Monday, July 06, 2015

COMMENTARY: Despite Happy Outcome, NASCAR Can Learn From Dillon's Crash

Monday morning’s horrific, final-lap crash at the conclusion of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway received “zero grades” across the board.
Zero fatalities, zero serious injuries.
When Austin Dillon’s Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet was swept-up in a multi-car melee at the drop of the checkered flag Monday, it tore down a large section of frontstretch catch fence and left more than a dozen fans with minor injuries.

It could have been so much worse.

Dillon's car went airborne, tearing into the fence before tumbling back to the racing surface --  upside-down – and being struck at high speed by the Ford of Brad Keselowski, who slid helplessly in oil laid down by the crash.

“It happened so quick, you just hope you get through it and (live) to race again,” said an eerily calm Dillon afterward “The belts were loosening… so the hits were getting more and more violent. I held on to the steering wheel as hard as I could.”

As Dillon’s car came to rest -- its steaming engine block and front chassis clip ripped away from the driver’s compartment -- members of several rival teams leapt over pit wall and raced to his assistance. As bad as it looked, Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet did the job it was designed to do, shedding extraneous chassis and body parts to dissipate energy, while holding its driver safe and secure. Dillon suffered only a bruised arm and tailbone, and was examined and released from the track’s Infield Care Center.

''I am going to be sore,” said Dillon afterward. “It got my tailbone pretty good and my arm. But thank the good Lord for taking care of me and for what NASCAR has done to make the sport safer.”

The crash drew uncomfortable parallels with the 2001 Daytona death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., who drove the iconic No. 3 RCR Chevrolet that languished in unofficial retirement until Dillon returned it to the racetrack last season. Dillon’s wreck was far more spectacular than Earnhardt’s deadly crash, raising initial fears that another life had been lost on the Daytona highbanks.

"I expected the worst when I came back around,” admitted runner-up Jimmie Johnson. “I'm shocked that Austin Dillon is even alive.”

"It scared the (crap) out of me," said winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. "I saw everything in the mirror pretty clearly (and) I was very scared for whoever that car was. I was near tears. I didn't even know who it was, but you don't want to see anybody get hurt. It's an awful feeling."

Team owner Richard Childress – Dillon’s grandfather – sweated out a few tense moments before watching his grandson climb from the demolished racer, then coolly proclaimed it, “a wild-ass crash.”

DIS President Joie Chitwood said 13 fans were treated at the scene for minor injuries. Eight declined treatment, four were treated and released from the track’s Infield Care Center and one was taken to a local hospital in stable condition.

NASCAR and track officials said the catch fence appeared to perform as designed, pushing Dillon’s 3,400-pound racer back onto the racing surface and minimizing the amount of flying debris that intruded into spectator areas.

Chitwood vowed to "work closely with NASCAR" to learn what can be improved from the crash, just as he did following Kyle Larson’s 2013 NASCAR XFINIITY Series wreck that injured nearly 30 fans, with 14 transported to local hospitals. As a result of that incident, engineers recommended eliminating spectator cross-over gates from the Daytona frontstretch, as well as adding additional cabling to strengthen the fence. Seats are now further from the track than they were two years ago, as well, a result of the track’s Daytona Rising reconstruction project.

“We're going to learn from it and see what else we can do to be better,” vowed Chitwood after the race. “I think you saw some of the improvements at work today, so what we can learn from that tomorrow and (in) the next few days, we're going to incorporate moving forward."
While still unsure about the specifics of the crash, Dillon said additional changes may be needed.
“I think our speeds are too high,” he said. “I think (we) can get good racing with lower speeds. We can work on that and then figure out a way to keep cars on the ground. That’s the next thing.”

RCR teammate Ryan Newman was less conciliatory, saying NASCAR “got what they wanted" from the spectacular crash and adding the sanctioning body “just (doesn’t) pay attention to safety. Cars getting airborne, unsafe drivers, (it’s the) same old stuff,” said Newman. “They just don't listen."

Asked if Dillon’s crash might spur further advancements in safety, Newman invoked the memory of Earnhardt, Sr., saying, “They had an event in 2001 (and) they've had several events since then. They just don't pay attention to safety. Simple as that."

Auto racing is – by design – a dangerous sport. Even with recent safety advances like SAFER barrier technology, carbon-fiber containment seats and helmets, impact-absorbing door foam and head-and-neck restraints, drivers can still be hurt or killed at the wheel of a race car. Until the laws of physics are repealed, a 3,400-pound stock car traveling at 200 mph will continue to test the mettle of barriers and fences.

