NASCAR Gets First Look At Driver Safety Rule At Michigan; IndyCar Follows Suit
NASCAR driver Kyle Larson yesterday "provided the first case study from the formalization of a NASCAR rule requiring drivers to stay in their cars under caution and prohibiting them from approaching the racing surface or other cars," according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet "exploded in flames after hitting the wall" during the Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan Int'l Speedway. He was unhurt, but "stood beside his car until safety personnel arrived to escort him to an ambulance." His team had "encouraged him to exit the vehicle." Larson said, "A little bit of hesitation, but I had smoke in the cockpit and stuff. I let my crew know I was going to get out. I don't know if NASCAR listens to that stuff, but once I got out, I stayed as close as I could to the car. I had to get out with all the smoke in there" (USA TODAY, 8/18). NASCAR VP/Competition Robin Pemberton said that the new rule "formalized an understanding drivers should have already had and are routinely reminded about it in a video during prerace drivers meetings." He said that penalties for "breaking the rule will be handled on a case-by-case basis." Pemberton: "Through time, you have to recognize that you’ll get a reminder, a tap on the shoulder, that there’s something that may need to be addressed. We felt like it was time to address this.” In Charlotte, David Scott cited the new rule, which says that a driver after an accident "should not leave the car until safety personnel or a NASCAR official arrives, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as fire or smoke in the cockpit." Driver Matt Kenseth said, "I think it’s probably good to spell it out. It’s something we probably also know. We haven’t thought about it for a long time." Driver David Ragan added, "We are constantly reminded of how our race cars can be dangerous. And if this is a step to make the driver safer after an accident or to prevent an accident from happening while getting out of the race car, this is a good move by NASCAR" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/16).
MAKING THE RIGHT CALL? ESPN analyst Rusty Wallace said, "It helps the drivers help themselves. If they get so frustrated they're going to jump out of their car and sling something or do something, it helps them calm down, it helps them stay under control. It really is a great decision" ("NASCAR Countdown," ESPN, 8/17). In N.Y., Viv Bernstein wrote it still is "hard to know whether drivers will heed this new mandate in the heat of the moment." Driver Jimmie Johnson said, “Will that stop a driver that’s really upset? I don’t know. It’s hard to say.” Bernstein noted drivers have been "confronting opponents on the track for years, and some fans like to see it." But Johnson said, “I don’t think that entertainment value should come with any safety implications" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/16).
INDYCAR FOLLOWS SUIT: Verizon IndyCar Series Dir of Communications Mike Kitchel said that IndyCar "reviewed its safety guidelines" following the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.'s, and the protocol is "similar to what NASCAR announced Friday" (AP, 8/16).