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Former champions concerned about how quickly ambulances transport drivers

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Two former Cup champions raised concerns Wednesday about ambulances not reaching the infield care center in a timely fashion this season.

Former champion Kevin Harvick was outspoken about the issue during Wednesday’s playoff media day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“The ambulances, for whatever reason this year, have been a little more of an issue as far as getting to the accident, getting back from the accident (and) getting lost in many circumstances going back to the infield care center,’’ Harvick said.

“That’s been an issue not only for myself, twice, but several other drivers as they’ve had their trips to the infield care center. I know they’re continuously working on trying to make that better. But the ambulances need to know where they’re going.’’

Former champion Matt Kenseth, who was involved in an incident last weekend at Richmond Raceway when an ambulance stopped at the entrance of pit road, said he also has had two similar issues as Harvick.

“I think it was actually the spring Richmond race,’’ Kenseth said. “I was (riding) around the infield for about five minutes with him and he was lost and couldn’t find the infield care center, so thankfully I wasn’t bleeding to death.

“Then the other one, it was after California or something like that, he drove so recklessly it threw me off the bench and I almost hit my head in the ambulance, so yeah, there’s been a couple of instances this year actually.’’

NASCAR issued a statement about the concerns raised by drivers.

“The follow-up discussions that centered around the ambulance issue at Richmond went well beyond where it parked and the procedure that led us to that point. It was all-encompassing, and we’ll continue to work with the tracks and safety teams to improve in every aspect of support.

“Safety is paramount, and it’s something we work hard at all year long, from the season-opening Summit to intensive weekly reviews of every incident response to continual training for crews. We hold ourselves to a very high standard of excellence.”

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has not had any such issues but says it has been discussed in the Cup Drivers Council.

“The times drivers have expressed their concern, NASCAR has been quick to make change, make sure that the person is not there and it doesn’t happen again,’’ Johnson said. “There’s a fine balance in trying to use active ER people and through the checks and balances of a  race weekend, working on routes, especially routes on the day of. As the weekend progresses, fences close, roads aren’t accessible, motorhomes get parked in different areas, the Xfinity cars leave and now’s there a new access point there. It does need to be looked at.

“Unfortunately, there’s been some learning experiences that we wish we didn’t have along the way. Thankfully, those guys have brought it up and they weren’t critical situations where those few precious minutes were needed. Everybody is trying hard. That’s the one good thing about the councils we have and the discussions that take place. Believe me, honesty is there in those conversations. There’s no sugar-coating anything.’’

Denny Hamlin said the issue was brought up in the Drivers Council after Aric Almriola’s crash at Kansas Speedway.

I think one example is Aric Almirola,’’ Hamlin said. I think his ambulance got lost inside the race track and he had a serious injury. That was an issue, for sure. I know they’re trying to do the best they can.’’

Hamlin said some suggest a traveling safety team and others state a safety team familiar with one particular track is best.

I don’t know what the correct answer is, but, we, for sure, can get better because we’re not good right now.’’

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NASCAR says ambulance driver did not follow directive, leading to incident

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RICHMOND, Va. — A wayward ambulance did not stop when instructed to do so during Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway, causing an incident that forced Matt Kenseth out of the event and series officials pledging not to let it happen again.

Kenseth ran into the back of Clint Bowyer’s car when several cars braked because the ambulance was at the entrance of pit road during a caution on Lap 257. Kenseth’s car suffered a damaged radiator and did not continue, finishing 38th. Kenseth still qualified for the playoffs. Had there been a first-time winner Saturday, Kenseth would have missed the playoffs.

Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the ambulance driver was instructed to stop before the vehicle did.

“We had a situation where a directive was given from the tower and it wasn’t followed, and we’ll do our due diligence why it wasn’t followed and make sure that we’re prepared to never make that mistake again,’’ Miller said after the race, which was won by Kyle Larson.

“It is a very strange thing. The track workers are usually very, very good at following the directives and tonight they didn’t.’’

Adding to the issue is that NASCAR did not close pit road with the ambulance blocking one of the lanes. Drivers criticized that move.

“I was alongside somebody to the right because I didn’t want to knock my nose off and I just turned into pit road and if I get busted (for a commitment line violation), I get busted,’’ Kyle Busch said. “It was just a mess. I think they gave everyone the benefit of the doubt on that one. That was a mistake on their part for opening it up too early.’’

NASCAR did not penalize anyone for a commitment line violation during that sequence.

Kasey Kahne said he had a close call trying to avoid cars and the ambulance entering pit road.

“Everybody is braking hard because what happens is the leaders go to the line and everybody speeds up to get there and it’s an accordion effect,’’ Kahne said. “It gets worse the further back. Usually you have a couple of lanes and you offset yourself. There was only basically one lane and everybody ran out of room.’’

Asked if they should have closed pit road, Miller said: “We probably should. Those calls are very dynamic. They happen very quickly. It’s the race director in charge of pit road open and close and it’s the track services and safety crew in charge of the other. we didn’t sync up tonight.’’

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