Kurt Busch leads a pack of cars in the Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway
(Photo: CIA Stock Photo, Inc. ©2015)­­

Friday Faceoff: Safety in the Pits, Silly Season Dominoes & Truckin’ Trouble

Sunday’s race at Pocono included a nasty crash where Kasey Kahne spun off turn 3 and slid into the pits, hitting the wall so hard metal braces were bent and the concrete cracked.  Jeb Burton had almost an identical crash on Saturday during practice.  Can anything be done to prevent this type of crash or lessen the danger to people on pit road?

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: They’ve already announced plans to extend the out pit wall and my guess is they’re looking at moving those first few pit stalls further down pit road. But until they build a replica of the Great Wall of China down pit road and have pit crews parachute into the stall it still behooves people in the area never to turn their backs on the direction the cars are moving.

Kasey Kahne climbs from the No. 5 Chevy after a hard crash in the Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway
Kasey Kahne’s accident in Pocono led many to question the safety of the track’s pit road. (Photo: CIA Stock Photo, Inc. ©2015)­­

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Yes, don’t go that fast coming off the turn.  In all seriousness, it’s a more of a coincidence than anything. They haven’t repaved that area of the track recently, and sometimes cars take off. It just highlights why any exposed wall on the track should have a SAFER Barrier. At least the Pocono pit road is wide enough where they can line it something and not make the pits too narrow.

Jerry Jordan, Contributor: Regarding Kasey Kahne‘s spin and Jeb Burton‘s spin and even the lesser-intense Ray Black, Jr. spin – this is big time auto racing. Drivers get loose and drivers crash. That is what happens when you put it on the edge and try to go as fast as possible. So, from a racing aspect, that isn’t a big deal. Yes, it is “off” that two of the three drivers all but track the exact same path off of turn 3 but remember, had the pit wall been extended they would have likely plowed into in the end of it or destroyed the water barrels. That was a career-ending crash for Jerry Nadeau and he was at Richmond, I believe. The speeds at Pocono were way higher. Now, as for pit road, I think anyone who doesn’t have a hard card or a photo vest should be required to stay behind the back line of the pit stall. It’s fairly easy for fans/guests to obtain hot passes and I have seen several not paying attention while I was at the wall shooting photos. That is a recipe for disaster.

Kasey Kahne climbs from the No. 5 Chevy after a hard crash in the Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway
It was fortunate that nobody was hurt after Kasey Kahne soun onto pit road at Pocono last week. (Photo: CIA Stock Photo, Inc. ©2015)­­

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Pocono has said it will address the issue with the pit road wall and look into lengthening the outside wall to keep drivers from spinning into active pits. I’ve heard the idea of a SAFER barrier on pit wall, but that’s the one place it won’t work well, because it would make the wall too wide for the crews.  I think the other side of the issue is the sheer number of people in the pits and garage on a race weekend.  The real safety story of the weekend, to me, was Jimmie Johnson hitting a person in the garage.  Johnson was obviously shaken by the incident, because the person in question, who holds a NASCAR hard card in another, could have been badly hurt, or worse, because he wasn’t paying attention.  Rule one of being in the garage or pits is to never, never, turn your back on the direction the cars are approaching from.

Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: There are a couple of options. There is space for three pits in front of Victory Lane that could be utilized with some minor reconfiguration. The pit boxes could be moved toward turn 1, which would move them further from the turn 3 end of the lane. The pit boxes could also be reduced in size. The boxes at Pocono are the largest in the sport. Also the wall between pit road and the track can be extended closer to turn three. It shouldn’t take too much effort to make the pits a bit safer.

It’s around the time of year when Silly Season gets into full swing.  A few drivers remain unsigned, including Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., David Ragan and Jamie McMurray.  Is this year going to be sillier than ever, or will it be a snoozer, with most drivers re-signing with their current teams?

Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: All of the teams outside of the new deal between Rob Kauffman and Chip Ganassi Racing should be okay. Jimmie Johnson is certainly secure with Hendrick Motorsports as he searches for his seventh title. Martin Truex, Jr. is lighting the Cup Series up, so the only thing that could boot him out is the proposed move to Toyota. While Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart have their issues, Gene Haas seems to keep Busch’s job safe with Stewart-Haas Racing, especially when he continues to score finishes on par with defending NSCS champion teammate Kevin Harvick.  All that leaves is Jamie McMurray and David Ragan. McMurray, who appears to be cruising to a spot in the Chase, should be okay so long as he has sponsor backing, though I wouldn’t call him safe just yet. Ragan, on the other hand, is up in the air. Driving for three different teams in one season will do that to anyone, and MWR’s potential collapse at season’s end doesn’t offer Ragan much promise.

