One week after hitting a concrete wall head-on at Atlanta Motor Speedway, four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon still has safety at the forefront of his mind.
In the first two weeks of the 2015 NASCAR season, both Gordon and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch were involved in accidents where the cars they were driving struck concrete walls with no protective or SAFER barriers.
While Gordon was able to walk away from his incident in Atlanta, Busch wasn’t so fortunate after his in the XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway eight days earlier. Busch suffered a compound fracture of the right leg and a mid-foot break in his left foot, both of which required surgery.
Gordon commended NASCAR and the tracks for acting quickly in the wake of Busch’s incident and his wreck last week, but understands "only so much can be done in a short amount of time."
Talking with the media Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said he would meet with NASCAR officials next week to discuss safety measures and developments that have been made so far.
"The most important thing is just to continue to see progress," Gordon said. "The one thing I would question is when did SAFER barriers start being put at race tracks, and when was the plan for them to be complete, and where are we in that plan?"
Gordon reached out to NASCAR to discuss the issue and they invited him to sit down to share some information, something he says has been happening more than ever before.
"They have been sharing a lot of information with the drivers, a lot more than I’ve ever seen in the past," he said. "I’ve been pretty happy with that. Whatever comes out of (the meeting) I will share with other drivers and my team."
Gordon acknowledged he understands tracks will be unable to install SAFER barriers by next week, due to the fact it takes time to manufacture and install the energy-absorbing walls. However, questions still remain about the overall timeline.
"Everyone knows it’s a priority, but it seems to be pushed further along since Kyle’s accident," he said. "Where were we prior to Kyle’s accident on that plan?"
Last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gordon was critical of NASCAR and the tracks for the lack of SAFER barriers around the facilities. A veteran of the Sprint Cup Series, Gordon admittedly has hit a lot of walls with SAFER barriers and a lot of walls without them.
"When I hit a non-SAFER barrier wall, I go, ‘Wow, what did I just hit? What was that?’ I’m always caught off guard by the impact and how severe it is," he said. "With a SAFER barrier wall . . . it’s a huge difference."
Both NASCAR and the tracks have vowed to evaluate each facility and upgrade safety across the board where needed.
After Gordon’s wreck last weekend, NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp said in a statement: "We have accelerated our review of safety advancements at each of our racing venues. This is an ongoing process that we will continue to approach with aggressively and steadfastly in working with our track partners in the areas of safety."
Prior to last weekend’s race, AMS added 150 linear feet of protective barriers, but not in the location where Gordon wrecked. LVMS has also made slight changes ahead of this weekend’s Kobalt 400, and Phoenix International Raceway announced they would add tire packs ahead of next weekend’s race.
Gordon acknowledged there are some instances where tire packs are sufficient enough. But at the same time, tires often grab cars and induce them to flip over. Still, the respected veteran wants to see SAFER barriers installed where they are needed most.
"To me, every area that they say, ‘Yes, that wall would be safer with a SAFER barrier,’ it needs to have a SAFER barrier and we need to know the timeframe is and when it’s going to become a SAFER barrier," he said.