Gate area a concern after crash

Updated: March 4, 2013, 6:20 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The Daytona crash investigation will focus on the gate area of the fencing and how improvements can be made before the next superspeedway race at Talladega, Ala., in May, NASCAR senior vice president Steve O'Donnell said Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway.

A terrifying last-lap crash one week ago in the Nationwide race at Daytona caused parts of a car to break through the frontstretch catch fence, injuring 28 spectators, including two critically.

O'Donnell said those two individuals are the only people who remain hospitalized, but added, "We are optimistic of their release, as well."

O'Donnell said Dr. Dean Sicking, designer of the SAFER barrier, along with engineers from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, have been brought in as part of the investigation.

We certainly will look at the fencing in general. But because of where it hit and the pieces going through, the gate is the particular area of our focus. Does it supply as much support as the rest of the fencing? We believe it did, but we have to look at it based on the impact.

-- NASCAR senior VP Steve O'Donnell

"We've had multiple meetings this week," O'Donnell said. "Superspeedway racing at Daytona and Talladega is the first concentration for us. We have a race coming up in May at Talladega, so anything we can learn to apply at Talladega, we will do that."

As Kyle Larson's car slammed into the fencing last Saturday, the front half sheared off and pieces shot through a portion of the fencing that has a gate where spectators and officials can walk into the grandstands from the track. O'Donnell said the gate area is the primary focus of the investigation.

"We certainly will look at the fencing in general," O'Donnell said. "But because of where it hit and the pieces going through, the gate is the particular area of our focus. Does it supply as much support as the rest of the fencing? We believe it did, but we have to look at it based on the impact."

O'Donnell said Larson's No. 32 Chevrolet is being taken to NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.

"The 32 car and the parts have been secured by NASCAR," O'Donnell said. "It's important to note that most of the safety elements in that car did their job. But our focus is going to be what happened when the car hit the fence."

One of the tires on the car landed about 20 rows up Daytona's grandstands, striking a spectator. The wheels of the cars are secured with steel tethers.

"The tethers did not break," O'Donnell said. "But the part that the car was tethered to sheared off. That's something we have to look at."

O'Donnell said the car will be reconstructed at the R&D Center.

"We plan to bring in the race team," he said. "The car was impounded, so the team has not had a chance to look at the car. We want to talk to the team about how the car was constructed and how it was fabricated. We want to see what we can learn jointly.

"The next step will be putting the car back together. We will go through each part of the car to see how everything held up."

Suggestions for improving the catch fencing include a double-fencing setup or a super-strength plastic glass, similar to what hockey arenas have, instead of fencing.

"It's really far too early to speculate," O'Donnell said. "We have to do the investigation and do it right. There are a number of suggestions out there, and we will look at all of them.

"We have to take the time to reconstruct the car, the fence and the accident. Then we can say, 'Here's what we know happened and how can we prevent that moving forward.' "

O'Donnell also said NASCAR is investigating the crash last weekend that caused Nationwide driver Michael Annett to fracture his sternum when his car hit the SAFER barrier head.

Annett had surgery this week and is expected to be out of the car for two months.

"That's an injury we have not seen for some time," O'Donnell said. "We have to take a hard look at it and make sure everything worked for Michael."

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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