Henderson: While I would be surprised to see Johnson or Busch walk (and both are reportedly working on new contracts with their current teams), I’m not quite convinced that silly season will be a non-event this year. With Rob Kauffman moving to the Chip Ganassi camp (with or without Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer, and/or the Nos. 15 and/or 55 cars) that does raise questions about McMurray’s status.  He and Ganassi have always gotten along well, but depending on sponsorship and the depth of Kauffman’s pockets, there could certainly be some changes within the organization.  It seems likely that Ragan will be looking for a new ride, and with most of the mid-level teams (think RPM, JTG Daugherty, Germain and the like) already having drivers sewn up for 2016, his best bet might be as a teammate to Martin Truex, Jr. at Furniture Row Racing if the team expands (and if Truex stays put, which seems likely). In any case, look for McMurray to possibly be the first domino. If he goes, look for a bigger shuffle than if he stays put.

Jamie McMurray rides around Pocono Raceway before the Windows 10 400
Will Jamie McMurray be the domino that sets Silly Season in motion? (Photo: CIA Stock Photo, Inc. ©2015)­­

Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: I don’t think there’s going to be all that much movement.  However, the ongoing Rob Kauffman saga is going to determine most of what happens.  If he takes only one of the MWR teams to Ganassi with him at the end of the season, it could cause a scramble.  If he takes both, there might be next to no movement at top teams.  You’ll have some turnover at the smaller teams (BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Circle Sport, etc.).

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: This year’s Silly Season is little more than a chance for NASCAR Nation to wring its collective hands and feel more anxious than usual. None of the drivers in question are in any legitimate danger of losing their rides. The real news would be if any of their teams decided to NOT offer them new contracts. Dull racing seasons often begat dull news reports based on unfounded rumors, and this is one of those situations.

Clayton Caldwell, Contributor: I think aside from the MWR stuff it’s going to kinda boring. I expect McMurray, Truex, Busch and Johnson all to be back with their teams with the only side note being Furniture Row moving to Toyota. Ragan, on the other hand, is interesting because his future at MWR relies on the sponsorship of Aaron’s and what their plans are. If Aaron’s decides to go elsewhere Ragan will be searching for a ride and the speculation on his 2016 will be interesting for some, however a big splash really isn’t going to happen

The Cup Series hits Watkins Glen this week.  AJ Allmendinger won his first Cup race there a year ago. Will we see another surprise winner this time around, and who is the top candidate?

2015 Pocono CUP Kyle Busch ears CIA
Kyle Busch will be chasing his fifth win in seven weeks this Sunday. (Photo: CIA Stock Photo, Inc. ©2015)

Neff: Nope, it is going to be an expected winner. Kyle Busch continues to be on a roll and there is no reason to believe he won’t chalk up win number three at the Glen. One driver who might be a surprise to some but shouldn’t be is Tony Stewart. He is the all-time winningest driver at the Glen and the organization has the equipment to put him in the Winner’s Circle.

Jordan: Road course racing is exciting and unpredictable but if I were picking someone to watch this weekend it would have to be Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. Stewart has something to prove and has been turning things around in the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet. And although Busch was happy his brother and he finished 1-2 at Sonoma, he wants as many wins as he can get in 2015. Aside from his intense competitive nature, he also have something to prove. On a personal note, it would be good to see AJ Allmendinger defend his win from last year.

Pugliese: No surprise winners this time around; I’m going with Kurt Busch.

Allaway: Well, you could have one.  Allmendinger could do it.  So could Sam Hornish, Jr.  Jamie McMurray’s quietly very solid on road courses dating back to his time at Roush Fenway Racing.  There’s a reason why Chip Ganassi keeps tapping him for Rolex 24 duty every year.  If I were to bet money on a surprise winner, I’d go with McMurray.

