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NASCAR says Austin Dillon’s frightening crash launched a dozen safety projects

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Austin Dillon’s airborne crash that left a gaping 60-foot hole in the catchfence at Daytona International Speedway last July spawned a dozen safety projects at NASCAR’s R&D Center.

“Some of those worked, some of those haven’t,” NASCAR Chief Racing Development Officer and executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said in a recent interview with NBC Sports. “But it’s led us to some initiatives with the race teams, through the floorboards, through different protection areas, through some anti-intrusion in the car. We’re working with the teams now to implement as early as 2017, if not earlier, depending on as they develop new cars.”

Two of the most significant wrecks in NASCAR since last year occurred at Daytona: Dillon’s wreck on the last lap in the rain-delayed Coke Zero 400 resulted in five fans being treated for injuries caused by debris from his No. 3 Chevrolet, but the Richard Childress Racing driver walked away.

In the Xfinity Series opener on Feb. 21, 2015, Kyle Busch slammed into an unprotected interior wall in Turn 1 after skidding through fronstretch grass that since has been paved over. Busch missed nearly three months with a broken right leg and fractured left foot.

Last weekend at Sonoma Raceway, Busch was critical of NASCAR for keeping the rules static for Daytona after three cars got airborne May 1 at Talladega Superspeedway. Danica Patrick also was involved in a heavy wreck similar to Busch’s at Daytona.

“As far as rule changes in Daytona, I was certainly hoping that we would see something coming off the race that we saw at Talladega,” Busch said. “No rule changes is not a welcoming sight for me, but it is what it is. We’ll go and crash some more.”

O’Donnell defended NASCAR’s deliberate approach to safety advances, noting that a 2015 initiative in which safety harnesses/belts were mounted to seats instead of the chassis “certainly allowed (Dillon) to walk away” from the Daytona crash.

“If we can see something, we’re going to implement it as quickly as we can, but you’ve got to make sure it works,” O’Donnell said. “To do that, you’ve got to study it, test it and validate it. You’ve got to make sure you get the correct results, and it’ll hold up at high speeds at the track. That’s not just something we can say we think it works. It has to work when we put it in place.

“That’s one of the things that you look at with Austin prior to the crash. The belts adjustment worked. And we’re proud of the fact that worked, and he was able to get up and walk away.”

O’Donnell said NASCAR always was evaluating liftoff speeds but also was focused on the incident involving Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota, which got airborne during a spin at Talladega.

In the case of the other airborne wrecks at Talladega, and Dillon’s crash at Daytona, the cars took flight after contact with another vehicle.

“Where we’re most concerned is where a car gets airborne on its own,” O’Donnell said. “That’s very rare. If you look at Talladega and the 20 car, that happened. The others are really a result of what we call “ramping up” in terms of Austin Dillon getting into another car and getting airborne, which happened twice at Talladega as well.

“It’s inherent in racing, and it can happen really at any racetrack we’re at, it’s not something we like to see, but where we’re really focused is a car on its own getting sideways, getting up in the air. Still a rare occurrence, but any occurrence is more than we’d like to see, so we’re constantly focused on that.”

Another focus is catchfence technology. O’Donnell hinted in the wake of Dillon’s crash last year that a future iteration “may not be a fence.”

O’Donnell said last week there “still is a lot of ongoing studying with the fencing” but indicated there weren’t any imminent changes. As part of the Daytona Rising overhaul that made its debut in February, Daytona removed the first few rows of grandstands and prevented fans from the “rim road” encircling the track (changes that were planned before Dillon’s crash after airborne wrecks that injured fans in 2012 and ’13).

“First and foremost, the fence did its job” in Dillon’s crash, O’Donnell said. “Its job is to keep that vehicle back on the racetrack side, which it did. Certainly the seating area was adjusted in Daytona, we learned to keep some of the fans off the rim road. As we go forward, we’ll be studying some more aspects with our track safety experts to look at what if anything we can do in addition to the fencing and cabling.”

