Talladega adding SAFER barriers after Kyle Busch crash

Talladega Superspeedway before the 2012 Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Two days after Kyle Busch — one of NASCAR’s biggest stars — broke his leg and foot in a head-on crash into a concrete wall at Daytona International Speedway, the president of the facility’s sister track said more SAFER barriers will be installed before it hosts racing in May.

“We’ll look at our facility and reassess how we can make it better for the competitors as we’ve done with the catchfences and other things over the past 20 years,” Talladega Superspeedway president Grant Lynch told USA TODAY Sports on Monday.

“I think based upon what happened … There will be a big focus on Talladega,” Lynch said.

After Busch crashed into a wall not protected by a SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier late in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at DIS, track president Joie Chitwood III and NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell made the unusual admission that both parties had failed in their responsibility to protect drivers. Chitwood said the track — which has been touting its $400 million “Daytona Rising” amenities facelift — would invest in adding the so-called “soft walls”, which help absorb energy from a crash, to areas that aren’t covered before NASCAR returns in July. A tire barrier was erected at the site of the crash for the Daytona 500.

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At 2.66 miles, Talladega — located about 55 miles east of Birmingham, Ala. — Is the biggest oval track in NASCAR and one of the fastest speedways in the world. Violent, multi-car crashes are practically staples of racing at the facility, which hosts two NASCAR weekends each year. Its 2015 dates are May 1-3 and Oct. 23-25.

“I think we’ve put more (SAFER barriers) up than anybody, but that stands to reason because we’re the biggest track with the most inside and outside walls,” Lynch said. “We’re certainly near the top percentage-wise for our company (International Speedway Corp., Which owns 12 venues).

“Based on what we saw and what Joie talked about, we’re going to be reassessing again the walls at Talladega with the mindset of where can we put it that can keep those things from happening in the future. I’m sure you’ll see us mirror what they decide to do at Daytona. We’ve always done that.”.

Lynch said he didn’t know what percentage of Talladega’s walls is barrier-protected now.

“As we’ve seen unusual wrecks happen, we’ve added more as we go,” he said. “This is another opportunity to say, ‘Let’s ratchet it up again and take a good, hard look at the safety factors and see where we need it.’ “.

NASCAR chairman Brian France said Monday that appropriate changes will be made at Daytona.

“I’m really disappointed that we didn’t get that right and obviously disappointed for Kyle,” France said on Sirius XM NASCAR radio. “But we will. That’s a cornerstone of what we do. [If] we don’t get safety right then nothing else really matters.”.

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Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger told the Louisville Courier-Journal Monday that Busch’s accident will result in more SAFER walls at his track.

“It ratcheted up the urgency,” Simendinger said. “Sometimes you have to see what can possibly happen before you realize that you’ve got a problem that needs to be corrected. Obviously, it’s an expensive thing to do. It takes time. But it’s something we’re committed to.”.

Slow to make changes.

Following the death of its most popular driver, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., On the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR began implementing several changes to help improve the safety of the sport.

The installation of SAFER barriers was one such change. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the first venue to use them, installing them in 2002. NASCAR president Mike Helton announced in December 2003 that all sanctioned tracks would use the new technology. But the cost of materials and installation — estimates range from $500 and up per foot depending on materials used — has caused some tracks to delay covering some walls. NASCAR relies on safety and engineering studies to help tracks decide which walls should be protected.

Numerous NASCAR drivers vented about the lack of SAFETY barriers in some areas at Daytona after Busch’s brutal crash Saturday, lighting up social media and asking why the sport and the track continued to put them at risk.

Defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick was particularly critical, saying that tracks are too often reactive rather than proactive. Harvick was involved in a hard crash with an unprotected wall in the 2014 Daytona 500, and vociferously complained. On Sunday, he expressed anger that it had taken another injury to prompt action.

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“I think it’s a reaction from the track, unfortunately,” Harvick said. “I hit the same wall a little further up last year at this particular race and kind of voiced my opinion. Unfortunately, I was just a dot on the chart. … We know what fixes these walls.”.

Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin suffered a broken back in a high-speed crash at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., In 2013 when his car hit an unprotected interior wall at the 2-mile superspeedway. He missed five races. The track added 1,000 feet of SAFER barrier on the inside wall of Turn 4 last year.

Mark Martin crashed into a pit-wall opening at Michigan International Speedway in 2012, underlining the fact that wrecks sometimes happen in locations officials don’t anticipate. He was not injured. MIS covered the wall.

Jeff Gordon had a hard crash into a backstretch wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2008, leading to barrier additions there.

In the wake of Busch’s incident, other NASCAR tracks are likely to reassess their barrier coverage.

The question now is, will they do it sooner rather than later?

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