After Ryan Blaney crashes in Nashville, NASCAR’s safety efforts are under heat again

Lebanon, fig. – It was a slam dunk, the kind of head-on crash into concrete that makes you surprised when you see it and feels uncomfortable on further review, adding to the concern for the safety of the driver of the car that just hit the wall.

Luckily, Ryan Blaney was able to get out of that car on his own strength, though he needed a few moments to collect himself once and for all from the wrecked No. 12 Ford that had just hit the inside wall during the NASCAR Cup Series Sunday night. Racing at Nashville Superspeedway. Blaney was later evaluated and released from residential care.

But Blaney’s failure to crash does not excuse NASCAR from the fact that the wall he crashed into was not protected by an energy-absorbing SAFER (steel and energy-limiting foam). Blaney has made his feelings clear on the matter.

“I don’t know why there isn’t a safer barrier,” Blaney said. “This is absolutely ridiculous, honestly. The hardest blow I’ve ever had in my life.”

Safety should always be paramount in motorsports. Before everything. Especially when you take into account that this is the era of the next-generation car, which has proven not so adept at absorbing bumps—especially at the front and rear of a car, like the one Blaney took on Sunday.

In the 18 months since the car was first launched, three drivers have had accidents that triggered concussion-like symptoms for them. One of those drivers, Kurt Busch, had his career virtually over. The other two, Alex Bowman and Noah Gragson, were initially evaluated and released from inpatient care after their accidents, like Blaney on Sunday, only to experience concussion-like symptoms a few days later. Bowman missed five races. One Garageson.

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SAFER barriers have proven to be an effective tool in helping drivers escape uninjured accidents, or reduce their own injuries. And this car’s history suggests that rather than absorbing a great deal of energy in a crash, the driver bears the brunt of it. This is why it is essential to take every reasonable precaution.

“NASCAR’s safety engineers work closely with safety experts to implement the barriers around the track,” NASCAR said in a statement. “As we do after every race weekend, we will evaluate all available data and make any necessary improvements.”

For reasons not entirely clear, Nashville had an unprotected wall on a section of the track, on the inside wall at the end of the front half, where a car could have hit it. NASCAR approved this, otherwise it would have been taken up in a race weekend.

Every NASCAR track visit is meticulously scrutinized in the months, weeks and days leading up to a race weekend. If the sanctioning body determines that the track needs additional safety requirements of some kind, the track is primarily required to adhere to the guidelines. Just two weeks ago, track operator Speedway Motorsports finished installing 1,500 feet of additional SAFER Barrier in Nashville along the backstretch to meet a NASCAR recommendation.

In recent years, several new tracks have been added to the Cup Series schedule, and Nashville is one of them. At each of these new facilities, NASCAR is working alongside experts at the University of Nebraska—where the SAFER barriers were first developed—to help determine which sections of the racetrack should be covered with the SAFER barrier and what the schedule for installing the barriers should be, given the potential impact of Wall part, costs involved and material availability.

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In light of Blaney’s accident, and with Nashville hosting only its third Cup race after being dormant for 10 years, some drivers were left wondering Sunday night if an oversight occurred during Nashville’s evaluation.

“It’s money, right. And sometimes it’s an oversight,” said Kyle Busch. “I think those are probably the two biggest things that come down to why things are done or not done.

“We’ve all worked and prided ourselves on safety, and we tried to say (NASCAR): No matter where, you can never cut corners and take a chance (that a driver won’t hit a certain area on a track). A lot of racetracks put[safer barriers]in Everywhere on the field. I mean, give us a chance, we’ll be able to figure out a way to hit something, one way or another.”

NASCAR has demonstrated that in the aftermath of a major crash where safety concerns have been raised, it will respond by doing what is necessary to address the problem.

More recently, this past holiday season, NASCAR was implementing measures that better disperse the energy absorbed by the car in a crash so the driver doesn’t bear the brunt of the force.

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And in 2015, after Kyle Busch suffered serious injuries to his legs when his car crashed into an unprotected concrete wall at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR re-evaluated the walls that weren’t covered to see if changes were needed. The result was a series of tracks that installed additional SAFER barriers in the weeks and months that followed.

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In the years since Kyle Busch’s crash, it has become rare to see a crash that raises questions as to why the Wall was not protected. Which makes Blaney’s crash even more noteworthy.

“I’m surprised there’s one of those out there,” said Martin Truex Jr., pointing to a somehow unprotected exposed wall. “I’m sure it was probably an odd deal, but there’s no way these cars are going to hit anything without a safer barrier. With that, I’m nervous about next weekend.”

Next week brings a visit to a brand-new arena this year on the Cup schedule, a makeshift street court built in downtown Chicago. The way this race unfolds has generated a lot of guesswork, with many drivers believing the tight layout will result in many accidents.

It’s also unknown if Nashville will have a barrier of some sort covering the wall Blaney hit when NASCAR returns next year, but the possibility is that a precaution will be put in place to avoid a similar incident.

“I’m sure they’ll put one on her next,” Blaney said. “It’s annoying that things like this have to happen, somebody hits a wall head-on like that and then you say, ‘Oh, we’re going to put a more secure barrier on it now.'” It’s like, ‘Why don’t you do the whole track?’ I’ll pay for the f——thing to put in there.”

(Photo: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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