CONCORD, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he’s more confident than ever that NASCAR is doing everything it can to make its sport safer for drivers.
But he also stressed that the process will never be complete.
“The quest for making the car safer is never-ending,” Earnhardt said. “So we’ll always be trying to look at every accident and figuring out what we can do.”
Earnhardt was speaking in the aftermath of last Saturday night’s terrifying, fiery crash involving Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick and Joey Logano at Kansas Speedway. It left Almirola with a compression fracture of his back that Almirola said on Friday would sideline him for the next 8-12 weeks.
“I talked to Aric (Wednesday) night and he said when he went up in the air (at impact), both rear-springs fell out of the car,” Earnhardt said. “So the car came back down and hit the frame. He said it was the highest-recorded G Force vertically that they’ve ever seen.
“And I believe that and I can imagine that if the car slams down on the chassis. So we need to look at why that happens and if we can fix that, so that if a car lands it doesn’t land directly on the frame. Because there’s no breakaway or cushion at that point for the driver – because he’s bolted to the frame.”
The frightening accident occurred at Kansas when a part broke on Logano’s car, causing him to turn into Patrick. As those two were wrecking into the outside wall, Almirola slammed into them from behind and all three cars burst into flames.
Almirola said he tried to check up in his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford and must have hit a debris field or oil on the track “because at that point it was like I was a train on the tracks, headed right for the wreck.”
Earnhardt said most of all that he’s just happy there weren’t more drivers injured in the accident – and that Almirola’s injury, while serious, wasn’t even worse.
“They’ll look at all the things that happened in that series of events, to try to figure out ways to help guys that are in that situation again,” Earnhardt said. “I was thrilled it wasn’t any more than that for any of those guys. It was an incredibly terrible accident. Danica was extremely lucky, as were the other two drivers.”
What is comforting, Earnhardt added, is that NASCAR has employees on staff now who will dissect the wreck in every detail. Then they’ll try to see how it could have been prevented, and also how they may be able to make safety improvements to further protect drivers in the future.
“Having talked to NASCAR a lot over the last couple of years, I really feel good about where they are,” said Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of last season with a concussion. “They have specific individuals where it’s their job every day to science this stuff out and be looking at ways to improve. We never used to have that.
“It used to be more what the teams could do and what the drivers wanted to do. And you did most of that safety advancing behind the closed doors of the shop. Now we have people within the industry that they have on the payroll that that’s their job, so that makes me feel very comfortable.”