The immovable force will continue to bow before the might of the unstoppable object, and while DIS, NASCAR and Richard Childress Racing have much to be proud of today, last night’s outcome should not delude us into a false sense of security that prevents us from learning even more.

Photos:,, Patrick Smith/Getty Images


  1. Sincere question, how can you keep cars from getting airborne when it appears Dillon's car took air after being launched off other cars? My question is completely based off the still shots the media has posted on Twitter. So glad all the safety enhancements did their job!
    Sorry, if this is a second post, not sure if comments go to moderation, or if I lost my original logging in. Delete if duplicated.

  2. Newman refuses to get it - he keeps saying "They're not doing enough" and he never seems to offer any credible alternative. He griped about Watkins Glen last year calling it outdated as a racetrack as if that was relevant to his melee with Michael McDowell. "They just don't listen?" Or maybe it's Newman who doesn't listen.

    The cars hit 202 all night and 40-plus years of experience have shown stock cars gain nothing good from 200 MPH; we've known 194 is the cut-off point for keeping the cars on the ground; Rusty Wallace back in 2001 openly acknowledged that.

    The immediate cause was Harvick, he tagged Hamlin and spun him out and that stacked everything up.

  3. Nascar, and every other sanctioning body for that matter, should count their lucky stars that every one of these spectacular fence demolishing crashes involves only one car getting into the fence. What will end motorsports as we know it will be a big crash that involves two cars going into a fence.the first will punch the hole that we've seen in such instances and the second car will enter the grandstand unabated.

  4. Anonymous4:29 PM

    On Saturday Dillion had nothing but good things to say about racing at Daytona. Then he ends up in a crash this morning and can only talk about slowing things down. Kind of lacks any credibility.

    1. He doesn't have the right to reconsider after a nights sleep or lack thereof?

    2. Anonymous6:43 PM

      Hmmm, he had good things to say when he won. Then at 9 miles an hour faster and a crash all he can say is "“I think our speeds are too high,” and “I think (we) can get good racing with lower speeds".

      While I am glad there wasn't a serious injury every driver is paid to be in the seat. It isn't an uninformed decision. If you don't like it then someone else will gladly take your spot, be paid millions of dollars, and fly around in a private plane.

  5. Ryan Newan is the one who doesn't get it. NASCAR has done everything they can. That crash sent 1 to the hospital in STABLE condition. 5 years ago someone would have been killed. NASCAR has done what is necessary and that wreck, as terrible as it was, showed that.

  6. Dave, it is a goddamn miracle #3 is ok.

  7. I'd like to see Daytona race on the road course for both the 500 and the 400 (maybe shorter distances due to lower average speeds). The tri-oval pack racing is Russian Roulette, and not real NASCAR racing, IMO. The road course would be much safer, and a better test of skill as well.

    1. Lewis, if the superspeedway racing is not "real" racing, then what is real racing? Why is fighting for the lead somehow not real racing? The road course offers nothing in the way of competition - real racing skill is not about throttle control and shifting; those do nothing but get in the way of passing. Lead changes, open throttle is what real racing is - it takes more to fight for the lead open throttle than to shift gears and jump off the gas.

  8. Wayne6:57 AM

    My take is NO GWC at those 2 super speedways.

  9. Anonymous7:27 AM

    Watch the video in slow motion. Dillon's car does half a spin in the air. He's damn lucky that his car hit the fence bottom side first instead of top side first.
    Kevin F.

  10. Anonymous11:02 AM

    One, we're lucky everything fell into place and Austin is alive and relatively unscathed. Two Thank you Daytona for improving the catch fence. Three, maybe it's time for air dump flaps on the hood (a simple inclinometer built in it stays down until the angle changes enough to merit them to open. Four, engine restraints to keep the engine in the chassis.

    Lastly, somehow we all knew that end was going to be ferocious. I'm just glad the spirits were there to protect everyone. Denny got crushed and came out unscathed, as did Brad and nearly the entire field come to think of it. .

  11. Dwayne in Memphis12:02 PM

    It's about time for Ryan to hang it up. All he does is why about safety anymore. It's a dangerous sport. You can accept it and buckle up tight. Or not and walk away. But quit buckling up and then complaining about it. Racing cars is dangerous. ALL auto racing is dangerous. We get that, Ryan. If NASCAR has such a blatant disregard for your safety, then quit trusting them with it. Walk away Barry Sanders style - while you still have your health - if you're worried that what you're doing is so detrimental to it, and you think that those you entrust with it, can't be trusted.