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Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood and NASCAR Senior VP/Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell yesterday indicated that it was "too early to speculate" about how the catch fence performed Saturday when 28 fans were injured during a crash in the Nationwide Series race or whether "any additional safety steps need to be taken," according to Pulver & McLaughlin of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. O'Donnell said, "Anything we can learn will be put in place. Obviously we want everybody to be safe at an event." Speedway crews "worked all night Saturday" to repair the fence in time for yesterday's Daytona 500, finishing around 2:00am ET (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/25). In N.Y., Viv Bernstein reports NASCAR is "planning a review of catch-fence safety after the accident, the second in recent years in which a racecar went airborne, hit the fence and sprayed debris on fans." O'Donnell said, "It’s something we look at with outside experts. This will be an evolving process. If there’s something we can learn today, tomorrow, we’ll implement that." IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti "turned to Twitter on Saturday night after the crash to urge NASCAR and the IndyCar Series to change catch-fence technology to improve safety." Franchitti’s call "was echoed" yesterday by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford. He said, "Maybe a double fence, one behind the other with some space between to stop something like this." Chitwood after the accident said that he "didn’t believe fans close to the catch-fence were at risk." He said, “We’ve got very good safety protocols. I think we’ve done a great job being prepared for our racing events. Incidents do happen, and I think those are the exception" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/25). O'Donnell said that "some of the things that NASCAR has in place for the cars, such as 'tethers, that sort of thing, held up, did their job.'" But he added, "Certainly when you look at this incident, there are some things we can learn and evaluate" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/24).
STEPS NEED TO BE TAKEN: The N.Y. Times' William Rhoden said NASCAR has taken steps to protect the drivers in recent years, but how to protect the fans “is the big dilemma." Rhoden: "Now they've got to focus on, ‘How do we protect the fans.’ ... It’s going to be expensive but there needs to be something” ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 2/24). The Wheeler Co. Chair & former SMI President & CEO Humpy Wheeler "predicts Saturday’s accident may prompt track owners to raise safety fences or move fans further from the most dangerous areas." He said, "If you put the first row about 30 feet back, and about 14 feet up in the air, that would solve almost every problem you’ve got" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/25). CBS' Mark Strassman noted part of NASCAR’s investigation "could include calls to reinforce the fencing or move fans farther back from the action” (“Evening News,” CBS, 2/24). ABC's Linzie Janis said, "Experts tell us that increasing safety for the crowds would mean keeping them further away from the action” (“World News,” ABC, 2/24). ESPN's Dale Jarrett said, "We’re going to have to move the fans back a little. It’s great that they have that access to be right there and see these cars stream by at close to 200 mph, but I think we’re going to have to move them back" (K.C. STAR, 2/24). NBC's Janet Shamlian said there are questions whether the catchfence “is high enough and are the grandstands too close." Shamlian: "But it’s that ability to almost reach and touch them that’s always been part of NASCAR’s culture” (“Nightly News,” NBC, 2/24). Speed's Kenny Wallace: "What I'm looking for now is NASCAR to do something like they did with the 'COT,' the car of tomorrow, when we reacted to Dale Earnhardt and we got a safer car. This is the new thing I'm looking for, 'FOT,' fence of tomorrow" ("NASCAR Raceday," Speed, 2/24).
