Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sadler's Wreck Highlights Problems

NASCAR had made tremendous strides in safety since 2001, when Dale Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. Tracks have upgraded safety features such as energy-absorbing walls, while drivers find themselves in safer cars with safer custom-built seats and head-and-neck restraints that have undoubtedly averted the tragic consequences of many a horrific crash.

Say what you want about the current generation car in the Sprint Cup Series, it's incredibly safe. In fact, it might be the only reason Elliott Sadler is still with us after the hit he took Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

ESPN didn't get a really good look at the wreck, but here's video of what the network did catch:

That Sadler walked away from the wreck, even though the engine came clear out of the car, is a testament to the safety of the car and the HANS device. The crush panels in front of the car absorbed much of the energy that would've gone to Sadler otherwise, and the six-point harness and HANS device kept Sadler largely in place even as his car bounced off the guardrail and spun back onto the track.

However, the lack of safety upgrades at Pocono was made glaringly evident for the second straight race. Kasey Kahne nearly spun over the fence along the Long Pond straightaway in the June race, resulting in a call for Pocono to install catchfencing along the outside wall -- even though there are no grandstands back there.

After Sadler's wreck, there's calling for SAFER barriers to be installed along the inside of that straightaway and for the grass to be paved over. I agree that these changes need to be made, and NASCAR must make sure they happen.

The track has already promised these changes would be made in time for next season's races, but if I'm NASCAR, I take it a step further than that. If I'm Brian France, I tell track officials that if these changes are not made, the Sprint Cup Series (and the Camping World Truck Series, which made its debut at the track on Saturday) will not be back.

Simple as that. Make the necessary safety changes, or the show stops. NASCAR cannot allow its greatest asset -- its drivers -- be put needlessly in harm's way like that. Why have all these safety innovations and not use them?

Pocono has also talked of bringing the IndyCar Series back to the track. Can you imagine an IndyCar having the same impact Sadler did on Sunday? In that instance, we're not talking about a guy who walked away. We're talking about a guy being sent to the morgue.

Motorsports are dangerous; the only way to 100 percent guarantee safety is to not run these races at all. But NASCAR has done a great job of making things safer since Earnhardt's death. Tracks have also improved safety; after Jeff Gordon hit the inside wall hard at Las Vegas in 2008, the track changed the wall configuration.

Pocono needs to do the same. Add the catchfence, add the SAFER barriers. If the track cannot do this, then it doesn't deserve to host NASCAR races.

At all.

No comments: