KANSAS CITY, Kans. — Kevin Harvick, frustrated with how he feels safety is “second fiddle” in NASCAR, spoke up Saturday about the need for action.
Harvick’s comments came a week after his car caught fire in the Southern 500. Rubber collected inside the vehicle and burned, sending flames through the dashboard. NASCAR reacted with a safety change to the cars this week.
Multiple cars have had fires this year. Also, drivers have talked throughout the season about how much harder the impacts feel, raising concerns. Kurt Busch is missing his eighth consecutive race this weekend as he continues to recover from a head injury after a crash at Pocono in July.
Harvick was frustrated with last week’s fire and carried his feelings into the media center Saturday at Kansas.
“There needs to be some better leadership on just the whole safety situation, and my road is shorter than most everybody’s in here,” Harvick said of his reason for being more vocal. “After the whole fire thing at Darlington — the reaction on Tuesday was drastic — but way too late.
“So, we look at the fire problem and I start digging through how that whole thing had transpired and gone down, and you look at the car, and you start asking questions. Why did everything melt? Well, this is really not 100% fire resistant. Here’s the coating that we presented a couple months ago after Chase (Briscoe’s fire) and it’s been rejected. Now, this week, it’s all in there.
“You’ve got a piece of stainless steel in there. I go back and talk to my guys, and we basically had a car catch on fire every test. So it’s not like it was a new problem. We had (Alex Bowman’s car) catch on fire it at Darlington, I think the first race, and so we’ve seen a lot of these instances, and it’s just a really, really slow reaction.
“I think if the teams were in charge of stuff like that, and the proper input was was put in place, we would have never had more than two fires … for the whole field because they would have collaborated and not been so slow to react.
“The whole safety thing is really kind of second fiddle right now. And I just don’t think that’s fair to the drivers. I do not think it’s fair to the drivers, and we can debate all day. But debating isn’t really fixing anything.
“I think when I look at the car itself, it’s not rear impacts. It’s not front impacts, it’s not side impacts. It’s all impacts. No matter what their filtered data says it’s not what the drivers are feeling.
“We need a louder voice. As I sat and thought about it this week, it really needs to have more of an independent group that makes the decisions on how to implement things and how to go through a process that’s outside of NASCAR and the teams because NASCAR is slow to react, and the teams are always worried about money. That doesn’t do anything for the drivers.”
NASCAR employs three people who work only on safety and relies on a panel of independent safety experts that includes Jeff Crandall, director of the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia; Barry Myers, who is on the Duke University faculty in Biomedical Engineering & Orthopaedic Surgery; James Raddin, retired US Air Force, vice commander of USAF School of Aerospace Medicine; and Joel Stitzel, head of the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.
Harvick is the most senior driver competing in Cup. His series debut came for Dale Earnhardt’s team at Richard Childress Racing a week after Earnhardt’s fatal crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt’s death came after the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper in 2000.
“I’ve lived this, man,” Harvick said. “I watched when we had all the trouble with with Adam and Kenny Irwin and then it resulted in Dale Earnhardt and then all of a sudden, it was mandatory to wear a HANS device, it was mandatory to wear the Hutchins device. We developed soft walls.
“(Safety) can’t be slow. The safety cannot be slow and this car, it’s screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. Whether the data says that or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that it’s not right. And it hurts. Feet hurt. Hands hurt. Head hurt.
“There has to be a better solution. When we want to solve problems, we can solve them quick, super quick. That plan didn’t come together in one day because there wasn’t stuff that was not already in the process, but it was just too slow to be implemented. And now, unfortunately, we’re in the spot that we’re in. The positive that came out of it was there was a lot of progress made on on a situation that shouldn’t have been there in September.”
Ryan Blaney said he appreciates Harvick speaking up.
“I definitely think someone has to do something about it,” Blaney said Saturday. “I think Kevin’s doing the right thing of speaking up about it. I’d be upset too. There’s multiple things that I think needs to be changed and improved on, from the fires to the hits the drivers are taking. Some of that stuff we’ve talked about in the offseason and it never got changed and now look where we are.
“There’s always learning pains on you know, you have something new, and it takes time to kind of refine them. But some of these things we knew about in the offseason, there wasn’t a lot of kind of urgency to change some of the stuff. So I’m 100% with Kevin on trying to address some of these things, and sometimes it takes you being a jerk to do it.”
Asked where the dialogue with NASCAR, Harvick looked at a reporter and said “here it is. This is the dialogue.”
“I think that they’re being proactive right now,” Hamlin said of NASCAR. “Obviously, they made a bunch of changes this week. I think what the drivers and the teams are saying is that it shouldn’t take us yelling through the media to get it done.
“That doesn’t help anybody and it certainly doesn’t help them, but the proof has been that yelling through the media typically gets results. That’s just kind of the way that it’s been. This is the most powerful tool (Hamlin gestured at his microphone) you can have and sometimes you have to use it to force change, and I think that’s what Harvick did this week.
“He’s had enough of them saying they would get to it, they would get to it and we’re working on it. Instead, they made an immediate change. But we want to see it coming after the second fire, the first fire. There’s been many, many fires before that one.”
Hamlin said feels better about what NASCAR is doing after this week’s conversations.
“I certainly feel that they’re working to help us with the hits on the chassis,” Hamlin aid. “All that stuff does take time. They can’t just knee-jerk reaction and start cutting bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible.
“I think they’re doing things methodically to make sure that the next revision of car that comes out is one that is improved in the areas that we need improving on, but that does take time through design and testing.”