Safety and setups were among the topics some drivers discussed during Wednesday’s NASCAR test at Richmond International Raceway.
“It’s good for the safety of all the drivers,” Austin Dillon said Wednesday. “You can have some hard licks at a short track like this. It’s good to see NASCAR and all the tracks working together to try and keep the drivers safe.”
Another test participant, Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne, echoed Dillon’s comments and praised both International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc., for new initiatives to increase SAFER barrier and other safety protection at their tracks.
“I think NASCAR has made a big effort in safety for a long time now,” Bayne said. “Obviously, there are incidents that open our eyes sometimes to things we’ve missed. I think they’re trying to cover everything they can with the softer walls.”
Much of the renewed safety initiative is due to the hard wreck Kyle Busch was involved in during the first Xfinity Series race of the season at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 21.
Busch hit an unprotected concrete wall near Turn 1, and suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot. He continues to recover and rehabilitate. His return to racing remains uncertain.
Some tracks have added tire packs to protect drivers from unprotected walls in early races this season. Many having plans to install additional SAFER barrier at some point later this year.
“It still hurts when you hit those things, but not as bad,” Bayne said. “I really appreciate them looking into that for every racetrack. Obviously, places like Bristol, I see they’re putting walls in. That’s going to change the racing line a little bit. There’s going to be things we’re going to have to do different as drivers, but obviously safety is their priority and we appreciate that as drivers.”
In a sense, RIR has been ahead of the current renewed safety initiative. In the 2011 spring Sprint Cup race at RIR, Jeff Gordon hit an unprotected interior wall on the backstretch. NASCAR and track officials conducted a study and a SAFER barrier was in place for the late summer race later that same year.
As for taking part in an open test at RIR two weeks before the first of two Sprint Cup race weekends there this season (Toyota Owners 400 on April 25), drivers were optimistic that they and their teams learned things that could be used in both this spring’s race, as well as the final lead-up race to the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup in September.
“There’s really no track like Richmond,” Dillon said. “It’s kind of its own place, so the stuff we do today to the car won’t overlay to too many tracks we go to this year. We’ll do our best to find to try and find a few things just for here.”
With NASCAR’s ban on testing this season, Wednesday’s sanctioned test was the first for Bayne and his team in more than six months. Preceding Wednesday’s open test was a closed Goodyear tire test Tuesday.
“It’s really good to get on the racetrack and work with my team in a non-race setting, to be out here and see what tires we’re going to be running later this year and be able to work with that a little bit,” Bayne said.
“What these conditions are good for is for back-to-back things. You can go out with one setup, come in and change something and go back out, try something because it’s not going to change a whole lot.
“The sun’s not out baking the racetrack, the temperatures aren’t going to change a lot, the rubber’s not going to change a ton on the track with it not being warm, so you can really tell the difference in changes.
“Our goal today is to end with a package that we can bring back and just make some minor adjustments to, depending on the temperature, weather and things like that and be close.”
Another driver who took part in Wednesday’s test was Brad Keselowski.
“I feel like we were a very good car here both races,” he said. “We had some weaknesses to work on and that’s what we’re here to do.”