SAFER debate: More added but installation pace still concern

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Even as tracks add SAFER barriers, it’s not fast enough for some drivers, leaving them frustrated.

Austin Theriault’s crash into an unprotected wall during last weekend’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway left him with a 10 percent compression fracture and some competitors questioning the pace of safety enhancements at tracks.

Kyle Busch, who broke his right leg and left foot when he hit an unprotected wall in February at Daytona International Speedway, and Brad Keselowski, who owned the truck Theriault crashed, say more needs to be done at tracks. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin say they’ve seen plans for safety upgrades and are encouraged.

“I’ve said it before, us NASCAR drivers will figure out how to crash in the stupidest ways, in the weirdest spots, and get hurt,’’ Busch said. “That Austin crash, that was just so weird and never should have happened but it did. We all need to stop playing God and protect as much as we can and let the rest take care of itself.’’

Asked his reaction when he saw Theriault’s accident, Keselowski said: “I cringe, but then I get back in the race car and say, ‘What are my options?’ As a team owner I have no ability to affect change on the tracks, and as a driver I’m consistently told how lucky I am to have a spot as a race car driver and I need to shut up and drive the car. So there are no options available for me to remedy the situation, so I move on to things I can affect change on.”

Theriault was injured when teammate Tyler Reddick got loose in Turn 4. Reddick regained control as he came down the track and clipped Theriault’s truck, sending it headfirst into a portion of the frontstretch wall not protected by a SAFER barrier.

A spokesman for Las Vegas Motor Speedway said a plan has been in place since spring to have the SAFER barrier installed in that section before the Xfinity and Sprint Cup races there next March.

A renewed effort was made by the sport to install more SAFER barriers, tire barriers and other protective devices after Busch’s crash this year.  International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks that host Sprint Cup races, including Daytona, announced in July it would add 54,000 linear feet of SAFER barriers through the end of 2016. The energy-absorbing barriers are intended to reduce the forces in a crash and lessen the chance for driver injury.

NASCAR sent engineers to tracks for further examinations. Not all changes could be done immediately because of the limited number of companies that could install the steel and foam barriers and the time needed to construct the barriers.

“I feel like they’ve picked up the pace a tremendous amount,’’ Harvick said. “I know every race track has been evaluated, and we’ll have more SAFER barriers or different walls as we go back to them. I’ve seen the plan, and it’s a pretty extensive plan of walls and barriers throughout the country at every race track.’’

Charlotte Motor Speedway, which hosts the Bank of America 500, has added SAFER barriers since hosting the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend. A track spokesperson said that the track has added more than 2,200 linear feet of SAFER barrier. Now, all the exterior walls and interior walls – with the exception of the pit road wall – are protected with either the SAFER barrier or tire barriers.

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Kansas Speedway next week for the first time since May, drivers will compete on a track where all the outside walls are now protected by SAFER barrier.

Pat Warren, president of Kansas Speedway, told NASCAR Talk that the track added 1,250 linear feet of the barrier to the outside backstretch wall and 525 linear feet of the barrier to the outside frontstretch wall near the restart zone.

Also, 1,700 linear feet of the barrier was added to interior walls at the entry and exit of corners. Much of that was concentrated around the entrance and exit to pit road.

“We’re always doing things to improve safety,’’ Warren said.

Hamlin, who suffered a compression fracture in his lower back after hitting an unprotected inside wall in 2013 at Auto Club Speedway, is heartened by the progress being made by NASCAR and tracks.

“They know it needs to be done, they’re going to get it done,’’ he said. “It takes a little bit of time. It’s not a money thing – they’re putting that investment in. They just haven’t had time to get it done. It’s very unfortunate someone hit the wall this past weekend that is going to have another injury. I’m confident 12 months from now if that same situation happens again, we’re going to have a much safer driver.”

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.


Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.

Pit crew change for Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson teams

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Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson each will have a pit crew change for Saturday night’s playoff race at Bristol.

The change is the result of an injury to one pit crew member.

Dustin Lineback, jackman for Bowman’s team is out with an injury, the team stated. Kyle Tudor, who has been Johnson’s jackman, moves over to that role for Bowman’s team. Eric Ludwig, a backup for Hendrick Motorsports, moves up to be the jackman for Johnson.

MORE: Saturday Cup race at Bristol: Start time, forecast, lineup

Bowman enters the elimination race 27 points ahead of teammate William Byron, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the second round. Bowman opened the playoffs by finishing sixth in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He followed that by placing ninth at Richmond. Bowman was collected in a crash and finished 37th in the May Bristol race.

Johnson, who is in his final full-time Cup season, seeks his first victory of the season. He finished third at Bristol in May.