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NASCAR research begins in Nationwide incident

February 24, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Officials begin investigation less than 24 hours after major wreck in Nationwide opener

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Less than 24 hours after Kyle Larson crashed into the fencing along the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR officials had begun evaluating the incident that involved a dozen cars and injured at least 28 fans seated nearby in the grandstands.

Safety measures put into place in recent years, such as roof and cowl flaps, have helped stabilize the heavy stock cars when they have been involved in crashes, keeping them from lifting off the racing surface.

Larson’s incident, which occurred on the final lap of the Feb. 23 Nationwide Series race, was the first time this season a car had become airborne and struck the fencing that separates the racing surface from the grandstands.

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“The short answer is no,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR vice president of racing operations said Feb. 24 when asked if officials had determined why Larson’s car was launched into the fencing. “As the cars are coming to the checkered flag, obviously people are not letting off the gas. Speeds play into this. We’ll look at that, speeds versus maybe where they were … with somebody spinning. We’ll take a further look at that.”

Larson was running fifth as the field came out of the fourth turn and onto the tri-oval. When race leader Regan Smith moved high in an attempt to block the second-place car of Brad Keselowski, the two cars touched, turning Smith’s car into the outside wall. But even at that speed, and with his car turned, Smith’s Chevrolet settled quickly back onto the racing surface and slid to the inside of the track.

Larson’s was another matter.

While he was initially able to avoid the spinning Smith, Larson struck Keselowski, whose car had also turned toward the wall. The contact sent Larson’s car around as well, and the two cars slid up the track.

The banking of the track surface in the tri-oval is 18 degrees. Larson’s car was pointed up the track, toward the wall, scrubbing off speed as it skidded toward the finish line.

Brian Scott, who had a huge run on the outside coming off Turn 4, clipped the rear of Smith’s car, but couldn’t dive low enough, fast enough, to avoid hitting Larson’s car solidly in the left-rear. The impact lifted Larson’s car off the track surface and sent it flying into the fencing.

The fencing kept Larson’s car from entering the stands, however the violence of the crash sent parts and pieces of the car flying off when the car impacted part of the fence structure near the flag stand.

The engine wound up tangled in cables and fencing as the entire front end was shorn away from the rest of the car. At least one of the front tires, still attached to the wheel, shot over the fence and into the crowd.

NASCAR entries are structurally sound, and cars must pass several stringent inspections before they are approved for competition. While there is no guarantee that parts coming off a car during an accident will not enter an area occupied by race fans, officials have taken numerous steps through the

Tethers, composed of strands of steel cable, are currently required by NASCAR for at least five areas of the car – the hood, cowl flaps, spindle, rear deck lid and rear springs. In some instances, they help strengthen an area. In others, they help secure the piece in the event of an accident.

“I think for the most part the car held up,” O’Donnell said. “The tethers held up. Obviously, we can always learn. When a car gets up into the fence, that’s something we have to take back (to the NASCAR Research and Development Center), analyze everything we can. We’ll do just that and the process has started.

“The tethers did hold on, but the challenge is the piece obviously got away when it hit the fence. That’s something, again, we can learn.

“Now we’ve got to take another look and say, ‘hey, is that the best practice or is there more we can do?’”

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