What Happens When You Crash In NASCAR?

NASCAR is a sport of high speeds, and so naturally, crashes occur. There are specific protocols to be followed after a wreck occurs, regardless of the level of severity. Therefore, you may wonder what happens when you crash in NASCAR. 

When you crash in NASCAR you must abide by various protocols depending on the nature of the crash. Some drivers can return to the pits and get repairs, while drivers that suffer heavy damage and can’t return to their pit stalls must report to the infield care center where they may receive treatment.

Below, we will outline what happens when you crash in NASCAR in more detail. We will go over how common crashes are in the sport, how drivers can survive the worst crashes, when the last fatal crash occurred, and what happens to wrecked NASCAR cars. We will also reveal who pays for crash damage. 

How Common Are Crashes In NASCAR? 

Crashes occur in almost every NASCAR race, and it is a normal part of the sport. However, they can be more common in some years, and far less common in others. In the 2021 NASCAR Cup season, the average race had just under 4 crashes, with a total of 137 in the 36-race season.

Number Of NASCAR Crashes Per Year

YearNumber Of NASCAR CrashesCrashes Per Race

If there is one assumption you can make from the information above, it is that crashes in NASCAR, from 2003 to 2021, became progressively less common, from a high of 251 in 2005 to a low of 129 in 2012, going from 7 crashes per race to fewer than 4, with the current average around the same level.

So, what caused fewer crashes in recent seasons? There are likely several reasons for the decrease in crash frequency, like changes in driving styles, rule changes, car changes, or even driver development, as NASCAR teams are more willing to take on younger talent and give them experience in the sport. 

What Happens To The Driver When They Crash In NASCAR?

When a NASCAR driver crashes, the first thing that happens is they normally unhook their window net. This signals to safety crews that they are either uninjured or have suffered minor injuries and they can walk away from the wreck. If the netting doesn’t come down, they may be seriously injured.

If a driver totals their car to the point it cannot continue to race, they will step into an ambulance that will take them to the infield care center. In many instances, the driver is treated and released, where they often conduct interviews with reporters describing how the wreck occurred. 

Since NASCAR cars are so safe in the 21st century, it is rare that drivers will not walk away from crashes or even miss races due to injuries. However, since these drivers are operating 3,400 pound (1,500 kg) vehicles at high speeds, risk of serious injury and even death is always a possibility. 

Serious Injury Can Still Occur

In 2022, two drivers, Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman, missed extensive racing time stemming from concussion issues. In 2020, Ryan Newman missed several races from injuries sustained in a last lap crash at the Daytona 500. And in 2016, Dale Earnhardt Jr. also missed time because of concussions. 

In these cases, a neurologist must evaluate and clear them before they return to action. If a driver is seriously injured in a crash, as was the case with Ryan Newman, they will instead ride in the back of an ambulance to the nearest hospital for further treatment

When this occurs, safety crews will extract the driver through the roof of the car. One example of this occurring in NASCAR came in 2003 during practice at Richmond. Jerry Nadeau crashed driver’s side first into the wall, and satellite cameras caught rescue workers removing Nadeau via the roof, and he was airlifted from the track. 

How Do NASCAR Drivers Survive Crashes? 

Roll Cages

NASCAR has routinely gone out of its way to ensure its drivers have the best chance of surviving crashes. And the first true safety features comprised roll cages for the cars, which helped keep the driver safe from the car collapsing onto itself. In 1997, NASCAR further reinforced the roll cage with the Earnhardt bar following his rollover crash at Talladega in 1996. 

Roof Flaps

NASCAR also installed roof flaps to help keep the cars from going airborne and rolling over. And while they have since added flaps on the hood and larger flaps on the roof, you still see the occasional rollover crash. However, with the seven-point seat belt system and the reinforced roll cage, you almost always see drivers walking away from rollover crashes. 

To further prevent rollovers, NASCAR added yet another flap below the rear bumper when they built the Next Gen car. This flap helps keep air from getting trapped under the car if it were to slide backwards or spin. The fuel cell in a NASCAR car is also built with thick walls, preventing it from rupturing and causing the car to burst into flames on impact. 

