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NASCAR Drivers Discuss Safety After Erik Jones Broke at Talledega

DOVER, Del. — Erik Jones tried not to think about anyone else driving his car Sunday as a compression fracture in his lower back sidelined him from racing at Dover Motor Speedway.

After doctors told him two days after his serious accident at Talladega Superspeedway that he would have to sit out this week, he has pretty much resigned himself to that fact. And he didn’t think it would bother him too much… until he arrived at the track Saturday morning to help the Legacy Motor Club team and replacement driver Corey Heim.

“It’s harder when you get here and you see your suits hanging in the closet,” Jones said Saturday at the racetrack. “You wake up the day of practice and know you’re not going to be able to put them on.”

Jones is the first driver this year to miss a race due to injury and the first to break his back in the Next Gen car. After the first year of the Next Gen car had drivers clamoring for change, NASCAR took significant steps to make the car absorb more energy in a crash than the driver.

Jones’ injury didn’t spark as much driver outcry as the general concern that accompanies any driver injury.

“We probably don’t have a good reason yet as to why the injury happened, but overall, I’m here to talk to you,” Jones said.

Jones hopes to get back into his No. 43 Legacy Motor Club car as soon as possible, leaving the door open for Kansas next weekend. He described his compression fracture as “mild” and further tests are planned this week. One of his best tracks, Darlington, is due the week after Kansas.

“Darlington is definitely a goal, for sure, to be back at the latest,” Jones said. “I would obviously love to come back next week to Kansas. … We’ll do more analysis, see how the back heals and make sure it heals well and the way they want it to.

“And again, how I feel every day – as long as I feel better and better, I feel like I can go in and do some simulator work, move my back and see how I feel .”

There’s not much he can do in terms of rehabilitation other than walking.

“I’ve obviously been taking supplements, trying to strengthen my bones and get them to recede as quickly as possible,” Jones said. “A lot of it is rest. … It’s going to be a wait and see.”

Erik Jones shares his thoughts on his crash, injury and missed races

Seven-time Cup champion and Legacy co-owner Jimmie Johnson promised the team would be cautious about bringing Jones back.

“We’re going to take the right steps and make sure Erik is really ready when he gets back in the car,” Johnson said. “Driving is one aspect of it, but having another impact and a significant accident is something we need to be aware of.”

As for how Jones broke his back, Jones said NASCAR officials still hold the car at its research and development center. He said his crash data was similar to Ryan Blaney’s crash last summer at Daytona.

Blaney said this accident had a G-force recording of 70G. Blaney was not injured. Jones is a few inches taller than Blaney.

“There are some things we need to look at looking at the seats, versus me and Ryan, on the difference,” Jones said. “Obviously our bodies are different too. So trying to understand that is the next step.”

Jeff Burton, a former Cup driver who leads a drivers’ rights group, will help coordinate research into comparisons between what happened in Blaney’s crash and what happened in of Jones’ accident, Blaney said.

“They’re going to dig into what’s different with my seat angle and his seat angle, maybe some belts — everyone’s a little different in how they like everything,” Blaney said. “They want to see what’s different and can we learn from it and go from there? The most important thing is can we improve the cars? They’re on top.”

After Jones’ accident at Talladega, he was released from the Inland Medical Center relatively quickly. He then returned to the treatment center where an X-ray showed a chip in a vertebra in his lower back.

“I’ve never broken a bone in my life, so I didn’t even know what it would be like,” Jones said. “I got out of the car by myself and felt better. Obviously the adrenaline is pumping and I’m always motivated.

“I got to the health center, told them what was wrong, that my back hurt. They pushed and pushed me everywhere, like they usually do, and I said everything was fine and I told them several times it was like a muscle From there I got up and moved to the care center, got up to leave and felt fine.

And then he was getting in and out of his camper.

“I returned to the campervan, my wife, Holly, saw me getting in and out and strongly suggested that I go back to the care center and ask them again – and really tell them how bad my back hurt me because I probably did. “I didn’t let on for the first time how much it bothered me,” Jones said.

Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch on Erik Jones’ injury

A back injury at Talladega is not uncommon as two drivers (Greg Van Alst and Stewart Friesen) suffered back fractures in truck accidents at the track last fall.

NASCAR has studied the causes of these injuries and will add Jones’ injury to that research for any recommendations.

But injuries are also part of sport, and car racing is certainly one of the most dangerous.

“It’s a dangerous sport, but you hate to settle for that as an answer,” said driver and race team co-owner Brad Keselowski. “If you just gave that answer, the cars would still look like they did in the 50s and 60s.

“You want to continue to evolve. But you have to have a certain discipline to respect the fact that cars will never be perfectly safe.”

For now, Jones will do his best to heal — and not sneeze.

“Allergy season has been tough,” Jones said. “I didn’t realize it hurt so much to sneeze until last week. But it got better too.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He spent decades covering motorsports, including more than 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.

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