NASCAR conducts exhaustive internal studies after major crashes similar to Busch’s and Dillon’s. An incident data recorder provides information on rates of acceleration and deceleration, as well as the G forces sustained by a driver at impact. NASCAR also consults with the driver, team members who built the car and sometimes outside experts to consider potential improvements.

After Dillon’s crash, his No. 3 Chevrolet was brought to the R&D Center for a complete teardown (before being returned to the team), and photos and videos gathered at the track also were studied.

“You combine that with the incident data recorder and then you’re able to, when you test and try new things, you can reenact that incident almost in its entirety, and it’s as exact as possible,” O’Donnell said. “You can reconstruct the speeds and angles to see if the new things you’ve put in place did work and are something you want to take the next step with.”

Advancements showing the most promise from the dozen projects launched by Dillon’s crash are in anti-intrusion areas, and O’Donnell said some of the developments involve plates within the cockpit that help protect drivers’ feet. NASCAR also has studied floorboard designs after Busch’s crash and has shared data with teams to develop directions on safety features.

“There are a lot of different things that we’re looking at and also studying what is unique in Austin’s crash,” O’Donnell said. “We’re looking at the floorboards and protecting the foot box area. Those are some of the things if you look specifically at Kyle’s incident that we’ve worked with the teams to try to implement going forward.”

In a buzzword that’s been sounded throughout the industry this year, the research also has become more collaborative this season with the formation of a safety council (one of several new committees introduced with the team charter system).

“I’ve said many times we have some of the smartest people in the industry working on our race teams,” O’Donnell said. “So we’ve worked hand in hand with them as well to look at different safety initiatives. It’s tough to pinpoint a number, but I’d say it’s in the hundreds of folks who are daily focused on safety. Again, it’s safer than it’s ever been, but we’re in a dangerous sport, and we’ve got to learn each and every day and apply those (lessons) as quickly as we can.”

Bristol Truck race results, driver points

Bristol Truck race results
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Sam Mayer scored his first career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win Thursday night. The 17-year-old finished ahead of GMS Racing teammate Brett Moffitt.

Mayer is the youngest driver to win a Truck race at Bristol.

Tanner Gray placed third and was followed by Parker Kligerman and Chandler Smith.

Gray’s finished tied a career high. Kligerman’s finish was his best this season.

Trevor Bayne crossed the finish line fifth but his truck was disqualified for failing post-race heights in inspection.

The next race in the playoffs is Sept. 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Click here for race results

POINTS

Brett Moffitt leads the points after the opening race in the first round of the playoffs. He leads Sheldon Creed by nine points. Zane Smith trails Moffitt by 12 points.

Click here for points report

17-year-old Sam Mayer wins first NASCAR Truck race

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Sam Mayer passed GMS Racing teammate Brett Moffitt with 30 laps to go and went on to score his first career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The victory came in the seventh career Truck start for the 17-year-old Mayer. The win also came a few days after JR Motorsports announced that Mayer would drive for the team in the second half of the 2021 Xfinity Series, once he turns 18.

“I love this place,” Mayer told FS1 after the 200-lap race. “I don’t know what to say.”

Mayer was helped by having tires that were 52 laps fresher than Moffitt’s tires.

MORE: Race results 

Mayer is not competing in the playoffs and does not advance to the second round. He said he has two more Truck races left to run this season.

Mayer followed his Truck win by taking the checkered flag in the ARCA Menards Series race that followed Thursday night.

Moffitt, who is competing in the playoffs, finished second. He was followed by Tanner Gray and Parker Kligerman.

Trevor Bayne finished fifth but his Truck was disqualified after the race for failing inspection. His truck failed post-race heights. Chandler Smith finished fifth after Bayne’s disqualification.

Moffitt was one of only four playoff drivers to finish in the top 10. Grant Enfinger was sixth. Tyler Ankrum placed seventh. Matt Crafton was 10th.