FENCE DID BEST JOB IT COULD: ESPN.com's Ed Hinton wrote the fence "did the best job, against a harsher test, that catch fencing has ever done." It was the "result of years of research and improvement, after tragedies that took fans' lives." The engine from Kyle Larson's car, and "a wheel and A-frame assembly, tore through the fence." But they "didn't go into the seats." They were "contained on the concourse area in front of the stands. That was huge" (ESPN.com, 2/23). Stewart said, “You look at the structure that we have here at Daytona, it is an awesome structure. But they will look at ways to try to make it better." Stewart: "Everything they’ve done at this point has made it as safe as they can do it at this time." He added, “We know that parts went into the stands. The thing that’s been overshadowed is the fact that a 3,400-pound racecar went into that fence and stayed back in the racetrack side, which is what that fence is designed for.” ESPN's Ray Evernham said, “That fence was designed to protect the fans and yesterday, I feel it did a pretty good job of that. There’s always a risk with motorsports, and you manage that risk.” Everham added, “I was very impressed with the reaction and the preparation of Joie Chitwood and his team put in in the face of something like that. The reaction was as good as I’ve ever seen at a racetrack” (“NASCAR Now,” ESPN2, 2/24). But Speed's Tommy Kendall said, "Everybody says the fence did its job. It didn’t. If you lose the Stanley Cup after blocking 99 goals and one gets through, that’s not good enough. And this is life or death, so the fences have to get better.” Speed's Dave Despain added, “There’s not a fence that’s going to stop a 3,400-pound car. Heaven forbid there be two of those cars” (“Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain,” Speed, 2/24). IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay yesterday said the current catch fence "acts as a cheese grater, and the car is the cheese." Hunter-Reay: "When it gets airborne, the fence tears it up into pieces. It's an industry-wide problem and one we can fix quickly. It would be revolutionary for the sport, and it's at the forefront of what we've been talking about for five years" (USA TODAY, 2/25).
FANS NEVER COMPLETELY SAFE: ESPN’s Jemele Hill said, “I’m not sure you can ever guarantee 100% safety because how can you control debris? ... I look at this as a freak accident and not necessarily an indication that there was negligence” ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 2/24). Driver Tony Stewart said, “It’s no different than going to a baseball game or a hockey game where you have balls and pucks that end up in the stands and people can’t react fast enough. It’s unfortunately just part of what can happen at pro sporting events” ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 2/24).
CLOUD HANGS OVER FESTIVITIES: SI.com's Lars Anderson wrote what is "believed to be the highest injury toll from a race-related accident in NASCAR history cast a pall over both Jimmie Johnson's victory on Sunday in the Daytona 500 and Danica Patrick's historic afternoon." Many drivers "admitted that the Saturday carnage had left them shaken" yesterday. Even after Johnson "won and the celebratory fireworks were blasted into the sky and Johnson did a burnout on the frontstretch, there wasn't the sense of joy and excitement that usually pervades the garage and the grandstands after the most significant stock car race of the year" (SI.com, 2/24). In Charlotte, Jim Utter writes there seemed to be "an air of apprehension building" yesterday morning before the race. No one wanted to see the crash "repeated," but in the end "the racing took center stage." Utter: "NASCAR begins another job on Monday just as important as putting on its biggest race -- finding out what it can do better to protect the sport's fans" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/25). Also in Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes yesterday's "opening day excitement was muted by Saturday's carnage" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/25). In Boston, Michael Vega writes Johnson "wrested away the spotlight by emerging as the convincing winner of a race that was largely devoid of the problems that pockmarked Daytona’s previous four races" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/25). In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes a "historic victory" by Patrick is the "only thing that could have helped put a happy face on an otherwise horrific weekend" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/25).
While the ending of the Daytona 500 yesterday might have earned “rave reviews, the first 450 miles consisted primarily of a long parade of monotonous single-file runs,” according to Cary Estes of SI.com. Several drivers had “warned after the drab qualifying races on Thursday that it looked like it was going to be extremely difficult to make passes in the new Gen-6 car.” There had been “optimism that the new car actually would improve the quality of racing, which had deteriorated in recent years under the old car design.” Driver Kasey Kahne yesterday “admitted that his initial expectations” for the new car after a test session “turned out to be incorrect.” Kahne said, "When we did that test, it just seemed like you could get some really good runs. I thought the runs would get better once we got in a big pack (of cars), but they actually got worse. It's different than I thought it would be." Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. “put the blame not on the new car but on Daytona's new surface.” Estes noted the track was “repaved less than three years ago, and the fresh asphalt provides plenty of grip for the tires.” That makes it “harder to pass because the cars are all running at almost identical speeds” (SI.com, 2/24). In Las Vegas, Ron Kantowski writes under the header, “A Dull Day At Daytona In Follow-The-Leader 500.” The Gen-6 cars “supposedly look just like the Fords, Chevys and Toyotas for which they are named.” Based on yesterday’s “single-file racing and limited passing, they must drive like them, too” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 2/25). In K.C., Randy Covitz writes a “truer test” of the car “will come next week on the one-mile track at Phoenix” in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 (K.C. STAR, 2/25).
