Roger Diez: Safety, again, a concern for NASCAR

The ending of Monday’s Daytona 500 brought the subject of racing safety to the forefront yet again. For me, seeing the ominous black screens erected around Ryan Newman’s ruined race car brought flashbacks to other accidents… notably Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona crash of 19 years ago. After 50 years of involvement in racing, I have seen driver deaths and injuries dramatically reduced from the 1970s. But even though driver safety has vastly improved, racing is still a dangerous sport. Thankfully the improvements NASCAR has made since that terrible crash 19 years ago allowed Newman to walk out of the hospital two days later with his young daughters. Still, more can be done, and I hope the Next Gen car incorporates even more driver survivability features than the current model.


It was a wild finish, with the predictable late-race multi-car wrecks, red flags, and overtime laps that have come to be all too commonplace at Daytona and Talladega. The Clash started the carnage, and although the Duel races on Thursday were relatively calm (drivers saving their cars for Sunday), the Gander Truck and Xfinity races were also wreck-fests. The current car configuration lends itself to pack racing, which inevitably leads to a minor mistake becoming a major issue for the whole field. Perhaps NASCAR needs to re-think the whole thing if only to save teams money in damage repairs. Oh yeah, Denny Hamlin won the race for the second year in a row, a feat last accomplished by Sterling Marlin in 1985-86. It was also the second-closest Daytona 500 finish, eclipsed only by Hamlin’s 2019 win over Martin Truex Jr.


This weekend all three NASCAR touring series will visit the Silver State for the first of two races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. There are 38 cars entered in the Cup race, with Ross Chastain taking the wheel of the Roush-Fenway No. 6 Ford, subbing for the injured Newman. No timetable for Newman’s return has been set. The trucks ran last night, the Xfinity series will air today on FS1 at 1 p.m., and the Cup race coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on FOX. Oddsmakers have Kyle Busch, 2009 winner, and Kevin Harvick, who won in 2015 and 2018, as the favorites at 9-2. Two-time winner Truex is at 5-1, three-time victor Brad Keselowski at 6-1, and last year’s winner Joey Logano is at 7-1. Daytona winner Hamlin and Kyle Larson are set at 10-1. If you want to put a couple of bucks on a long shot, Chris Buescher at 300-1 would be a nice payoff.


In other racing news, the Coronavirus that has been raging through China and potentially all of Asia has had an effect on the Formula 1 schedule. The Chinese Grand Prix scheduled for April 19 has been postponed, and F1 is monitoring the situation for the inaugural Vietnam GP on April 5. The F1 teams held their first preseason tests at Barcelona this past week, and the talk of the grid was the new Mercedes Dual Axis Steering system. Basically, the system allows the driver to alter the toe alignment in the front wheels by pulling or pushing on the steering column. This lets the front wheels run upright on straightaways, allowing for even heat distribution across the tire surface, then alters the toe for better bite in the corners. Questions were immediately raised concerning legality, but Mercedes seems confident that it is within the rules and says that the sanctioning body is OK with it. At least for the time being, and as if Mercedes needs another advantage. Both Mercedes drivers tried the system on the second day of testing and had no safety concerns but are still figuring out how best to use it.


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