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NSCS: Safety At The Forefront Again Following Vicious Watkins Glen Crash

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — For as long as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been racing at Watkins Glen International, safety on the road course has come up time and time again with the breakneck speeds and narrow confines of the track and Sunday’s running of the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen saw the safety conversation rear its head once more following a vicious crash on lap 56 of the 90 lap event.

The crash saw Ryan Newman spin into the tire barrier that lined the backstretch and then get vaulted back onto the track in front of oncoming traffic and then subsequently made contact with Michael McDowell’s No. 95 car, which catapulted McDowell’s car into the ARMCO barrier and catch fence on the opposite side of the track, destroying both cars and damaging the barriers and leading to a one hour and 21 minute red flag stoppage of the race.

RELATED: Horrifying Crash Involving Ryan Newman Brings Out Red Flag At Watkins Glen — VIDEO

During the red flag, a number of drivers voiced their opinions on the safety features at Watkins Glen International and their thoughts on improvements that could be made.

The first to give his thoughts was Newman, who was involved in the accident, as he said: “We lost John Melvin here in the last couple of weeks and he did a lot of innovations for our sport and it’s really sad that they haven’t adapted any of them here at this race track. The SAFER barrier doesn’t exist here, there are no concrete walls; it’s just a very antiquated race track and the safety is not at all up to NASCAR’s standards and it’s a shame that we have to have accidents like that to prove it. Hopefully something will change the next time we come back with our Caterpillar Chevrolet.”

Others, including eventual race winner A.J. Allmendinger, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kevin Harvick, all of whom had virtually the same response and that was that changes needed to be made in that section of the track.

“First off, I’m just happy and thankful that everybody is okay over there. That was a big wreck. I saw it on the big screen. To have everybody jump out of the cars just shows that safety of NASCAR and what they do to keep making us safer in these cars. It’s a tough scenario. This is the second or third time we’ve seen a big wreck. I think we need to do something to help make it a little bit safer over there. I agree with Ryan (Newman) a little bit. We’re going to fast now and a one or two-inch mistake like we saw right there can cause a big crash. I’m happy everybody is okay. NASCAR does a great job to keep us safe. I’m sure we’ll look at something there and keep trying to make us safer and safer,” said Allmendinger.

Johnson, who has had experience with hard crashes at Watkins Glen, echoed those comments, saying: “I didn’t have a good view of the impact or what started it or what went on. But there have been a lot of big wrecks in that area. The one thing that I would say is that, and I know it’s a road course and it’s hard to get a concrete structure around the race course, but Armco barriers just aren’t the best thing for these big heavy cars. I don’t know how you fix that. It’s hard to get concrete everywhere we go, but that’s an area where I would look, first of all. It seems like we look at a race course and think wow, a car would never end up there. We’ve fixed all the major areas. But there still are some areas on a lot of race tracks where the chances are very, very small that we would get a race car there, but we need to be thinking about those areas.”

Johnson’s teammate, Earnhardt, Jr., was the next to give his thoughts on the safety issues at The Glen as he said: “I’d love to have some concrete walls and SAFER barriers but it’s a lot of concrete that would have to be put up here. We’ve been running through guardrails for 50 years so, I don’t think they’ve got them perfected. They do the best they can and we’re going way faster here than we used to go and so when the car bounces back out on the race track it’s hard to avoid and you’re going to get slung into the guardrail and hit that thing harder than you would expect and I don’t know what else they can do. It would be too expensive to put walls around it and SAFER barriers and all that stuff. You trust in what they’re doing and I’m glad nobody is hurt. So far, I guess, today everything has held up.”

Last, but not least was Harvick, who also mirrored his fellow drivers’ comments as he said: “Well, it’s changed a lot through the years. They have spent a lot of money on sand traps and moving walls back and there’s been a lot of changes after we had the wreck off of Turn 1. So, obviously, as drivers, we want to see the safest barrier as possible put in. What that is in this particular instance, I don’t know. I know we’ve seen Jimmie Johnson pile-in headfirst all the way into the barriers and get out of his car and walk away and we’ve been a lot of pretty big wrecks here. We’ve seen everybody walk away. So, you always want to see them evolve and I don’t really know the exact circumstances. I know that I’d rather hit that Armco over there rather than a solid concrete wall. So, it’s just all about the circumstances that you’re in.”

The last time a violent wreck of this magnitude happened was back in 2011, when David Ragan and David Reutimann got tangled up between Turn 1 and the start of the Esses, launching Reutimann’s car through the air and into the catch fence.  Following that incident, the track made several changes to widen out the racing surface in that area while moving back guardrails and changing the angles of several walls in hopes of keeping incidents like that from happening again.

This go around, the track will have its hands full in trying to institute a change in safety features that will work with all of the layouts of the track as the area where the incident occurred is where the “Boot” section of the track rejoins the NASCAR layout.

While this writer is not an engineer and can’t point to exact changes that could be made in that area of the track to improve safety, one thing is for sure, changes do need to be made as the current setup presents the ability for vicious wrecks like the one we saw on Sunday to occur. Safety upgrades are always in the best interest of both the track and the competitors and despite of the enormous cost any changes will likely incur, driver and fan safety should always override the almighty dollar.

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About David Morgan

David Morgan serves as the Associate Editor at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@damorgan86). A native of Raymond, Mississippi, Morgan has covered NASCAR events all over the United States.

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1 Comment

  1. Greg Fecher

    August 11, 2014 at 9:14 am

    It seems that every time there is a crash on a road coarse, the same group of drivers complain about safety.
    They. All. Walked. Away. As they have before.
    I don’t see a safety problem…I see a bunch of whiny drivers that don’t like to turn right.
    I, for one, love the road course races and wish they would add more, especially one in the Chase.

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