Swift action by IndyCar’s safety team to save driver’s life has NASCAR racers taking notice

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CONCORD, N.C. – Some NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers met with series officials about safety concerns, including the sport not having a traveling safety team similar to IndyCar, shortly after Kyle Busch was injured in a Feb. 21 crash at Daytona International Speedway.

Reigning series champion Kevin Harvick confirmed meeting with NASCAR, and that a traveling safety team was discussed, saying “that’s a conversation a group of us have had on week two (of the season).’’

Harvick called the meeting educational, saying he learned more about the experience level of doctors who are at the tracks and how NASCAR’s system operates.

“Once they explained the process and how the doctors were chosen, (it) was definitely kind of eye-opening as to how much money and time was spent to make sure they had the right people at every race track, and really the longevity of the staff,’’ Harvick said.

“I don’t think anybody is saying that it can’t always be better. But I feel pretty confident in what the process is and the medical staff that we have at the tracks.”

The actions of IndyCar’s safety team in saving James Hinchcliffe’s life this week revived the topic of NASCAR not having a similar safety crew that travels from race to race.

“I have sat in on a lot of discussions batting around the reason why we have the situation we do,’’ six-time champion Jimmie Johnson said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “NASCAR is adamant that having true ER folks that every single day fight in an ER room to save people’s lives are the best people to have in place here on a weekend for us. In my heart, I feel like there is maybe a hybrid version where, yes, we have those EMT’s here, but then we also have people that are very sharp and NASCAR specific, car specific, know the drivers and know our cockpits.’’

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, defended NASCAR’s stance on using local medics on track safety crews in an appearance this week on Motor Racing Network’s “NASCAR Live.’’

“I think we always look at it but keep coming back to where we believe we have the best in the world and the best system in place,’’ O’Donnell said on the radio show. “We like to rely on folks who are doing those sorts of things each and every day. The doctors who are reacting to an on-track incident have probably seen something in the last 24 hours.

“We want to be with the local folks who know the routines with the local hospitals in the event we ever had to react. A lot of training goes into it with the tracks. We’re very comfortable with the policies we have in place.’’

Johnson said it would be “smart” to talk to Juan Pablo Montoya about the safety aspects in both NASCAR and IndyCar since Montoya competed in both series and ask “what is the difference? Where can we be better?’’

Asked about IndyCar’s safety team, Montoya told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan: “They do an amazing job. The reaction and how fast they get on the track is good. I think the other thing as drivers we do, as soon as something like that happens, we know we need to slow down and be at attention that a truck is coming. They react a lot better than most series do.’’

Asked if IndyCar has the best team, Montoya said: “I do think so, yeah. They do understand how fast we’re going, the danger and everything. They do a good job with that.’’

IndyCar’s safety team consists of about 30 safety personnel with a minimum of 18 attending each event – a trauma physician, an orthopedic physician, two paramedics, 12 firefighters/EMTs and two registered nurses. IndyCar states that safety team personnel have an average of 20 years of experience in their respected areas.

Dr. Timothy Pohlman, senior staff trauma surgeon IU Health Methodist Hospital, credited IndyCar’s safety team in its response to Hinchcliffe’s injuries.

Hinchcliffe suffered a puncture to the left upper thigh that caused heavy bleeding from a damaged artery. Immediate surgery was required.

“His condition was critical upon his arrival, and I think the IndyCar system as a whole needs to be commended for how well they can take care of drivers in this situation,’’ Pohlman said in a statement from IndyCar.

Brad Keselowski says NASCAR doesn’t get as much credit for what it has done.

“NASCAR very quietly has a similar safety team with Todd Marshall,” said Keselowski, referring to NASCAR’s manager of track services who oversees emergency, safety and medical teams at each track. “Is it completely a copy of what IndyCar has? No, It’s definitely different, but I think it’s a lot better than what this sport had five or 10 years ago.”

Marshall goes to the crash site to oversee the safety teams.

“I know Todd and Todd is the guy on the scene first every time,” Keselowski told NASCAR Talk. “I trust him. The depth of the team is not, perhaps, as strong. The reality is when you get down to a moment like that, one guy is going to be able to help you. He’s the guy I trust.”

Still, Jamie McMurray sees the IndyCar model as the future for NASCAR.

“To me the safety crew that goes every week is the next step that NASCAR will take or I hope they will do,’’ McMurray told NASCAR Talk. To me NASCAR has, hands down, done the most amazing job of making our sport safer for the drivers, pit crew guys.’’

Even so, he said a safety team traveling each week could be more familiar with the cars and drivers in emergencies.

“To me when that guy does it every single week and that’s his job, he will do it at a different level than someone you had a meeting with at 9 a.m. that morning,’’ McMurray said.

While Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he likes what NASCAR has done with safety, he also sees where more could be done.

“I think there’s some advantages to that,’’ Earnhardt said of a traveling safety team similar to IndyCar’s. “That’s been a topic of conversation right over the years as to whether that would be something that NASCAR could put together and make happen.

“There’s definitely some advantages to the consistency of the same people (being) there every week and knowing each individual driver on a personal level, but the changes that NASCAR has made over the last several years, I’ve noticed the personnel that they do have are consistently there week in and week out and are diligent. Any time I’ve had an accident or any time I’ve had an illness or anything, they’re constantly in contact with me about what I need, am I feeling OK, what can they do to help.’’

 

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.