety in an inherently dangerous sport.

“You see things that could have easily gotten me in the car, whether it be the bars that had completely broke off and could have shanked me,” Larson said Saturday. “Or what if I had a second impact? I’m not knocking NASCAR at all on that. They’ve worked really hard with this car to make it safer. I’ve been very thankful they took both my car and Preece’s car afterward to dive in deeper into it and see how they can make it safer yet.”

NASCAR’s ongoing investigation includes a re-creation of the crash through computer-aided designs and reviewing film from the in-car camera.

“It’s pretty clear that changes have to be made,” reigning NASCAR champion Joey Logano said. “I don’t know how you fix it.”

Logano and Busch were among several drivers who wondered whether accident could have potentially been fatal had Larson been hit on the driver’s side door.

NASCAR said Saturday the driver’s side construction is “multiple times stronger than the right.”

“There’s no other form of racing, in my opinion, that takes safety more seriously than them,” Larson said of NASCAR. “But that doesn’t mean the sport is safe.”

At Talladega, Ross Chastain shoved his car into the middle for a third lane and his car bounced off Noah Gragson, who hit the wall to trigger the crash. Larson was knocked into the grass and his car shot back into the middle of traffic and was smacked by Preece. Preece’s helmet visor was knocked open with the hit.

”It was probably one of the toughest hits I’ve ever taken in a race car, and I’ve hit walls with hung throttles on concrete, concrete walls with dirt behind them,” Preece said.

Racing safety was again a hot topic at Dover after the Talladega wreck and with Hendrick Motorsports’ driver Alex Bowman suffering a fractured vertebra in a sprint car crash this week. Last year, Kurt Busch was forced to retire following a July crash in qualifying due to a concussion and Alex Bowman also missed five races with a concussion after a September hit at Texas.

“I think people assume the odds are much higher getting hurt in a sprint car,” Larson said. “I would love to see the data that would prove that because I don’t view it that way. We’ve got drivers out with concussions, we got drivers breaking bones, I’ve broken bones in a Cup car.”

RAINY DAYS

A year after the Cup race at Dover was postponed to a Monday, the weather again caused another schedule change: Saturday’s qualifying session getting rained out.

Kyle Busch starts on the pole and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell joins him on the first row. Ford drivers benefited from the rain, with Ryan Blaney starting third, followed by Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher and Chase Briscoe.

Heavy rain is forecast for Sunday and NASCAR bumped green flag up an hour to 1:11 p.m. EDT

ODDS AND ENDS

Larson is a 5-1 favorite to win Sunday, per FanDuel Sportsbook. … Keselowski hit 158.660 mph on the concrete-mile track to top the morning’s lone practice. Larson and Byron followed on the chart.

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