Note from Austin: "It's nice to hear the veteran drivers' perspectives. I appreciate them sharing their comments. As I understand, NASCAR is working with each track to make the facilities safer for all drivers, which I'm all for."
Jeff Gluck, USA Today Sports
CHARLOTTE — Austin Theriault’s frightening crash into an unprotected wall Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was another reminder that some tracks still have work to do when it comes to installing SAFER barriers.
And to some drivers, it can’t happen fast enough.
“My thing about it is they do need to work faster,” Kyle Busch said Tuesday. “NASCAR, ISC (International Speedway Corp), SMI (Speedway Motorsports Inc.), they’re billion-dollar corporations and they should be able to move a little bit quicker, I feel.”
NASCAR has worked with the racetracks to develop what Kevin Harvick called a “very extensive” safety plan that will result in an increase of SAFER barriers on the walls.
But since the so-called “soft walls” have been available since 2002, it’s frustrating to drivers when crashes like Theriault’s just keep happening.
Theriault's crash in a Camping World Truck Series event left him with a 10% compression fracture in his lower back.
“Us NASCAR drivers, we will figure out how to crash in the stupidest ways and the weirdest spots and get hurt,” Busch said. “That Austin crash, that was just so weird and never should have happened — but it did. So we all need to stop playing God and just protect as much as we can protect.”
Busch would know. He crashed into an unprotected concrete wall at Daytona International Speedway in February and missed 11 races with a badly broken leg and broken foot.
In the aftermath of his crash, many tracks scrambled to add the barriers — which can cost approximately $500 per foot. But Las Vegas still hasn’t protected the spot where Theriault crashed on the frontstretch.
Theriault’s Truck Series team owner, Brad Keselowski, said he felt defeated when trying to talk about the issue. He said it "felt like a re-run."
“I cringe, but then I get back in the race car and say, ‘What are my options?’” he said. “As a driver, I’m consistently told how lucky I am to have a spot as a race car driver and I need to shut up and drive the car. There are no options available for me to remedy the situation. I move on to things I can affect change on.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he understood NASCAR was “trying to fast-track everything they can” to get SAFER barriers on the walls but agreed with Busch the unusual wrecks needed to be protected against.
“The one-in-a-million, odd ways you can get wrecked — those are the ones where you’re going to get hurt,” Earnhardt said. “We’re finding we need them in a lot more areas.”
Harvick, once a critic of the lack of SAFER barriers, said he felt NASCAR and the tracks have “picked up the pace a tremendous amount.”
“I’ve seen the plan and it’s a pretty extensive plan of walls and barriers throughout the country at every racetrack,” he said. “There’s been millions of dollars that have been spent on the barriers, so everything I’ve been a part of, that’s been the biggest priority.”
Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck