Catch fence system to be evaluated
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR officials are satisfied that safety systems in the car and the catch-fence system did their jobs on the last-lap crash in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.
They are not satisfied that drivers did their job policing the blocking and bump drafting that played a role in the crash that resulted in non-life threatening injuries to seven fans.
"Safety is and always will be NASCAR's No. 1 priority, and we're glad each of the safety devices at Talladega worked properly, including the roof flaps and catchfence," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said on Monday. "We tried to let competitors police themselves on blocking and bump drafting.
"We might have to start making judgment calls on our own and issue penalties for drivers that blatantly block and abuse the bump drafting. We're going to take whatever issues we need to ensure races are as safe as possible for everyone."
NASCAR officials did not blame either driver for the accident, saying it was a combination of Edwards blocking and Keselowski doing what he had to do to win that led to the horrific crash. But they warned that such incidents will be looked at more closely in the future.
"Carl was doing everything he could to try to maintain first place coming across the line and [Keselowski] was trying to win the race," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "That's what these guys do. Many times they come together trying to win the race, whether it's Martinsville or Talladega.
"I'd say both have ownership in it."
Pemberton said the roof flaps designed to keep cars from going airborne worked as designed. He noted that Edwards' car was on the way down when it landed on the hood of Ryan Newman's car, which forced it into the catchfence that surrounds the track.
Pemberton said Edwards' car may never have gotten into the catchfence had it not been struck by Newman.
He added that the new car is less likely to go airborne than the old car, noting that Keselowski being so close when Edwards' car started to rotate changed the flow of air and likely contributed to the lift.
"There was a lot of effort put into this before this car took to the track," Pemberton said.
Pemberton and series director John Darby seemed satisfied that the catchfence also worked well. Track president Rick Humphrey agreed, saying the poles and cables, while bent, did not appear to come unattached.
But Humphrey said the track will evaluate whether the height of the catchfence needs to be adjusted to prevent debris from reaching the stands as it did in this case.
The Talladega fence was approximately 14 feet from the ground to the top. The distance from the track to the top of the fence at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte is 21 feet.
LMS went from a catchfence system that was 15 feet tall with three feet of hangover to 21 feet with six feet of hangover after parts of an IRL car went into stands during a 1999 race.
Three were killed and eight injured in that incident.
"We certainly will look at that and see if any of that needs to change and if it would have made any difference [Sunday] ... what would have happened had the fence been higher," Humphrey said.
Humphrey said the fence is in the process of being reconstructed in time for a weekend driving school. He said no decisions will be made on whether the system needs to be adjusted until officials have looked at it from all perspectives.
"The system in place did its job," Humphrey said. "It is designed to put the racecar back on the track and it certainly did. But we'll certainly continue to look at videos and all that we have to see if there is anything else that needs to be done."
That includes looking to see if fans need to be moved further from the racing surface.
"We'll look at everything to see what we can do to prevent this," Humphrey said. "Let me just say how fortunate we feel and how blessed we are that nobody was really hurt seriously."
Darby said it has not been fully determined what flew into the stands, but did not blame the catchfence.
"I think the fence was plenty high, but we'll go back and look at some other things," he said. "Whether it needs to be reconfigured or not is something we'll get with the track to look at."
Reconfiguration of the banking at Talladega, which creates speeds so high that restrictor plates must be used to control horsepower, is not in the plans for NASCAR or the track.
"I believe it goes without mention the most exciting races we have are at Daytona and Talladega," Darby said. "That is a big part of our sport. There is more value in continuing the safety efforts at those tracks than turning those two very critical and exciting racetracks into flat parking lots."
Humphrey understands there are concerns about safety in general at Talladega. He has read comments from drivers and media members, some suggesting the track should be blown up and rebuilt from scratch.
Edwards said after the race that "we'll race like this until we kill somebody, then [NASCAR] will change it."
"Racing is a dangerous sport in general," Humphrey said. "Certainly, Talladega has created some very exciting racing and exciting finishes and along the way there have been some incidents that people have been rather outspoken about.
"We've had several caution-free races here, too. The racing here is unique. I don't think anything drastic needs to happen."
Neither does NASCAR, although the governing body will do what it can to encourage less bump drafting and blocking that led to a big wreck early in the race.
"A greater emphasis may come at Daytona and Talladega," Pemberton said. "We have tried to let the racers take care of it themselves. When certain situations develop a pattern on a more regular basis, that's when we have to step in and make some calls."
Humphrey defended the pack racing created by restrictor plates at his track and Daytona.
"It's something we hang our hat on, the sheer excitement," he said. "I'm not talking about 12-car pileups. I'm talking about the closeness of the race. My gosh, we have been asking all year for a race like this. Now we get one and it's not appealing to anybody.
"I thought it was an exciting Talladega race. We'll continue to have discussions to see what, if anything, needs to be done. The answer is not to blow the place up and start over."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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