Newman, McDowell involved in hard wreck at the Glen
August 10, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- A severe crash halted Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen in the 57th of 90 laps, marking the latest in a series of chilling wrecks in recent years at Watkins Glen International. While the two principal drivers involved were uninjured after a mandatory visit to the infield car center, it prompted a spirited debate from both sides about safety at the 58-year-old road course.
When Ryan Newman's No. 31 Chevrolet spun into the guardrail on the short chute between Turns 5 and 6, the car rebounded violently back onto the racing surface where it was clipped by Michael McDowell's No. 95 Ford. The collision knocked the rear end housing from McDowell's car and vaulted him toward the railing where the section of the course's longer layout -- called "the Boot" -- rejoins the shorter NASCAR circuit.
McDowell's impact knocked out a section of guardrail, and jolted what was left of Newman's car.
"I knew I was in trouble when I could see out the passenger door to the grass, and there was no door to the race car," McDowell said. "Still amazing to walk away from an accident like that."
McDowell said that the impact "knocked the wind out of me," and that he sat on the ground beside the car momentarily to collect his thoughts and take a breather. Though McDowell was thankful to emerge just shaken up, Newman bristled at the track's use of guardrails and tire barriers in some areas instead of concrete walls reinforced by impact-absorbing SAFER Barriers.
"It was violent," Newman said. "My hit into the wall wasn't that bad. It was the shot that I got from McDowell. Thankfully all of us are safe, but not at all where I wanted to be at the end of the day."
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said that he expected the repaired wall to be as fortified as its predecessor. While he reiterated that advancements in technology have made the sport less treacherous, he added that safety continues to be a moving target.
"(The accidents) all get reviewed, but it's a constant improvement process," Pemberton said. "And as you know, many of the places that we go to, the facilities are multi-purpose, and we're only here one weekend a year. And it's busy throughout the rest of the year. We're not the only series that races here. Watkins Glen has made great advancements in Turns 1 and 2 and all of that -- moved grandstands and added SAFER Barriers, and that's worked quite well for us. But not all places are places for SAFER Barriers. Different types of systems help slow the cars down. As you can see the incident with Cole Whitt earlier in the race down in Turn 1, it was good that the tire barrier was there.
"We do work year in and year out on all of these facilities. Every race, pre-race and post-race, we do a lot of inspections and look at places that need improvement. There's a priority list as far as what turns and straightaways and things like that that you need to work on. It's an ongoing process."
Kevin Harvick, who was 13th when the red flag was lifted after a total 1-hour, 21-minute, 49-minute delay, agreed with Pemberton and said the track had upgraded its facilities in recent years.
"Well, it's changed a lot through the years," Harvick said. "They have spent a lot of money on sand traps and moving walls back and there's been a lot of changes after we had the wreck off of Turn 1. So, obviously, as drivers, we want to see the safest barrier as possible put in. What that is in this particular instance, I don't know. I know we've seen Jimmie Johnson pile in headfirst all the way into the barriers and get out of his car and walk away and we've been in a lot of pretty big wrecks here. We've seen everybody walk away. So, you always want to see them evolve and I don’t really know the exact circumstances.
"I know that I'd rather hit that Armco (guardrail) over there rather than a solid concrete wall. So, it's just all about the circumstances that you're in."