Despain & Petty Discuss SAFER Barriers in Light of Hamlin's Injury
In the Q&A below, SPEED analysts Dave Despain and Kyle Petty discuss their perspectives on the Denny Hamlin/Joey Logano incident Sunday at Auto Club Speedway and SAFER barriers at race tracks in light of Hamlin’s back injury:
What is your position on some tracks not having SAFER barriers all the way around the racing surface?
Despain: “Typically safety improvements are made in response to a perceived need, so if nobody had ever hit there before, the logic is nobody ever will hit there and we don’t need to protect it. But once someone hits there, it’s a great shock and everyone assumes they must protect that area. I guess I can see the logic in that given the expense of safety enhancements like the SAFER barrier, which isn’t cheap, but my attitude is it’s only a matter of time until someone hits there, so it probably makes sense to go ahead and implement the SAFER barriers everywhere. But that’s easy for me to say because it’s not my money.”
Petty: “It is incredibly expensive for a race track to put up SAFER barriers. It isn’t a low cost proposition or something that happens overnight. At the same time, I don’t think anybody in the sport, whether a track owner, car owner, driver or NASCAR can or should ever let costs be a factor when it comes to safety. This is just another flag for us just like the fence was at Daytona. Has the fence worked? Yes, it has always worked. Has anyone ever hit in that particular place in the fence? No. It’s a catchfence. It kept the car on the race track. Did parts and pieces go through the fence and will they evaluate the fence and try to do something differently? Yes. Has anyone ever really hit like Denny did and at that angle on the inside of the track at Fontana? Probably not. But Denny proved they can hit there. The tracks and NASCAR have to look at it collectively and consider that we run all the safety features that are built into the car everywhere – not just some tracks but everywhere -- so if you’re going to have a soft wall, which is a safety feature, then it should be everywhere.”
With that in mind, what is a reasonable amount of time to allow tracks to fully implement SAFER barriers?
Petty: “I’m a firm believer things happen in threes. We’ve had Daytona (Nationwide Series accident) and now Fontana. Where’s our third one? I say fix it now. If you know something is safer then why not fix it? It should be now. But I am not criticizing the race tracks because I know how much money they have put into their facilities to make them safer over the years and they always do it no matter the cost. They always step up and do it. Collectively, this incident shines a light brighter on NASCAR and the tracks to collectively address these situations.”
Does the fact Hamlin wrecked hard and sustained an injury put his on-track incident with Joey Logano in a different light?
Despain: “Not really. Every time guys run into each other, there is the potential something will go wrong. The outcome after the fact doesn’t really change what was transpiring, which was a couple of drivers with an issue racing really hard for the win. We all try to put ourselves in the seat and second-guess the players on both sides. I would like to believe both guys would have run that last lap the same way and for the win no matter who they were racing. I’d like to think winning means that much to them. Was Logano supposed to let off because it was Denny Hamlin? I don’t think so. Was Denny not supposed to run it in there because it was Joey Logano? I don’t think so.”
Petty: “No. To me, it doesn’t. They had their Bristol run-in the week before and had been going at it before that. Kyle Busch said it best last night on NASCAR Victory Lane – that was two guys focused solely on each other going for the win and they just got together. They were so focused on each other that they never thought about him catching them and going by them. Davey Allison and I did it at Charlotte in 1992. We’ve seen it 1,000,000 times with two guys going for the win. Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip did it at Richmond going into turn three for the win. We’ve seen it throughout the history of the sport. Drivers drop their window nets and get out. Everybody claps and we don’t think anything about it, but this time, Denny didn’t climb out uninjured. But his injury doesn’t make the incident any different than it would have been. I don’t think they were running at each other to wreck each other. It was all about those two. It’s not Joey’s fault. I know it’s a stupid saying, but that was a racing incident. The injury doesn’t change anything.”