Mayer is the second youngest winner in series history. Cole Custer is the youngest winner in series history. Custer was 16 years, 7 months, 28 days when he won in Sept. 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Mayer becomes the youngest Truck winner at Bristol at 17 years, 2 months, 22 days. Ryan Blaney had held that record, winning a 2015 race there at age 21 years, 4 months, 19 days.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brett Moffitt

STAGE 2 WINNER: Tyler Ankrum

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray’s third-place finish tied his career best. He finished third at Michigan earlier this season. … Parker Kligerman’s fourth-place finish is his best of the season while running a limited schedule.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Austin Hill finished 26th, worst among the playoff drivers. He had contact on Lap 2 with Stewart Friesen.

NOTABLE: Trevor Bayne said that four weeks ago he didn’t know if he would be racing again at Bristol. He crossed the finish line fifth but his truck failed inspection after the race and was disqualified.

NEXT: The second race of the opening round of the playoffs is at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Texas Motor Speedway to host polling site for election

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Residents and race fans in parts of North Texas will be able to cast their vote in the upcoming election at their local NASCAR track.

Texas Motor Speedway will be a polling site for the Nov. 3 election.

The track, owned by Speedway Motorsports, will serve as a polling site for the residents of Precinct 4048. That precinct includes a large portion of Denton County and Forth Worth, Texas.

The polling site will be in the Lone Star Tower Condominium Clubhouse just outside Turn 2. It will be open from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET on election day.

More: Upcoming Cup playoffs races can fans attend

“In anticipation of a very high voter turnout for the presidential election, we have been working for months to acquire polling sites throughout the county,” Frank Phillips, Denton County Elections Administrator, said in a press release. “We are excited that Texas Motor Speedway has offered the use of the Lone Star Tower Clubhouse as a polling site.”

Local, state and CDC guidelines will be followed to ensure a sanitized, safe and socially distanced voter experience.

TMS is the first track that hosts NASCAR Cup races to announce its plans for use as a polling site. It joins sporting venues for other major sports in doing so.

A number of NBA arenas and practice facilities will be voting locations, as well as select NFL stadiums and NHL arenas.

Travis Pastrana, Conor Daly set for Las Vegas Truck Series race

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Action sports star Travis Pastrana and IndyCar driver Conor Daly are teaming up with Niece Motorsports to compete in the upcoming Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

With the backing of iRacing, who made the announcement Thursday, the duo will drive the No. 42 and No. 45 Chevrolets in the Sept. 25 race.

Pastrana and Daly’s involvement is a continuation of their rivalry in the LCQ League, a private iRacing league featuring motorsports and action sports legends having fun in cars from all disciplines.

For Pastrana, a former Roush Fenway Racing driver, it will be his fifth career Truck start and his second of the year after he competed in the July 25 race at Kansas Speedway. He finished 22nd.

“I’m really looking forward to bringing our rivalry from the LCQ League to the real world,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’ve been getting lots of advice and iRacing on-track coaching from fellow LCQ member Parker Kligerman. I’m looking forward to seeing how the hours in iRacing pay off on the track, especially for Conor who has never driven a NASCAR truck in real life. He might be the first person in history to jump into a professional racing series and take the green flag without so much as a single practice lap in real life! Conor is a phenomenal IndyCar driver and a quick learner so I think he will surprise a lot of people.”

It will be the first Truck Series start for Daly, who has 61 IndyCar starts since 2013. Daly made his NASCAR debut in 2018 at Road America driving for Roush in the Xfinity Series.

“I could not be more excited to jump in a Gander Outdoor Series truck for the first time ever in Las Vegas!” Daly said in a press release “This will be one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced in my career as it will be the first event I’ve ever done where I’ve never driven a single lap in the Chevy Silverado before taking the green flag for the race. Travis and I have been going head to head on iRacing getting as much practice as possible since that’s the best possible form of preparation we have!