NASCAR talks safety at Watkins Glen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR is talking to officials at Watkins Glen International about adding SAFER barriers and reconfiguring the angle of walls in key areas around the road course following Monday's Sprint Cup race in which there were two violent crashes.
The governing body also is discussing the situation with engineers at the University of Nebraska that designed the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers about what can be done to improve safety.
The concerns came from two wrecks. The first involved Denny Hamlin crashing head on into a tire barrier early.
After a pair of violent wrecks involving Watkins Glen's antiquated metal fences, the question practically asks itself: Why doesn't every NASCAR track have SAFER barriers? Terry Blount is tired of hearing excuses. Story
The one that brought the most concern came on the final lap in Turn 2. Boris Said got into the back of David Ragan's car, which bounced off a steel and tire barrier into David Reutimann's car, sending the No. 00 upside down into another barrier with parts flying everywhere.
"We learn something every day on the possibility of what can happen,'' NASCAR president Mike Helton said on Tuesday from the NASCAR Hall of Fame where he announced plans to move the induction ceremony to January 20. "When you see something unusual like that you have to study it and see what's the better circumstance for that not to happen again.
"There are some areas, the engineers from the University of Nebraska have told us, where the SAFER barriers could be worse. We just have to make sure we do it right.''
Several drivers called for changes after Monday's race.
"It's a shame that a race track we go to in 2011 doesn't have a better wall design all the way around the race track,'' Ragan said. "I've been to some dirt tracks that have better walls than that.
"It was a hard hit, but our cars are safe. Thanks to everyone back at home that builds us safe race cars."
Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon called for SAFER barriers at The Glen in 2009 after going head-on into a steel barrier that aggravated a back injury.
"You can't have walls like that, do you know what I mean?" Gordon said on Monday. "You're going to find those places eventually, so you gotta fix them. Unfortunately, this one has been found before and we've seen what can happen.
"In this situation, they've got a wall that spits a car, not only a big impact, but spits it right back out into oncoming traffic."
Gordon also was involved in accidents at Richmond and Las Vegas that exposed unprotected areas of the tracks, leading officials to add soft walls.
"To me, we're very fortunate that we don't have any injuries coming out of that because that could have been much worse,'' Gordon said of The Glen.
Helton said NASCAR and the University of Nebraska are taking a hard look at where SAFER barriers could be beneficial and where re-aligning the angle of the walls will prevent cars from being thrown back onto the track.
"There's some areas where a SAFER barrier isn't the best answer, particularly on a road course because of the uniqueness of going left and right,'' Helton said. "So far, at least from what we've been told, there are some areas that may not.
"That doesn't mean all the areas that need to be covered are covered, but SAFER barriers are not always the perfect answer for a situation.''
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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