In meeting with the media at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon revealed that he will have a meeting with NASCAR next week to discuss putting SAFER barriers in place, and the goals for the future.
“I wasn’t able to do it this week, but I have a meeting with them next week,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting together with them to hear a little bit more detail in that progress. I don’t want to allude to too much because I have just enough details to get myself in trouble by bringing them up because I don’t have the full scope of it. I would prefer to have the full scope of it. I think that the most important thing is just to continue to see progress.”
A lot of focus has been put on SAFER barriers after Kyle Busch was injured following a wreck in the XFINITY race. With nine laps to go, Kyle Busch would give Erik Jones a shot, resulting in Jones coming down across the field. Busch would then bounce off of another car before sliding through the infield grass and making heavy contact with a non-SAFER barrier wall. The crash resulted in Busch sustaining a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot in the accident.
Last weekend, Jeff Gordon hit a wall on the backstretch at Atlanta Motor Speedway that did not have a SAFER barrier. It’s also not the first time that Gordon has hit a non-SAFER barrier wall, following previous incidents at Pocono Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Gordon wants to meet with NASCAR to see when did start being put at the tracks, how far is NASCAR into that plan, and what are is the timing for everything be completed. Gordon says he thought that every wall in the sport would be covered within the first three or four years, but that has yet to happen as evident by the past couple of weekends. He added that it does seem that the incidents of late have caused NASCAR to up the priority, but was that always the plan?
“I don’t think anybody expected them to have SAFER barriers around every wall day one,” he commented. “I think I’m realistic to know that they can’t just have it next week. It takes a while to manufacturer them. There are only a couple of groups or distributors or however you want to put it. The people that make them that are certified to even do it.”
Gordon says the meeting came about by him reaching out to NASCAR to discuss things, in which NASCAR responded that they were willing to discuss.
“They have been sharing a lot of information with drivers a lot more than I’ve ever seen in the past,” Gordon noted. “So, I’ve been pretty happy with that. This just happened. And whatever comes out of that, I’ll share with other drivers and my team, for sure.”
Over the years, Gordon hasn’t been the only driver critical about the lack of SAFER barriers, as Harvick spoke out against Daytona International Speedway last season. Harvick commented that tracks don’t need to be spending a bunch money on their grandstands versus the walls, referencing Daytona’s new Daytona Rising project.
“All I can say is that if you go do that and then somebody gets hurt, and there was a way to make it safer to have possibly prevented those injuries, then you might want to rethink how you’re spending your money on those things,” Gordon commented. “But, we’ve got to have people in the grandstands. We’ve got to have people that want to come back to the grandstands. So I understand that’s important. And we all recognize how important our fans are.
“But throughout my career, what I’ve seen is that it goes in waves where safety is a very high priority and everything is spent on safety. And then you feel like you’re in a pretty good place and a safe place, and you start putting more energy into some other areas. And we do this as race teams sometimes, too. You start focusing so much on performance and you get off a little bit on safety. And then something happens and you go, whoa; wait a minute. We need to put more energy into that. And we need to put more money into that. And so, I would say that it’s easy to criticize after the fact. But when those choices and decisions are being made, I think that I feel pretty good about saying this, that I believe NASCAR or the track is saying it seems like we’re in a pretty good place here, so let’s go spend money on making the fan experience better. But, then an accident happens and you’d better rethink that a little bit, or a lot.”
The importance for this to happen is huge for driver safety as Gordon says hitting a SAFER barrier is a lot different than hitting a non-SAFER barrier, as it’s a difference that he notices right away.
“What always comes to mind to me, literally, is when I hit a non-SAFER barrier wall I go ‘Wow, what did I just hit? What was that?’,” Gordon commented. “I’m always caught off guard by the impact and how severe it is. When I get out of the car my first thing is I want to see what I hit. Every time I have felt that it is because I hit something that was not protected with SAFER barrier. With a SAFER barrier wall and this happened to me I think at Texas last year or the year before, I blew a right-front tire going into Turn 1. I was like ‘oh God this is going to hurt’. ‘Oh that wasn’t so bad.’ So it’s a huge difference.
“But I also understand there are angles that are better for hitting it. There are some that a tire type of barrier might be better for a straight-on impact. There are some where tires are not good for impacts because of how it grabs the car and wants to flip it over or spin it around and can propel it back out in traffic. To me every area that they say ‘yes that wall would be safer with a SAFER barrier’ it needs to have a SAFER barrier and we need to know what the time frame is and when it is going to become a SAFER barrier.”