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Jimmie Johnson, reacting to Monday's hard crashes, says drivers 'need to be more proactive' on safety

  Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson gets boldly outfront on safety, in wake of several recent crashes. But teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. try to sidestep the debate, Gordon mentioning the politics of it all (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Denny Hamlin is rallying back from Monday's savage crash at Watkins Glen. And so are David Ragan and David Reutimann.
   But the safety issues involved in those two incidents are a hot topic here this weekend.

   After the Jeff Gordon crash at Las Vegas, the Gordon crash at Richmond, the Elliott Sadler crash at Pocono, the Brad Keselowski crash at Road Atlanta, and now the two bad crashes at Watkins Glen, it's clear that drivers haven't been doing their part to push tracks and NASCAR hard enough to ensure a safer racing environment.
   That's too many dangerous crashes. Fortunately the drivers were not seriously injured, just battered and bruised.
   Keselowski's crash two weeks ago and Monday's two crashes at the Glen emphasize the situation.
   Jimmie Johnson, who, in 2000, crashed in the same turn one part of the Glen course as Hamlin, says Sprint Cup drivers "need to be more proactive" in dealing with such safety issues.
   And Johnson, the five-time championship, says "an official" safety committee, including drivers, NASCAR officials and track owners, may be needed.
   "We put a lot of trust in NASCAR and the tracks, and we understand the effort that has been put in place to make tracks safer," Johnson says.
    "Unfortunately we're at a stage now where the obvious things are fixed. And it's down to the details.
    "And it takes freak accidents to say 'Wow! We should have thought of that.'
    "Some things that happen are just over the obvious – 'Why didn't we think of that?'
    "I would love to be involved.
    "And NASCAR certainly listens; but we all get busy and get into our things.
   "Maybe there needs to be an official committee that is set up, and there is an effort made by tracks, NASCAR and drivers. Something…so that each weekend you carve out an hour of time and this group goes around and looks for the fine things.
   "It's unfortunate it takes these massive wrecks for us to say 'Wow! We shouldn't have that.'
   "But at times it does.
   "When I think of Denny's crash in turn one, the sand trap (no longer part of that corner, with asphalt instead) may have helped him there.
   "But in my situation (in 2000) I was going so fast I didn't even touch the sand trap.
    "For any given wreck, it's hard to think through every single thing that could take place.
   "It seems obvious now, following the wreck that took place going into the esses (Monday, with Boris Said, David Ragan and David Reutimann), that those blunt-angle walls don't work. They just ricochet a car around and create a lot of issues, and give you a bad impact angle.
    "We don't typically have those angles on ovals; but you do on road courses.
    "And when you look around a road course, man, there are a lot of those blunt angles.
    "So where do we start, what do we do, how do we systematically work through it.
    "I feel everybody has the drivers' safety at the top of mind. We just have to be a little more efficient, and be a little more proactive than just reactionary."
    Johnson went on to point out that he was worried that if, for example, another car had been crashing in turn one along with Hamlin, one of those cars might have gone through or over the guardrail and gotten into the crowd. In fact something similar to that happened just two weeks ago at Pocono in an ARCA crash, a car flying over that guard rail; fortunately there were no fans just on the other side of that fence.
   Gordon insists he's staunchly in favor of tracks improving safety: "I'm with you, I'm with you loud and clear. 
   "We're doing what we can (as drivers).  I've done all that I can as a driver inside my cockpit, and we at Hendrick Motorsports building the seats that we build; we put a lot of effort into safety. 
     "I think we could probably do a better job of coming together and sending that message to the race tracks and NASCAR.
    "We all know the struggles that come along with that.  We choose to leave it to the tracks and in NASCAR's hands. And they've improved greatly, don't get me wrong.  You look and there are SAFER barriers everywhere we go now, for the most part. 
    "(But) it's not as easy as you think (to make a public case for a track to make big safety improvements).
    "I look at Watkins Glen and put that in the same category as I do with Richmond -- We saw several incidents, prior to my incident this year at Richmond, where cars had hit that inside wall. There wasn't a SAFER barrier there; the cars came back out (rebounding) into oncoming traffic, and (had) fairly severe hits. 
     "I think it (Gordon's own crash) just made them reevaluate it.
     "The experts look at it and (say) there's not enough data to tell them that there needs to be a SAFER barrier there. I know it's easy for us to say there should be one everywhere, but we're not making those decisions, we don't know what all goes on behind the scenes -- The cost and whatever else it may be. 
     "I think that Watkins Glen needs to go through that same process.  They need to be reevaluated. 
    "We've seen now more than one or more than two occasions where cars have gotten into that outside wall (at Watkins Glen), and while the wall did its job in absorbing the impact, to me the way it shot the car back out (into traffic) there is absolutely something that this day and age (we can do to improve that).
    "We're smart enough to know that we can't have that. 
     "I really do hope that they reevaluate the angle of that wall and try to find a way, or a new way, to engineer it.  I’m sure that David Ragan would second that and Reutimann."

    Ragan, still sore from his Glen wreck, says: "Thank the Lord I can walk away from a wreck like that. It was ugly.
   "I'm still thinking about that wreck and checking things around inside the car."
   "That wreck looked pretty big," Reutimann said dryly. "A pretty spectacular wreck."
    On the plus side, Richmond International Raceway officials announced Friday that the addition of a new soft-wall SAFER barrier is underway and will be completed next week. It will cover the 900-plus length of the inside backstretch wall. That's the part of the track where Gordon crashed, and apparently the part of the track where Sterling Marlin broke his neck in a crash in 2002.
    And Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Should drivers be more proactive on safety, as Johnson says?
    "I personally leave it up to the track and the sanctioning body to provide us with safe facilities to race at…and they would make adjustments to any track, or any questionable area, and they would make the proper adjustments to make the track as safe as it could be. 
    "I go to sleep at night believing that those guys are always looking out for the best interest of our safety, and they would make sure that the tracks are good to go. 
     "Sometimes some things aren't very clear until you have accidents that bring certain things to the surface.  I'm sure there's going to be some things done to that area in the track at the Glen to make it safer.  It's unfortunate that sometimes you have to have an accident to bring it to light. 
    "I feel we're pretty conscious of safety in this sport, and a lot of people do a lot of good, and we go in the right direction in terms of safety."



Watkins Glen's famous blue guard rails: a signature part of the legendary course....but Jimmie Johnson suggests they may need some major changes... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Do away with the road

Do away with the road courses!! As much as I like to watch races from them , they are just too dangerous. Road courses by nature have too many twists and turns and that is the problem. They just naturally create the odd angles that create the rebound affect.

If you put SAFER barriers

If you put SAFER barriers everywhere, the drivers will feel more invulnerable than they do already. Sometimes it takes a hard hit to realize that you were driving like a jerk. the way drivers casually run into each other will almost certainly end with a car going through or over the fence.

Hamlin's crash was if not avoidable, then certainly harder than it should have been. He panicked And made no attempt to control the car. His "broken suspension" excuse would not have caused the throttle, brake and steering to malfunction on all four wheels simultaneously.

Ragan's crash was the outcome of stupid driving by people whose safety systems cause them to make unreasonable attempts to pass.

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