NASCAR executive addresses Denny Hamlin criticism, pit crew safety

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Safety in NASCAR, on the track and in the pits, has been in the spotlight in recent weeks with the on-track stories coming from driver criticism of when and how quickly officials display cautions.

After Carl Edward’s voiced disapproval of NASCAR not throwing a caution after his last-lap spin at Talladega Superspeedway, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin believed a caution was not thrown fast enough in his crash at Kansas Speedway.

“I keep spinning, keep hitting the wall and I can’t figure out why everyone is still coming at 200 (mph),” Hamlin told Fox Sports 1. “I look and the green light is on. They didn’t throw a caution until seven seconds after I wrecked. Luckily no one hit us in the door.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, spoke with NASCAR.com and answered questions covering many topics, including Hamlin’s criticism. O’Donnell said no one from JGR came forward after the race to properly voice their concerns.

“First and foremost, we always talk to our competitors,” O’Donnell told NASCAR.com. “A lot of times, they’ll come up to the hauler after a race with a concern. We didn’t see Denny or anyone from the team postrace, so we’ll certainly reach out during the week to talk to them, but talking to the folks that were in race control Saturday night, David Hoots, as soon as he was alerted to the incident, looked down and saw Denny’s car and threw the caution immediately.”

O’Donnell also was asked what the sanctioning body intends to do in the near future regarding pit road safety for crew members after fires broke out two weeks in a row at Richmond International Raceway and Talladega.

Both fires originated in the pit stalls of Richard Childress Racing teams, but the first occurred in the Xfinity Race in the pit of Brendan Gaughan’s No. 62 team. The fire sent two of Gaughan’s crew members and one from Eric McClure’s team to the hospital.

“We’ve had a number of internal conversations about what’s worn on pit road,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve talked to a lot of the teams, taken an inventory of what equipment they have and then what equipment is available for immediate purchase. We have all that now, and you’ll see us continue to work with the race teams to become more and more safe in terms of what they’re wearing on pit road. I think they understand we learned a lot from the last incident, and they understand where we are going forward and are already taking steps to comply with that.”