Four-time champion adds Atlanta to list that includes Las Vegas, Richmond
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HAMPTON, Ga. — For the second time in two weeks, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver crashed into a wall that was not covered with the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier safety system.
Fortunately, this time he was able to walk away.
Unlike Kyle Busch, who suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot a week earlier at Daytona International Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon was not injured in Sunday’s four-car crash on Lap 256 of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Still, the fact that yet another area left uncovered by the SAFER barrier was exposed didn’t sit well with Gordon, a four-time series champion.
"I am very frustrated with the fact there are no SAFER barriers down there," Gordon said of the area of impact, which took place on the backstretch of the 1.54-mile track. "I knew it was a hard hit. I was like ‘man I can’t believe …’ I didn’t expect it to be that hard. Then I got out and I looked and I saw ‘oh wow, big surprise I found the one wall here on the back straightaway that doesn’t have a SAFER barrier.’ "
Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin were involved in the incident, which began when Hamlin’s Toyota spun in front of Newman, who bounced into McMurray. McMurray’s Chevrolet caught Gordon’s Chevrolet in the left rear, which sent Gordon sliding down the track and into the wall.
His car struck only a few feet beyond where that particular section of SAFER barrier ended.
Climbing from his car, Gordon paused with his hands on his hips, eventually gesturing toward the area of impact as safety workers and a NASCAR official arrived on the scene.
"I don’t think we can say any more after Kyle’s incident at Daytona," Gordon said. "Everybody knows we have to do something and it should have been done a long time ago. All we can do now is hope they do it as fast as they possibly can."
AMS officials had announced earlier the addition of 130 linear feet of barrier at the exit of pit road near Turn 1 for this weekend’s race activities, which included XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series events. A tire barrier was also put into place along the inside wall of Turn 4.
Sunday evening, AMS track president Ed Clark said that the track would continue to look at ways to make its track safer for competitors.
"It won’t be any different than it was Monday when NASCAR had us put (the) additional barriers in place," Clark said. "We worked on their advisement.
"When the folks from the University of Nebraska (which developed the SAFER barrier system) first came in and … had us install the first barriers, we’ve extended that twice beyond what they recommended at that time."
Clark said he was "pretty certain" the current barriers would again be extended beyond their current state.
"We are certainly open to doing whatever (NASCAR) wants," he said.
In a statement provided to NASCAR.com Sunday evening, the sanctioning body said:
"We have accelerated our review of safety advancements at each of our racing venues. This is an on-going process that we will continue to approach aggressively and steadfastly in working with our track partners in the areas of safety."
Busch, recuperating at his home in North Carolina, took to social media immediately following Gordon’s crash to Tweet the following:
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) March 1, 2015
Ray Evernham, who served as Gordon’s crew chief for three of the driver’s four championships, tweeted:
Total BS no safer barrier where @JeffGordonWeb hit WTF?
— ray evernham (@RayEvernham) March 1, 2015
Sunday’s wreck wasn’t the first into an unprotected area for Gordon, who struck an uncovered wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2008 and one at Richmond International Raceway in 2011.
The Richmond impact was extremely severe, "hard enough to move the door bars in several inches," he said a week after that impact.
Both tracks have since extended the amount of the protective system on their walls, although no track on this year’s schedule features the SAFER barrier on all of its walls surrounding the racing surface.
"I know that NASCAR and the tracks have pledged to put SAFER barriers everywhere they can, and they will," said Carl Edwards shortly after the Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished 12th at AMS.
"It’s an evolution and I venture to guarantee there won’t be any (uncovered) concrete walls left in the next month or two and that’s a good thing."
"We’ve got to get that fixed, said Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola, who finished 11th.
"It’s 2015 and these tracks know that there are a lot of places we can wreck. We don’t just wreck in the corners in the outside wall; we wreck everywhere."
Race winner Jimmie Johnson, one of four drivers at HMS, was surprised to hear his teammate had once again hit a wall where no SAFER barrier was in place.
"Again? That man will find a spot," Johnson said.
"Thankfully there are a lot of people paying attention to it, and we can get this addressed."
Johnson said he was "under the impression" that all tracks and the sanctioning body were "on board" toward making the necessary improvements.
"It’s unfortunate, we’re so many years removed from the inception of the SAFER barrier," he said. "I think we’re on the right track and have it everywhere it needs to be."
Following Busch’s crash at Daytona, track president Joie Chitwood III vowed that such incidents would not occur again.
"We’re going to live up to our responsibility. We’re going to fix this and it starts right now," Chitwood said.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the first NASCAR-sanctioned track to install the barriers, using the system for the first time in a NASCAR race in 2002.
Other NASCAR venues have since incorporated the safety devices to cover the majority of the inside and outside retaining walls at their respective facilities.
Gordon, in his final season of competing full-time in the Sprint Cup Series, was credited with a 41st-place finish.