Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Elliott Sadler’s Unseen Stop a Potent Reminder to Fix Our Tracks!

I watched the No. 2 of Kurt Busch slide and bump over the grass of the Long Pond Straightaway. I cringed with each wobble, hit and turn. It really had all the earmarks of a potential disaster, especially when his car hit the wall and started heading back toward the track. Once the mayhem subsided, I sighed in relief. Today would not have one of “those” wrecks.

And so we all thought, until the camera turned to the shredded remnants of Elliott Sadler’s No. 19 without its engine attached.

How in all that’s holy did that happen?

I bit my nails as he climbed from his car, moaned a bit when he displayed a face twisted in pain and outright swore under my breath when Sadler lay down on the pavement. Not good. So not good.

And still, the question remained. What had happened? What managed to separate that machine into so many bits?

The answers to these questions is ultimately what draws our attention to moments of carnage in our sport. We want to know what elements came together to result in such devastation. And then we want to know how to fix it.

First off, Sadler ultimately walked away. Yes, his breath was knocked out of him from his belts at the moment of head-on impact with the earthen bank/armco barrier on the inside of the Long Pond Straightaway, and yes, he admitted to being sore. Who wouldn’t be? But he didn’t have any broken bones or other obvious injuries. So, before we start hollering about what went wrong, let’s take a second to talk about everything that worked as it intended.

The CoT, or as it is often referred to in moments of extreme distaste – the PoS: Yes, it’s possibly the ugliest stock car ever invented with its boxy shape, attached cow catcher and, until recently, a wing meant to sell more mods to the street racers, but all of the underlying safety improvements have once again proven their worth.

Upon impact with the wall, the engine compartment buckled, absorbing much of that massive hit. The cockpit remained in the same shape it started. Bolts, tethers and braces meant to fail, did so. Yes, the car was flung back up the track, but that, too, is part of the safety mechanisms built into the car and walls. Elliott’s carbon-fiber seat and belts kept his body cocooned and reasonably stationary, preventing limbs from flying about the cockpit. And finally, the HANS device.

With his head anchored by the straps, keeping his head and neck restrained at the time of the sudden stop, Sadler did not suffer a life-threatening injury. Will he be eating ibuprofen for the next week or two? Most certainly. But if this is the price we have to pay while the CoT struts its stuff on the track, I think there should be some kind of celebration for the much maligned creature and those responsible for its design.

Alright, now that we’ve got the love-fest with the solid, durable and SAFE present Cup car out of the way.

How many wrecks will it take before NASCAR decides that SAFER barriers are required on all walls of every track the Cup Series runs at? And, to follow up that thought, when are the track owners and the sanctioning body going to stop thinking, “Nobody will ever wreck right there. We can leave that wall jutting out like that. It’ll be fine. Really.”

There wasn’t supposed to be a cloud of smoke from a car wrecking an entire straight away. But there was. AJ Allmendinger shouldn’t have been knocking on Sadler’s tail right then. He was. And that No. 19 was never intended to sail straight into that odd abutment, but it did.

Hindsight might be 20/20, folks, but common sense honestly doesn’t require real-life demonstrations in order to see the potential harm a hazardous configuration could bring to bear. It’s true that the re-engineering of the inner walls of a track costs more than a pretty penny. But why does it seem that the money is only spent after we see such violent wrecks?

I realize Pocono already had plans in place to replace the earthen barricades with a SAFER barrier system. Still, Watkins Glen had no intention of completely changing turn 9 until Sam Hornish Jr.’s tilt-a-whirl slammed into Jeff Gordon last year. Las Vegas never thought you really needed SAFER barriers on the inner wall, or that the angle of an emergency vehicle opening really required that much thought… until Jeff Gordon slammed into it. Are we seeing a pattern here?

Where else on the circuit is there an awkward angle, a hard barrier or an unsecured gate? What other driver will have to test the limits of the aging safety systems? What price might he pay for the hesitation of officials and owners in setting the highest possible standards for our massive automotive coliseums?

Let’s not find out. Instead, on behalf of the competitors, I’m asking NASCAR and all the owners to focus on placing the highest priority in bringing these tracks up to snuff now. Because, if you think a car will never hit that particular spot, the devil’s got a magnet in the wall and he’s just waiting for that next car to drive by.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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