Bearden: This question would be a lot more fun if Marcos Ambrose were still around. AJ Allmendinger has to be among the favorites to claim another road-course win should he be able to outrun fellow road-course aces like Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon. While one could hardly call it a surprise, Tony Stewart could easily get the monkey off of his back with a Watkins Glen win.

After the two tangled on track at Pocono during the Camping World Truck Series race, Matt Crafton accused Brad Keselowski of wrecking him on purpose to help Tyler Reddick, who drives for Keselowski, gain points toward the championship.  Is there any merit to Crafton’s accusation?

Henderson: This is a two-part question.  Is there merit to the idea of that kind of thing going on?  Absolutely.  Ask Mike Wallace in 2000 or Brendan Gaughan in 2003.  But while it’s happened before, I would be shocked if what happened Saturday was anything other than a racing incident.  As aggressive (and sometimes overaggressive) as Brad Keselowski can be, he’s not a dirty driver.  He races others the way they race him.  Remember his duel with Jimmie Johnson at Texas in 2012?  Keselowski could have easily wrecked Johnson to enhance his title hopes that day… and he didn’t, because that’s not the way Johnson races him.  If he wouldn’t do it for his own driver’s title, doing it for an owner’s title in a series he’s not a regular in seems completely out of character.  Crafton was frustrated, and hopefully he’s had time to realize that.

Caldwell: Matt Crafton’s accusation against Brad Keselowski was simply frustration. Keselowski did nothing wrong and Crafton lost control and hit the outside wall, which resulted in him losing the points lead for the first time in a long time. Anytime a Cup driver comes down to run in trucks, truck regulars seem to get annoyed. Ron Hornaday, Jr. used to be angry with Cup drivers for all sorts of reasons and Crafton is starting to get that way.

Howell: Matt Crafton must have seen the movie Inside Out this summer because he apparently allowed Anger/Lewis Black to make his initial comments to the media after his problems at Pocono. An unwritten rule of racing is that a driver should never talk to a reporter without first catching their breath and actually assessing what just transpired on the track. Emotion makes a lousy muse that’s best left ignored until cooler heads prevail. We tend to say things without thinking when angry (got kids?) and this was what led to the wrath of Crafton last weekend.

Bearden: It’s hard to give any merit to Crafton’s claim when the replay showed that he clearly drove his No. 88 up the track and into Keselowski. Crafton was just fired up. A week earlier at Eldora he was threatened with a future crash by Ty Dillon, and then he got involved in an incident with the owner of his closest competitor. It certainly could all feel like a conspiracy in that position, but Keselowski doesn’t race like that with vehicles he doesn’t own.

Neff: No, let’s get serious. Crafton was pissed and had every right to be. Keselowski may be abrasive at times and can even be controversial. However, he is a professional driver and a team owner. He pointed out after the race that it was going to cost him a lot of money to repair his truck. I would imagine, after the race, Crafton probably watched the replay and realized it was a mistake. Then again, he may still be pissed and go out and wreck Reddick the next time they’re on the track. It most likely is much ado about nothing.

McLaughlin: Crafton’s claim was clearly ridiculous based on video evidence which he likely hadn’t seen when when he shot from the hip. Oh, well. He’s not the first frustrated NASCAR driver to shoot his mouth off and make an ass of himself after a wreck and he won’t be the last. I think perhaps the trick to a revenge payback is not to tell a nationwide audience of your intent prior to doing so. Anytime Crafton and Reddick are running anywhere near each other in future races NASCAR will be watching carefully.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    Since contract extensions are rarely made for less than a couple of years, it will be interesting to see how much faith Ganassi has in McMurray. To re-sign him for multiple years means an making a renewed investment in a driver that has yet to make a run at a championship. I like McMurray and I think some of the problems he has faced over the last few years have not been his fault, but sponsors want wins, not excuses.

  2. Avatar

    “Is this year going to be sillier than ever, or will it be a snoozer”

    I would suspect that it will be a snoozer like silly season has been for the last 10 years plus, a few drivers may move around on the lower teams, maybe one of the more profile drivers but otherwise everyone will stay right where they are. You’d have to go back to the 90’s to early 00’s to see a lot of driver/team moves (hence the term “silly season).

  3. Avatar

    Right now an out-of-control race car can hit the wall between the track and the pits head on. If they extend the wall the car will hit it sooner.