It was a scene no driver wants to see followed by what every racer hopes for. Austin Dillon was twisted and thrown around by the Daytona catchfence before crashing back to the ground on his hood. He was then hit again by Brad Keselowski, further mangling the No. 3 machine.
Then he walked away. Dillon stepped out of the car, seemingly unscathed, as he waved to the roaring crowd.
But what if he didn’t? What if Dillon was seriously injured like Kyle Busch in February during an Xfinity Series race. What if he was killed like the last driver who wrecked in the No. 3 Chevrolet? Those what ifs are unsettling for drivers, especially Dillon.
“It’s not really acceptable, I don’t think,” Dillon said after exiting the care center with a bruised tailbone and forearm. “We’ve got to figure out something. Our speeds are too high, I think. I think everybody could get good racing with slower speeds. We can work at that, and then figure out a way to keep the cars on the ground.
“That’s the next thing. We’re fighting hard to make the racing good. I hope the fans appreciate that. We don’t, but it’s our job. You go out there and hold it wide open to the end and hope you make it through.”
Along with Dillon and Hamlin coming out unscathed, five fans were also relatively unharmed by the incident. One was carried to Halifax Health Medical Center, but was released shortly after. The other four didn’t require treatment for their injuries, per NASCAR officials.
The chance for a horrific accident to injure a driver or fans in the grandstands left Ryan Newman furious. Newman, Dillon’s teammate with Richard Childress Racing, laid into NASCAR following the accident.
“NASCAR got what they wanted. That’s the end of it,” Newman told USA Today. “Cars getting airborne, unsafe drivers, same old stuff. They just don’t listen.”
When asked if he feels the sport will change after the late-race accident, Newman leaned on past evidence from the devastating wreck that took Earnhardt’s life.
“No, they had an event in 2001. They’ve had several events since then,” he said. “They just don’t pay attention to safety. Simple as that.”
Newman clearly has no faith in the sport making changes, but the simple fact is that NASCAR has been paying attention. While the cars haven’t slowed down, updated equipment like the HANS device and catchfence saved the lives of both Dillon and fans Monday morning.
More SAFER barriers have been added to help deal with the impact from head-on collisions. Daytona also paved over 200,000 square feet of grass to avoid cars being thrown around and getting airborne in the infield. These are clear moves in the right direction, but DIS president Joie Chitwood will continue to find more ways to improve driver safety.
“We’ll work closely with NASCAR,” Chitwood said. “We did this after [Kyle Busch’s] incident. We’re going to learn from it and see what else we can do to be better. I think you saw some of the improvements at work today. So what we can learn from that tomorrow and the next days, we’re going to incorporate moving forward.”
A.J. Allmendinger is more concerned with the safety of the fans in the grandstands. Drivers might have massive safety improvements, but one seriously injured fan could further destroy the product at the track.
I hope all the fans and @austindillon3 are ok. I don’t know how many cars we need to keep sending into the grandstands before we fix this.
— AJ Allmendinger (@AJDinger) July 6, 2015
So what if a piece of Dillon’s mangled car killed a fan? What if Dillon could have remained on the ground traveling at 180 mph rather than 200? Instead of dealing with the myriad what ifs still left from Monday morning, NASCAR needs to continue looking at ways to improve the safety for everyone involved.
After all, those fans did wait around for over three hours and up until 2 a.m. ET to see the final result. They shouldn’t be subjected to being involved in the melee when things go haywire.
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