LONG POND, Pa. — Brad Keselowski was blunt about his crash this week at Watkins Glen, saying “there’s only so many of those hits you’re going to take before someone gets killed.’’
The former Sprint Cup champion walked away after hitting the Turn 1 tire barrier nearly head-on Tuesday during a test. He crashed after he lost his brakes because a brake line was not installed properly. The accident was similar to an accident Denny Hamlin walked away from there in 2011.
This was Keselowski’s second big crash at a road course since 2011. He suffered a broken left ankle when he wrecked while testing at Road Atlanta. While safety changes since helped Keselowski avoid injury this week, he still has issues with road courses.
“I’m not comfortable with tracks that have run-offs that lead to very harsh angles and that’s certainly the situation that (Watkins Glen) has and always has had it,’’ Keselowski said Friday at Pocono Raceway. “Road courses remain the most dangerous tracks in motorsports for good reason because of that. We know that going in. Some place has to be safest and some place has to be the most dangerous. A lot of times we end up talking about Daytona and Talladega, they don’t ever worry me as much as road courses do, I can promise you that.
“Preferably, we just have angles to where you hit you can hit it with a SAFER barrier and not have to worry about things. I understand there’s some limitations there because a lot of these road courses run different series and so forth and they don’t want to get into a situation where a minor spin damages some rich guy’s $300,000 car. There’s some tradeoffs there, I understand. That’s just a part of it.’’
So what must be done? Keselowski admits he isn’t sure but says there needs to be some action.
“There’s only so many of those hits you’re going to take before someone gets killed,’’ Keselowski said. “It’s just the way it is. I know that. It’s not something I’m comfortable with, but I think as a sport there’s a lot of different ways to look at it. At the end of the day I’m still standing here. Odds are that if a hundred people take that hit, one or two are not going to be standing here anymore. I think that is pretty safe to say.
“Since half a dozen have taken pretty similar hits in that same part of the race track, I would say it begs to reason that maybe a change should be made in that area, but I can’t say that I have the specific idea at this time because more people are going to take that hit and eventually one of us ain’t going to come back. That’s something that the smart guys that work on that stuff are going to have figure out at some time.’’
No driver in NASCAR’s top three nationals series has died in competition since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Michael Printup, track president of Watkins Glen, told NBC Sports earlier this week, that the tire barriers Keselowski struck did their job, along with the Armco barrier behind it. Printup said engineers have said it is better to have tire barriers and the Armco barrier in that area because of the give it can provide.
SAFER barriers have to be mounted to a concrete wall, which won’t flex as an Armco barrier. Because of the sharp right-hand turn at that part of the course, if a car has brake issues as Keselowski did, they’re likely to hit head-on. That’s where tire barriers can be more effective, Printup said.
Keselowski, a member of the Sprint Cup Drivers Council, was asked if he feels so strongly about the situation, why not take further action or be joined by other drivers.
“We signed up for a certain level of risk and that’s right on the edge of acceptable risk,’’ Keselowski said. “I think every driver has their own line. If you’re looking at it from that perspective, I think every driver is saying that is the acceptable risk they signed up for, it falls within those parameters.’’
Former champion Matt Kenseth, who was in the media center when Keselowski spoke, admits that with Watkins Glen “there’s just a lot of weird angles there and you’re going really really fast for a road course at that place. So, yeah, if you had to rate them, it is certainly one of the more dangerous tracks that you go to just because you’re not contained like you are at an oval.”