Monday, July 06, 2015

Austin Dillon's horrifying crash causes safety review

Dale Earnhardt Jr's victory at the Coke Zero 400 was overshadowed by Austin Dillon's horrifying crash into the catchfence at Daytona International Speedway. Dillon was able to walk away from the accident with only a bruised tailbone and forearm.

Daytona International Speedway track president Joie Chitwood III said 13 fans were seen by medical personnel following the last-lap crash at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, with one being transported to a local hospital and later released.

"We assessed 13 individuals in the grandstands. Eight declined any medical attention. We had four treated on property in our first aid and care centers, and we had one transported off property to a local hospital. That individual was reported as stable when they were transported off property.

"We'll take this situation, we'll learn from it, we'll analyze it, and we'll round up our engineering team and see if there's any additional things we can learn to get better the next time.

"Obviously through the last couple years, we've learned a lot, whether it's fencing or the facility itself in terms of enhancements. One of the elements of the project of Daytona Rising was no longer having fans or individuals on Rim Road and closing off the grandstands on the front row, so those were in the new sections, and that was what was in place today, and I think it did a very good job," Chitwood said.

"It's not really acceptable, I don't think. We've got to figure out something. Our speeds are too high, I think. I think everybody could get good racing with slower speeds. We can work at that, and then figure out a way to keep the cars on the ground. That's the next thing. We're fighting hard to make the racing good. I hope the fans appreciate that. We don't, but it's our job. You go out there and hold it wide open to the end and hope you make it through.

"It was very vicious. It's twisting you around in there, and the belts are loosening with each hit, so the hits are getting more and more violent. By the fourth hit, you've separated enough so that the fourth one is going to hurt more than others. I held on to the steering wheel as hard as I could. I'm sure I'm going to find more bumps and bruises during the week, but right now I feel all right.

"I thought the wreck was over and I was sliding on the roof. I thought, 'We made it. We made it.' And then there was a big bang. I think it was the 2 car (Keselowski) that ran into me. Literally I had just got done stopping and crew members were everywhere. I thought that was really cool and special. It was comforting to me. They got to me pretty quick. I just wanted to get out of there and let the fans know I was OK.

"I'll ice up and go get ready for Kentucky. It happened so quick. I was just hanging on and praying I would get through it and get to race again.

"This is what we do. We sign up for this every weekend," Dillon told reporters after exiting the care center.

Dillon was able to describe what caused the accident.

"It was just crazy. It's part of this racing.

"Everybody is pushing as hard as they can — pushing in a tight pack. I was pushing the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the people behind are pushing me, It was just a wad right there at the end.

"At these speedway races, you're just praying and hoping that you get through it," Dillon said.

Several drivers also shared their thoughts about the accident.

"NASCAR got what they wanted. That's the end of it.

"Cars getting airborne, unsafe drivers, same old stuff. They just don't listen.

"They had an event in 2001 (when seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed). They've had several events since then. They just don't pay attention to safety. Simple as that," Ryan Newman said.

"That scared the hell out of me. I saw the whole thing in my mirror. That was terrifying to watch. You saw the car get high and get into the fence. It was touch and go there for several moments. I (am) more thankful that everyone is OK than standing here in victory lane at the moment," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

"I'm shocked that Austin Dillon is even alive, what he went through. Just a frightening moment," Jimmie Johnson said.

"Right from the start it was a crazy race. It's like a videogame out there except for it's real life.

"I love Daytona and this place has been amazing for me. After going through that, I'm glad I only have one more restrictor-plate race left," Jeff Gordon said.

"You want to make the sport as safe as possible, but we're going to make those mistakes.

"We're going to make mistakes like that on Lap 1 sometime down the road. Trying to eliminate it at the end of the race where it's deciding a winner, it probably should get played out. It's just part of the speed and the cars and the package we have.

"I'm happy with the package, personally. I believe that we have something that races really well. We're running at a decent speed. Do we want it to get up in the air? No, but it's going to happen sometimes.

"A certain element of danger is part of our sport, and a lot of that is what resonates with race fans. We don't want cars going in the air, but when we cross the line at 200 (mph) and the car gets turned around backward and immediately gets hit in the nose, it's going to go up. It does matter if you're running 160 or 200, it's going to happen. It's part of racing when you're that close.

"The safest thing is to not having people sitting right there. We typically crash in that same area most of the time. They have an option to do that now -- only have upper level seats in that area. That's right at the start-finish line, which is right where all of these fans want to be when their favorite driver wins the race.

"It's a tough balance. The catchfence kept the car Inside the racetrack. I'm not sure what else we could really do about it. It's freak incidents that happen. But really the only thing you can do without making crazy, wholesale changes is don't sell seats in that lower level," Denny Hamlin said.

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