CELL TRAFFIC: In Charlotte, Jim Utter wrote NASCAR has "for the first time" allowed cell carriers other than Sprint "to boost their respective signals at race tracks as long as they did not engage in any marketing.” Sprint’s sponsorship of the Sprint Cup Series “allowed it be the only carrier to boost its signal at the track,” but “that has now changed.” NASCAR Senior VP & CMO Steve Phelps said, “Sprint understands our desire to enhance the at-track connectivity for all our fans.” Utter noted all NASCAR tracks “will now be able to offer Wi-Fi to all fans in attendance and can offer other cell carriers the option to provide the necessary equipment to boost their signal on property” (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 2/23).
FRIENDLY CHAT: USA TODAY’s Nate Ryan reported NASCAR execs on Friday met with driver Brad Keselowski after he "outlined the challenges facing the sport in a USA TODAY Sports cover story" published that morning. NASCAR VP & Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes said that Keselowski "wasn't penalized nor faced further punishment." He added that the meeting "wasn't directly a result of the USA TODAY Sports story, but it was discussed." The Penske Racing driver "met separately for 30 minutes" with NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France and ISC Vice Chair & CEO Lesa France Kennedy (USATODAY.com, 2/23). In Jacksonville, Don Coble noted Keselowski used his Twitter account “to play down his meeting with two of the most powerful people in NASCAR.” Keselowski wrote, “Spent some time with Lesa and Brian from the NASCAR team after yesterday’s article, the passion we all share for our sport is amazing!” (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 2/24).
UFC fighters Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in Anaheim on Saturday “went out and put on a dynamic show that brought down the house,” according to Kevin Iole of YAHOO SPORTS. Their fight “saved" the card "after a stinker of a co-main event” between Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson. The reception for the Rousey-Carmouche bout “made those who had angrily said they wouldn't buy a ticket or watch the show because the UFC was somehow disrespecting Machida and Henderson look awfully small.” Rousey and Carmouche also “carried the show on the promotional end.” UFC President Dana White said that “early estimates are that the results will be far higher than anticipated, squelching concerns in some corners that it might flop.” The fight “proved that women could compete on a show featuring men and still be the star attractions.” The two fighters “stood up to the scrutiny and the grind and the pressure and delivered a scintillating performance” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/24). In Las Vegas, Case Keefer noted any “final concerns about females headlining a card for the world’s largest fighting organization were alleviated ... in more ways than one" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 2/24). The SUN’s Keefer reported the two women “dominated the action” with a fight “that was far more exciting than any of the others on the main card” (LASVEGASSUN.com, 2/23). SI.com’s Jeff Wagenheim wrote, “What a debut for women in the UFC. What a fight, period” (SI.com, 2/24). In San Diego, Matt Calkins wrote the “spectacle” around the fight “had the Honda Center rockin’ as though it were overtime of a Game 7.” It was a “watershed moment for fighters such as Julie Kedzie.” Kedzie predicted after the fight “hundreds of little girls are going to put gloves on because of Ronda.” It is “a new day in MMA, and quite frankly -- there’s no fighting it” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 2/24).
