FOX NASCAR Analysts Waltrip, Hammond and McReynolds on Austin Dillon's Accident at Daytona

Following NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES driver Austin Dillon’s accident Sunday night at Daytona International Speedway that sent his No. 3 Chevrolet airborne, FOX NASCAR analysts Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond shared their thoughts on the accident and safety in restrictor-plate races:

MCREYNOLDS ON HIS INITIAL REACTION WHILE WATCHING THE ACCIDENT UNFOLD:

“Every bit of that accident scared me, from the way the car got up in the air to how quickly the fence stopped it when the car was probably running 190 mph or more coming out of the tri-oval, and then hitting the fence at a dead stop a short distance later.  But what frightened me the most was when Brad Keselowski hit the No. 3 car because Austin was sitting on the track at a dead stop and got slammed.” 

WALTRIP ON WHETHER ACCIDENTS LIKE DILLON’S, WITH CARS AIRBORNE, ARE AVOIDABLE AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS:

“They’ve done everything they can to the cars at this point.  As bad as it was, some good came of Geoff Bodine’s accident at Daytona in the Truck Series because it opened our eyes and safety improvements were made.  The same thing occurred after Kyle Larson’s car went into the fence in the XFINITY Series race there in 2013.  Thank God they made the improvements they made to the fence after that.  The fence did an amazing job last night.  It was like the car went into a blender and was spit out in a bunch of pieces.  But most of those pieces stayed on the track and very little debris went outside the fence and into the stands because of the engineering work they did based on the Larson accident.  You can never anticipate everything that can happen at 190 mph.  If something weird happens, you get an unusual result. With Austin’s crash, we saw one car going over another car, getting airborne and shooting into fence.  That’s rare.  In that tri-oval coming to the checkered flag, you know there will be a big wreck, but there’s not much else they can do to ensure the cars stay on the ground.”

MCREYNOLDS ON WHETHER ACCIDENTS LIKE DILLON’S, WITH CARS AIRBORNE, ARE AVOIDABLE AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS:

“When cars are running that fast and in that big of a pack, it’s inevitable a car will go airborne at times.  I speak not just as someone who has worked in the sport for decades but also as a father whose son has raced at Daytona and Talladega.  As much as we want to get there, we won’t ever make these races 100-percent risk-free.  How can you eliminate risk when a pack of cars is running more than 190 miles-per-hour? You probably can’t.  But if you do, I’m afraid you will lose some of the attraction that brings fans to the track or to their TV during these races.  People watch bull riding because it’s dangerous.  They watch extremely motorcycle events because they’re dangerous.  We do everything we can to make racing risk-free, but we can’t.  If we could, I’m not so sure we’d have a very good product on the track. I mean that with all sensitivity and respect but also with practicality.”

HAMMOND ON WHETHER NASCAR SHOULD SLOW DOWN THE CARS AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS TO ATTEMPT TO AVOID SIMILAR ACCIDENTS:

“If drivers are still running nose-to-tail in a pack of cars, the end benefit may be that a car flies two feet lower than Austin’s did or go 100 feet less, but you’ll still have some horrific crashes.  We even see that at other tracks where speeds aren’t 200 mph every lap like at Talladega and Daytona.  It’s like driving down the freeway.  We hear about big crashes on freeways all the time with cars that were running 75 mph.  It’s a wishful thought, but I’m not too sure that lowering the speeds would provide an effective and desirable result.”

MCREYNOLDS ON WHETHER NASCAR SHOULD SLOW DOWN THE CARS AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS TO ATTEMPT TO AVOID SIMILAR ACCIDENTS:

“If you slowed them down 10 mph, does it change what happened? I doubt it when cars are eight or more rows deep and on top of each other, unless you slow the cars down so dramatically that you lose part of the attraction for the fans.  Not to sound cold or morbid, but NASCAR probably shouldn’t overthink this issue.  We shouldn’t go nuts and change a bunch of things to attempt to fix what may be unfixable.  Then you hurt the product on the track, and we don’t need to do that.  We have six really good races a year right now – the four restrictor-plate races and two road-course races.  We don’t need to hurt those six races but rather should work on improving the excitement of the other 30.”

MCREYNOLDS ON WHETHER SAFETY MEASURES, FROM THE CATCHFENCE TO THE CAR, DID THEIR JOBS:

“We need to salute NASCAR for their diligence in continuing to improve safety.  We beat them up early in the season about SAFER barriers, but what they’ve mandated with the race cars helped Austin walk away from the accident.  The car did its job for him.  As much as we, and I in particular, came down hard on Daytona International Speedway about SAFER barriers in February after Kyle Busch’s crash, the catchfence did its job because the track has stepped up its game since Kyle Larson’s crash there in 2013. The good thing is the track won’t just repair the fence and move on to the next race.  They will evaluate the accident with NASCAR and other tracks to determine whether anything further can be done to the fence to improve fan and driver safety.  NASCAR has the No. 3 car at the R&D Center, and they’ll also figure out if more can be done to improve the safety of the race car for the drivers. RCR will do the same thing.  No one will rest on their laurels after this accident, but I’m afraid they won’t be able to find a lot of areas they can adjust to change the end result.”