Foam Bumpers

NASCAR has also adopted foam bumpers, and they have even placed foam inside the doors of the cars to help absorb impact. The driver’s cockpit is also closer to the center, giving them even more protection from suffering serious injury if they hit the wall on the driver’s side. Speaking of the wall, NASCAR no longer uses concrete, but you will instead see SAFER barriers installed at all tracks. 

Not All Safety Features Are On The Car

SAFER Barriers, which first generated whispers among NASCAR spheres in 2000 following the deaths of Kenny Irwin Jr. and Adam Petty, gained prominence upon their introduction in 2002 when NASCAR went on a mission to prevent further deaths in the sport. 

Also in 2002, NASCAR mandated HANS devices, which are head and neck restraint systems designed to prevent fatal basilar skull fractures. This injury is what contributed to the deaths of Irwin, Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Blaise Alexander. 

Many erroneously believe NASCAR mandated the HANS following Earnhardt’s crash. However, the mandate came following Alexander’s. Alexander’s death, however, occurred in ARCA instead of NASCAR. But the eerie similarities between his crash and Earnhardt’s prompted NASCAR to mandate the HANS


• Crashes are very common in NASCAR, with an average of just under 4 per race

• Most drivers are able to walk away uninjured from modern NASCAR crashes

• The cars and tracks are built with lots of safety features to keep the drivers safe

When Was The Last Fatal Crash In NASCAR?

The last fatal NASCAR crash came on February 18th, 2001, when Dale Earnhardt was killed in a last lap crash at the Daytona 500. This crash occurred in the Gen 4 car, and every passing generation of NASCAR car has seen its safety features upgraded continuously. 

Increasing Fatal Crashes Led To Safety Changes

While fatal crashes in NASCAR were not as common as many may have believed before NASCAR further revamped the cars’ safety features, the number of such crashes appeared to be increasing dramatically in the early 2000s, with Irwin, Petty, Tony Roper, and Earnhardt all suffering fatal injuries within a twelve-month period (May 2000 to February 2001). 

ARCA’s Blaise Alexander died just eight months later after his car struck the wall in a similar fashion to Earnhardt’s. Earnhardt’s oldest son, Kerry, was involved in Alexander’s fatal crash. 

The 1990s also saw their fair share of fatalities, which would also gain widespread media attention and without a doubt further contributed to NASCAR dramatically increasing its safety features for the Gen 5 car. JD McDuffie, Clifford Allison, Neil Bonnett, Rodney Orr, and John Nemechek were also among drivers who did not survive their respective crashes in the 1990s. 

What Happens To Wrecked NASCAR Cars?

Wrecked NASCAR cars are often towed from the track and back to their respective hauler following a crash. If the car is totaled, teams may still find some use for it if they believe any particular part of the car can be salvaged. Sometimes, drivers may repurpose their wrecked car for other uses. 

If there are parts of the car that are undamaged, they could even be used as scrap metal to patch up bodies of other cars. Sometimes, a team will not use any piece of a wrecked NASCAR car, and they will instead sell any undamaged piece to race teams in lower leagues, like the NASCAR Roots leagues. 

Cars With Sentimental Value

Some drivers may keep the entire wrecked car as is if the car held any special significance. One good example is Ryan Newman’s car from the 2020 Daytona 500. Another well-known wrecked car that remains preserved is Michael Waltrip’s Kool-Aid car that was involved in a horrendous crash during a race in 1990. 

For the parts that NASCAR teams cannot salvage, they will send the remnants of the car to a recycling center, where the steel will be repurposed for a completely different use. And finally, cars that were involved in significant crashes might end up at Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Racecar Graveyard in the backwoods of North Carolina. 

Who Pays For Crash Damage In NASCAR?

NASCAR teams generally pay for crash damage out of their own budgets, but insurance companies may also help pay for damages, like K&K Insurance Group and Chizmark-Larson, both of which are companies that specialize in motorsports insurance.

These policies stem from agreed-upon car values plus the number of races on the schedule. In NASCAR, you can guess those premiums are probably pretty high considering how much a car costs plus the number of races. There is also money from sponsorships, race winnings, and the team itself that will also pitch in to pay for the wrecked cars. 

Final Thoughts

There’s no set protocol for what happens when you crash in NASCAR. Drivers who can coast their cars into the pits and get repairs within the allotted time frame may return to the track. Drivers who can’t return to the pits must go to the infield care center, where they’re often treated and released.