Brian France: “If we don’t get safety right, then nothing else really matters”

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In an interview today on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NASCAR Chairman Brian France said that the sanctioning body would improve its efforts on track safety following Kyle Busch’s serious crash in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

As part of a 10-car incident with less than 10 laps to go on Saturday, Busch hit an inside retaining wall that was not protected by a SAFER (steel and foam energy reduction) barrier. Busch sustained a compound fracture of his lower right leg and another fracture in his left foot, and is now out indefinitely.

Following Busch’s crash, Daytona president Joie Chitwood vowed to install SAFER barriers on all concrete walls at the 2.5-mile oval. Additionally, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said that the sport would “accelerate” talks with other tracks to install more SAFER barriers at those facilities.

“Joie [Chitwood] was very clear that we didn’t get that right and if our effort’s not up – in particular in safety, in particular there – then we’re going to get it up,” France added today in his interview. “And we’ll sort that out and make sure going forward that, you know, what I’ve said publicly, which is what I’ve said privately, is, hey, look if there’s a sensitive area of the track and we can improve it with SAFER barriers then we need to do that.

“And so, that’s exactly where we are and I‘m really disappointed that we didn’t get that right and obviously disappointed for Kyle. But we will. We’ll get that right going forward. That’s a cornerstone of what we do. If we don’t get safety right, then nothing else really matters.”

In the moments after Busch’s crash on Saturday, many of his fellow drivers were critical on social media about the lack of a SAFER barrier where he hit. However, when France was asked if that would force tracks to make changes quicker than they would have if a crash like Busch’s didn’t occur, he replied in the negative.

“No, no, and the reason is it is instantaneous,” France explained. “My phone is going off, Mike Helton’s phone is going off – ‘Didn’t we get this right? Was there a SAFER barrier where it probably should have been?’ Those are instantaneous notes and as soon as someone says, ‘Nope, we didn’t get that right,’ it’s an automatic, ‘How do we correct that?’ It’s instantaneous.

“We’re not waiting for a bunch of social media traffic to tell us that. We get it. And we need to get that, that’s what we do. Joie Chitwood said it best – hey, look, that’s unacceptable. And we’re going to own that and move forward. That’s how we’re wired. That’s a cornerstone of what we do. Safety and performance are at the hallmark of NASCAR.”

At least two other tracks are planning to install more SAFER barriers following Saturday’s events.

Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger has confirmed plans to add a SAFER barrier to the backstretch of the 1.5-mile oval in time for its NASCAR tripleheader (Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Truck) weekend in July.

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

“I’ve always said safety is our No. 1 thing, so that’s what we’re going to do assuming we can get the work done between now and our races.”

Additionally, Talladega Superspeedway president Grant Lynch told USA Today that his 2.66-mile track – which is a restrictor plate track like Daytona – will also look to add more barriers before its spring NASCAR weekend in May.

“Based on what we saw [Saturday] 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,” Lynch said. “I’m sure you’ll see us mirror what they decide to do at Daytona. We’ve always done that.”