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NASCAR says implementing SAFER remains “highest priority” after Jeff Gordon’s wreck at Atlanta

NASCAR Atlanta Auto Racing

Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon (24) slids on the track after hitting the wall during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, March 1, 2015, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/Russell Norris)


In the wake of Jeff Gordon smacking a concrete wall Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a NASCAR executive said SAFER barrier development remained “the highest priority for the sport.”

Gordon was unhurt after his No. 24 Chevrolet was destroyed by heavy contact with an inside wall unprotected by the energy-absorbing barrier that NASCAR has mandated for many sections of tracks.

After Kyle Busch suffered a compound fracture of his right leg in an Xfinity Series crash at Daytona International Speedway, O’Donnell and Daytona president Joie Chitwood took the blame and pledged to have

“It was just another reminder how important it is,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief development officer Steve O’Donnell said of Gordon’s crash Monday morning on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM Radio’s NASCAR channel.

O’Donnell said NASCAR had dispatched staff members to the West Coast, where the circuit is headed for races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Auto Club Speedway. Tire barriers were erected along the interior pit lane walls at Atlanta after Busch’s crash.

“We’ll employ temporary solutions anywhere we can (with) SAFER everywhere it’s feasible,” he said. “Obviously there are places that presents a challenge, but that’s the highest priority. We have follow-up meetings with all of the ISC tracks. We talked with Marcus Smith (president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Atlanta and six more Cup tracks), and they know the urgency.”

During the multicar accident, the cars of Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray also struck unprotected exterior walls on the backstretch. That prompted questions about why the tire barriers weren’t implemented around the track.

“Sometimes when you put a tire barrier on a straight wall on the backstretch, it has a negative effect where it can propel the car back into traffic,” O’Donnell said. “There’s a short-term balance, but we’re trying to prioritize everything with the ultimate goal being SAFER as soon as we can.”

Another obstacle could be the available companies and resources to install the barriers.

“The challenge is going to be, quite honestly, as I understand it from our development guys, right now there’s only two companies approved to build these things,” Atlanta president Ed Clark told NASCAR Talk’s Dustin Long.

A NASCAR official told NASCAR Talk that Clark’s number was incorrect but didn’t have the exact number of companies approved for such work.

Clark and Pocono Raceway’s Brandon Igdalsky have both mentioned in the last week that the scarcity of companies to do the work could create a backlog for tracks wanting to add the SAFER barriers as soon as possible.

“It’s not like going to Home Depot, and I want three sections of that. You’ve got to custom build it to the height of the wall, to the angle of the wall, so it’s not as easy as pulling it off a shelf and sticking it in. With only two people that can do it, if everybody starts to add them with these races coming up, are they going to be able to get it built without adding some manufacturers? I’m sure they are looking at that too.

“I think first priority should be the most immediate racetracks. Daytona has got a race in July. What about these tracks that have one in six weeks?’’

Clark said Atlanta should be ringed with SAFER when NASCAR returns next year.