DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick took NASCAR racetrack owners to task before Sunday’s Daytona 500 for being slow to erect SAFER barriers around their layouts.
Harvick said he hit an unprotected concrete wall last year at Daytona International Speedway that was near the spot where Kyle Busch crashed in Saturday’s Xfinity Series season opener, suffering a compound fracture in his lower right leg.
“I kind of voiced my opinion, and unfortunately, I was just a dot on the chart, and there was no reaction,” Harvick said in the media center during a previously scheduled appearance arranged by NASCAR. “Now there’s a reaction from the racetrack. Hopefully, this is a lesson learned. You don’t want to have a reaction. The racetracks have to be proactive and have to look ahead for accidents that might happen.
“There’s been great improvement. We know what fixes these walls. That’s to put a wall in front of them. Yesterday, that’s why we hear a helmet and a HANS and a firesuit and have fire bottles – for that one moment that you have to protect yourself against. (In) 98 percent or 99 percent of the time, things are going to be fine. So help us by trying to prevent that one situation. Instead of being proactive, the track was reactive.”
Busch is out indefinitely and will be replaced in Sunday’s season opener by Matt Crafton. On Saturday night, Daytona president Joie Chitwood took the blame for the track not having SAFER barriers in place, though he didn’t specify the reason why. The track is putting up tires in front of the inside wall in Turn 1 where Busch’s impact was Saturday.
Daytona is in the midst of a $400 million renovation of its frontstretch grandstands, and Harvick was critical last year that the track hadn’t spent an extra few million on putting up SAFER barriers around the 2.5-mile oval.
Harvick, a longtime rival of Busch (they had a memorable feud four years ago after a post-race incident at Darlington Raceway), said drivers “might not be best friends, but you never want to see people hurt.”
“You feel bad for the sport in general,” he said. “The fans. Kyle himself more than anything. Kyle is a big part of this sport. He carries a lot of weight and has a lot of fans and is a big part of the show.
“He’s not in the race today. That’s a big hit for everyone in this race today. It’s unfortunate. I hope we all take something from this and learn just as we did. Fortunately, it’s not a situation of the magnitude of (Dale) Earnhardt’s, but it’s still a wake-up call in my opinion to make sure we do things right.”
Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 propelled NASCAR toward major safety upgrades that included the mandatory use of HANS devices and the development of SAFER barriers a few years later.
Harvick credited NASCAR with taking “bold steps” to make “continuous advancement of the safety in the cars” and said he wasn’t any more skittish about racing Sunday at Daytona.
“This sport is still tremendous amounts safer than it was 15 years ago or 12 years ago,” Harvick said. “This is a very safe sport, and unfortunately, we had that one situation where all the stars lined up, and things happened. We’re going to tear up some race cars just because this is how you race here. Nine times of 10, the cars aren’t making the mistakes. It’s the drivers. You’re going to have to be aggressive. I don’t see that changing.
“With what’s on the line to win the Daytona 500, everyone is going to have to push and shove and do what they have to do to put themselves in position to win.”