For the second week in a row, NASCAR had to answer questions about its safety procedures during a race, this time after the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28.
Trey Hutchens III’s truck slowed on the racetrack and came to a near stop on the frontstretch in the closing laps. However, the caution wasn’t waved, even as Matt Crafton’s vehicle was simultaneously smoking its way down pit lane (NASCAR was monitoring this and had not yet made a call to throw the yellow). Johnny Sauter came around while racing with Drew Dollar and didn’t see Hutchens sitting on the frontstretch, violently crashing into the back of the No. 14. Sauter’s truck also hit Dollar, though Dollar was able to continue after the wreck.
A frightening and violent crash for Johnny Sauter in Charlotte. He climbed out and is okay. pic.twitter.com/g0C7XuB5AR
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 29, 2021
Thankfully both Hutchens and Sauter were OK, but this does leave some questions about the whole ordeal. Why was the caution not out when he was slowing on the track? NASCAR answered this, noting at first that officials were looking at Crafton’s truck to see if there was any oil that they would need to clean up on the track, and once they saw the crash, they put out the caution.
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) May 29, 2021
“Obviously, the caution was slow in coming. There’s no question about that,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ve had our internal debrief, obviously, that night; the next day before the Xfinity race. A few things played into that. No excuses.”
Miller also explained that the turn spotter saw Hutchens’ truck but “thought he made it to pit road before (Hutchens) made it outside of (the turn spotter’s) view. Kind of perfect storm there a little bit. No excuse again, but the paint job on the 14 was a super dark purple and the (truck) got up against the wall. Our flagman didn’t see it sitting there. And it led to a very, very unfortunate, unfortunate accident.
“A lot of things stacked up right there. Caution should have been out, not denying that. A lot of things led to that.”
While that’s definitely an issue, things happened so quickly from Hutchens stopping on the frontstretch to Sauter slamming into him. Who knows now whether there would have been enough time for Sauter to get slowed down enough to see the No. 14 if the caution came out right away?
Another question I have is why did it take so long for a safety team member to reach Sauter? His window net stayed up a long time and NASCAR should have had someone come over right away after Dollar left the area. According to NBC Sports, it took about a minute and a half to get to the No. 13 truck, about 30 seconds after Sauter put his window net down. That’s a concerning amount of time and definitely should be addressed for future races, especially those run at night.
Miller discussed the response time while on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“Responding to two incidents is always tricky when we’re trying to get the field captured and all that,” Miller told the station. “We could have also done a better job there. Got to the 14 in plenty of time. The 13 (Sauter’s truck), the response time probably wasn’t 100% of what it should have been, but there’s a lot of mechanics and a lot of moving parts in getting all that done. Every time we have one of these, we learn how to do things better.”
Like I said above, all they needed to have was two sets of safety vehicles attending to both drivers. They reached Hutchens quickly. Why didn’t they use the outlet near the end of pit lane, or send a second team out right after the first team? And why wasn’t the race red flagged to help them get to the drivers and clean up the debris? Besides wasting laps, trucks might’ve continued to run over the sheet metal and other debris scattered across the track.
This is the second week that a questionable call was made after a significant crash. At Circuit of the Americas, visibility was dismal due to the rain and rooster tails coming off the cars in the Cup Series race. Christopher Bell crashed into Ryan Blaney, and Kevin Harvick didn’t see how far they were ahead of him. He slowed up too early and Bubba Wallace slammed into the back of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing car, appearing to lift it off the ground from Harvick’s on-board camera.
I was adamant at that time that NASCAR needed to stop the race until they dried the wetter areas. Unfortunately, the race didn’t stop until Martin Truex Jr. ran into the back of Michael McDowell. The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing car then was rammed by Cole Custer from behind and nearly flipped over. Subsequently, Custer’s car hit the wall and bounced off, catching fire.
NASCAR admitted its fault after this incident as well and realized it should have paused the competition after the first big wreck with Harvick and Wallace. But didn’t NASCAR mention last year in the Xfinity Series event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL that if visibility got too bad and the track was too wet with too many puddles, it would stop the race? I understand that COTA was a new racetrack but officials needed to listen to drivers’ radios and check out the on-board cameras to see whether conditions were safe to compete in. If they already do that, then that’s great, but it still doesn’t change the fact that Truex and Custer exited the race with destroyed racecars.
After what happened at Charlotte Friday night, though, I believe NASCAR needs to really go over scenarios that have already happened and what might could happen to better prepare itself for those types of incidents. I know the AMR safety crew does a lot for everyone at the racetrack, and I’m sure it is looking to improve after Friday’s slow response time. I just don’t want NASCAR to start displaying a pattern of questionable calls when it comes to safety.
About the author
Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor while continuing to write daily fantasy and news articles. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.
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