WALTRIP ON WHETHER TRACKS SHOULD REFRAIN FROM SELLING TICKETS AT THE LOWER LEVEL NEAR THE START/FINISH LINE:

“Look at some of the newer tracks, such as Kentucky, Kansas and Chicagoland, and the track surface sits much lower than the grandstands.  Part of the consideration when I was helping them design Kentucky Speedway was to get fans away from the track surface but still give them a good view of the track.  Pushing people back is smart because the farther back they are, the safer they are.  When objects are moving around at high speeds, whether a foul ball in a baseball game or a puck at a hockey game, they’re unpredictable.  So we should try to anticipate everything and be as proactive as possible.”

MCREYNOLDS ON WHETHER TRACKS SHOULD REFRAIN FROM SELLING TICKETS AT THE LOWER LEVEL NEAR THE START/FINISH LINE:

“That’s probably something that should be evaluated, especially at high-speed tracks like Daytona and Talladega.  A bit of a buffer zone between the catchfence and seats would be a good thing – not just in the tri-oval area but down the entire length of the grandstands.  Look back at what happened with Kyle Larson’s accident in the XFINITY Series in 2013.”

HAMMOND ON WHETHER TRACKS SHOULD REFRAIN FROM SELLING TICKETS AT THE LOWER LEVEL NEAR THE START/FINISH LINE:

“I think that’s the best way to protect the fans.  A lot of tracks are eliminating seats right now, but maybe they’re doing away with the wrong seats.  They need to worry about removing the bottom rows closest to the racing surface to ensure fans are high enough up and away from the debris field that may come over or through the catchfence.  We have gathered enough information in recent years to make a good assessment regarding how much clearance we need from the racing surface to the seats.” 

WALTRIP ON WHETHER NASCAR SHOULD CONSIDER ELIMINATING GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHES AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS TO POSSIBLY DECREASE THE NUMBER OF LATE-RACE ACCIDENTS:

“There should never be a green-white-checkered finish at Daytona or Talladega, and I’ve been saying this for a long time.  It’s a recipe for disaster because drivers are put into a box.  They’re forced to push and shove and get all they can because they only have one lap to get to the front.  I hate the green-white-checkered finishes at the restrictor-plate races.  It’s not every now and then we have an accident.  It’s almost as guaranteed as the sun rising each day.  The ingredients are there each time for disaster, and we always tear up a bunch of cars.  We went years without these finishes, and it’s time to look at where we went wrong in instituting them.  The speeds at Daytona and Talladega are fine.  The cars are safe. Change the finishes.”

HAMMOND ON WHETHER NASCAR SHOULD CONSIDER ELIMINATING GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHES AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS TO POSSIBLY DECREASE THE NUMBER OF LATE-RACE ACCIDENTS:

“If we’re going to do that, let’s just have the drivers sit in one big room and race the race on video.  Just give them controls and let them compete like you’d do in an arcade.  Racing is unpredictable and dangerous.  We need to decipher whether we are doing that to protect the drivers or the fans. If the fans, back the seats away from the track surface.  But ask the drivers what they want to do – they’re the ones laying their lives on the line. Do we want to effectively kill the sport by reducing the excitement and competition? Every time we turn around, we’re trying to do something to make it less exciting or less dangerous.  Let me be clear – I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. But we can only do so much in the name of safety before we damage the integrity of the sport.  It’s like a lot of NFL fans and players are saying – if they keep going in the direction of trying to achieve higher and higher standards of safety, they might as well go to flag football and stop tackling.  Racing is the same way.  If you keep slowing it down and slowing it down, you might as well do it with video games.”

MCREYNOLDS ON WHETHER ACCIDENTS LIKE DILLON’S ARE JUST PART OF THE INHERENT RISKS DRIVERS ACCEPT:

“Every driver in every series accepts an inherent risk.  The faster they go and the bigger the packs, the greater the risk.  And as much as their loved ones don’t like it, they have to accept it also. It goes with the territory, just like in football.  In any high-risk sport you want to be good in, you must accept that risk.”

HAMMOND ON HIS INITIAL REACTION TO THE ACCIDENT AS IT UNFOLDED:

“I wasn’t surprised because it had been a pretty aggressive race from the beginning.  Many drivers probably felt the race might be called.  There appeared to be many anxious moments and drivers knew they needed to be out front as much as possible.  Therefore, a lot of them were hanging on the edge all night long.”

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