The NFL and a group of retirees suing the league over their use in NFL Films footage have reached a preliminary settlement, the federal judge overseeing settlement talks wrote today in a new order. The case was originally filed in August '09. “Plaintiffs’ lead settlement counsel and counsel for the [NFL] have now advised the court that they have reached an agreement in principle on the key terms of a settlement, subject to the completion of written settlement documents to be submitted for the court’s approval,” magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan wrote in an order today that instructed the sides to take the steps necessary to complete the settlement. The retirees alleged their use by NFL Films was without their permission, while the league countered it was covered by the labor deals that they signed when they were players. A previous settlement discussed was for about $50M, but was scuttled by infighting among the retirees’ attorneys. That led the court in December to appoint only one settlement negotiator, Daniel Gustafson. This is the second time Boylan has reached a settlement for the NFL, having performed the task in '11 in helping bring an end to the NFL lockout.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem yesterday announced the Tour is opposed to the proposed ban on anchored putting, and the debate on the issue has "turned into a power struggle over who controls the game," according to Golf magazine's Mike Walker. He believes the USGA and the R&A "should call the PGA Tour's bluff: some players might complain, but the Tour will abide by the ban." Walker: "Tim Finchem will never allow a situation where his players could be called cheats." SI's Gary Van Sickle said the Tour is "protecting its property, that is, its star players who use anchored putting." This opposition, plus the PGA of America's "anti-ban position, will have to make the USGA and R&A reconsider whether the ban is doable." Golf.com's Eamon Lynch said there is "nothing surprising in the Tour's stance." Finchem is "employed by the players to represent their interests, and ... many Tour players don't like blue-blazered amateurs deciding on the tools of their livelihood." Blogger Stephanie Wei said, "The Tour is more concerned with its own self-interest than what's best for the game" (GOLF.com, 2/25).
BAD TIMING AWARD? YAHOO SPORTS' Brian Murphy noted Matt Kuchar yesterday defeated Hunter Mahan 2 and 1 in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but Finchem was “busy yanking the carpet of attention away with a tone-deaf turn in NBC's TV booth" where he announced the Tour's opposition to the ban. Murphy: “That's great and all that the Tour and Finchem can have their own point of view and their own take on it, but can Finchem let Kuchar and Mahan play their WGC final without him interjecting on the proceedings?” Murphy asked, “Why wouldn't Finchem wait until maybe the Wednesday of the WGC event at Doral, when the golf media are assembled in two weeks, to hold that news conference?” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/24). GOLF WORLD MONDAY's Geoff Shackelford writes Finchem's announcement produced "little shock." What "did surprise was his choice to pre-empt" the event "at a crucial stage of the final match" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 2/25 issue).
SINGH DECISION COMING SOON: Finchem this weekend said he expected a resolution "relatively soon" in the investigation of golfer Vijay Singh's admission to using a banned substance. Finchem: "We're in our process. There's no time urgency here, because if action is taken it'll be reported.” The Tour’s anti-doping policy states a violation "will be announced but only if it involves a performance-enhancing drug like IGF-1, not a recreational substance" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 2/24).
ESPN’s Bill Simmons noted the NBA's upcoming luxury tax “really scared people off” at Thursday's trade deadline. Simmons: “Everybody is so afraid to not only just take on salaries, but also trade first-round picks or even second-round picks because you have these fixed-costs littler-salary guys, and those are bigger assets than they used to be.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said a team exec told him the “new CBA and how punitive it is for being over that threshold is what had people saying, ‘Whoa.’" Wilbon: "I saw scouts who were just chomping at the bit to make deals and they figure they had players lined up for their teams to improve themselves. [They're] not going to do it” ("NBA Countdown," ESPN, 2/22).
PERSISTENT PROBLEM: In N.Y., Bill Madden wrote MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner and MLB Exec VP/Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred “both understand that despite the most comprehensive joint drug testing program in all of professional sports, baseball is still being dogged by a performance-enhancing drug problem” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/24).
RED LIGHT, RED FLAG? The GLOBE & MAIL’s David Shoalts reports when NHL GMs “gather on March 21 in Toronto for an abbreviated version of their annual meetings one thing is certain -- they will recommend increased use of video replay in overturning or confirming the decisions of the on-ice officials.” The “most popular solution” appears to be to “give each coach one challenge and limit it to goals” (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/25).
GRASS IS GREENER: SI’s Alan Shipnuck writes LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan has “taken the LPGA back to its roots as a tour that offers some of the rarest commodities in professional sports: intimacy, value and player interaction with fans and sponsors.” The result has been “a stunning comeback.” This year’s schedule “features 28 tournaments, and a 29th will most likely be announced soon.” The LPGA has "undoubtedly received a big boost from the emergence" of golfers Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis, who became the first American to win player of the year since ’94 (SI, 2/25 issue).