One good thing came out of Sunday’s AMP Energy 500.
Ryan Newman climbed out of his dinged, squashed and damaged No. 39 without any serious injury. That car – in all its ugly CoT-ness – kept its occupant in his seat, buckled in and safe while it sailed across Talladega’s backstretch. The larger greenhouse, even though that suffered a direct impact during the final flip, also did its job. Roof flaps deployed. Crumple zones absorbed hits.
All that sounds like NASCAR has done its job. We’re driving a safer car. There are soft walls and paved sections at these crazy-ass fast tracks.
But before we get too excited by all that is going right, we need a reality check.
That car went airborne, even after its flaps deployed. Newman stated the rollbar was sitting on his helmet. Those are not things I want to see and hear. Only a few laps later, Mark Martin did a nice little roll down the frontstretch. Nor can we dismiss Joey Logano’s tumbling trip down the high banks of Dover not so long ago.
I’m well aware the CoT is still a work in progress. I just want to make sure that’s not forgotten. The safety innovations that are an inherent part of this machine cannot be viewed as the ultimate configuration in racing.
Nothing made me feel better than seeing Newman pop out of that flattened vehicle. Nothing could have made me feel worse than knowing that rollbar suffered a pound too much stress, ending Ryan’s life in an instant.
Most of the Cup season is spent at tracks that tend not to produce such spectacular wrecks on a regular basis. We’ve ceased to be amazed that drivers walk away from most impacts. Too often, we take for granted the durability of the cars. Talladega and Daytona, for all their controversial and questionable racing, are the proving grounds of the advancing technology of our sport.
As long as we’re going to be returning to these monstrosities, intent on launching cars at 200 mph into the turns, there can be no “good enough” in regards to the safety measures required of the vehicles. More wind tunnel testing, with the car going backwards, is needed. Why did Newman’s car launch? What new flap or wing configuration is needed to ensure next time that car will sit back down, as it should have. Do we need an even bigger greenhouse or new materials for the rollcage capable of taking bigger impacts? Is the higher center of gravity for the CoT contributing to the number of cars found tumbling down banks?
I’m not an engineer, just an observer. But, these questions are the obvious ones to be set before the learned people over at the R&D Center.
I’m thankful for all the ingenuity and determination shown thus far in NASCAR’s endeavor to provide as safe a racing environment as possible, but it’s clear to me now is not the time to decide they’ve done enough.
Keep it up, NASCAR! There are lives on the line.