When a piece of tungsten weight flew out of the back of Ross Chastain’s NASCAR XFINITY Series car last weekend at Iowa Speedway, it struck Viva Motorsports driver-owner Jamie Dick’s car in the windshield.
The roughly 35-pound piece of tungsten destroyed Dick’s hood and windshield, entered the cockpit and hit him in the helmet visor.
While Dick was not hurt in the incident, the rest of the NASCAR community was hit with a pretty big wake-up call.
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"It’s very concerning," Team Penske’s Joey Logano said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "I looked at it and it hit his helmet and I saw the roll bar behind it with a cut in it and bent really bad, and that’s one of the worst things I think you can see. As a driver you look at that and you’re like, ‘Whoa.’ "
Gary Cogswell, crew chief on Chastain’s No. 4 car, told FOXSports.com that losing the ballast out of the car last weekend at Iowa was "the most devastating" thing that has happened in his career.
Cogswell was hit with a $15,000 fine for the incident and placed on probation for the remainder of the year.
He said the team has not been able to pinpoint exactly why the tungsten became separated from the car’s left-side frame rail. He indicated a bolt and a lock nut secure the left-side weight, and that part is not something that is regularly replaced.
According to the NASCAR rule book, "Any and all ballast added to the vehicle must be bolted inside an added ballast container, inside the main frame rails, and/or inside the front sway bar."
Part of the reason the team is still trying to determine how the tungsten came out of the frame rail is because the lock nut and bolt were not recovered after the incident. As a result, the team has not been able to determine whether the incident was the result of a part failure or human error.
Either way, the incident sent a message to the entire NASCAR garage. While this is not the first time a piece of tungsten has fallen out of a car, the fact it entered the cockpit and hit Dick in the helmet visor was a wake-up call to many.
"It’s definitely a reminder, but I don’t think it’s indicative of a mass problem," Carl Edwards told FOXSports.com. "If you look up and down this garage, these guys are such professionals, they’re all way better mechanics than I am. I think everybody saw that and to every single guy in the garage that was a reminder that, ‘Hey, we’ve just got to do that last nut and bolt check.’ These guys are spectacular. You don’t see that ever. Things like that are going to happen every once in a while, but there is no big problem."
"We can never be safe enough. NASCAR does a good job responding to incidents like this and I am sure they are looking at the issue," added Team Penske crew chief Paul Wolfe.
He indicated the tungsten used in cars typically weighs about 35 pounds, but also said NASCAR has made great strides in how those weights are secured in the cars. Like many, Wolfe believes a bolt was left unsecured and that is how the tungsten flew out of the rear of the car.
"Part of the problem is that lots of teams on that side of the garage are doing all they can to get on the track, and that is when mistakes happen," he said.
Mistake or not, Logano made it clear he would wish the penalty for losing weight like this was much more severe.
"I believe the penalty needs to be large to the team that leaves something loose and lets a weight like that come out," Logano said. "That’s very, very dangerous. That’s more dangerous than hitting any wall and that’s something we can’t look over, for sure."
During the April 7, 2014 race at Texas Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet hit the inside grass, sending debris and grass into teammate Jimmie Johnson’s windshield at a high rate of speed. The heavy contact broke the halo bar that is used to reinforce the windshield in case of flips.
Johnson said the damage done by the clumps of grass and debris "wasn’t a big deal," but argued that hitting a piece of tungsten is "a whole new game."
"Thankfully (Jamie) wasn’t injured or the car wasn’t damaged even anymore. I’ve fortunately never seen it before. I’ve always wondered what would happen," Johnson said.
The six-time champion recalled an incident at Phoenix International Raceway in which a piece of lead fell out of a car and "went through the concrete wall in Turns 1 and 2."
"Man, that is just bad news," he said. "Anything that we can do to ensure that all those lead rails are secure and tight and nothing is getting out I’m in favor or any rule to go down that road, because you can’t stop a piece of tungsten like that. Jamie was very lucky to not be injured in that incident."
This is the frame-by-frame of the beverage can hitting the windshield at 200 mph. Please note the liquid left the can immediately upon impact, but neither the can nor the liquid penetrated the windshield.
Ensuring driver safety is a constant priority for NASCAR, and extensive testing has gone into making the safest possible windshields.
"There is some pretty remarkable video of some projectile testing that NASCAR did and actually changed the front window leading into last year with some different layers and different things that were mandatory with the cars," defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick said. "Without that windshield that NASCAR put into place, (Dick’s incident) would have been a much, much uglier piece of video."
A 2013 SAE International report provided to FOX Sports by NASCAR details the ballistic testing of windshields of which Harvick mentioned.
From 2000 until 2012, NASCAR vehicles ran a quarter-inch thick monolithic hard-coated polycarbonate windshield. After extensive ballistic testing, NASCAR mandated a quarter-inch thick laminated hard-coated polycarbonate windshield for the 2013 season.
"While no driver injuries have been sustained from debris striking the windshield, an opportunity for improvement was identified, pursued and implemented for the 2013 NASCAR racing season," the report reads.
As part of the test, objects such as full beverage cans and a solid steel slug were shot at the monolithic and laminated windshields at 200 mph.
This is an image of the solid steel slug being shot at the windshields at 200 mph. Please note in the caption that the slug goes through the monolithic windshield on the right.
During the beverage can test, both the monolithic and laminate windshields sustained damage, but neither the aluminum can nor any liquid made it into through the windshield.
The solid steel slug was fired 22 inches away from the windshield at 200 mph. Unlike the beverage can, the steel slug passed through the monolithic upon impact. The steel slug did not penetrate the laminated windshield.
"Analysis of the high-speed video reveals that the steel projectile was traveling at 110 (feet-per-second) after passing through the monolithic windshield," the report’s conclusion reads. "This equates to 161.6 ft-lbs of kinetic energy. While the monolithic windshield allowed the projectile to pass through it, the projectile kinetic energy was reduced by more than seven times."
Despite the extensive testing, Logano believes last weekend’s incident sheds new light on the dangerous possibility of a 35-pound piece of tungsten hitting the windshield at a high rate of speed.
"Obviously, it’s an area we need to make better because I don’t know if we were ready for 35-pound pieces of tungsten coming through the windshield," he said. "I think we’re ready for soda cans and little, small pieces of debris, not like that. That’s something that makes me nervous as a driver. That’s at Iowa going 150 (mph). What if we hit one here going 200? It wouldn’t be pretty."
For Edwards, that risk is simply part of the risk assumed by race car drivers, and he thanked the sanctioning body for their efforts.
"That’s part of the sport. That’s why we wear helmets," he said. "NASCAR does a lot of testing with these windshields, and I’m grateful for that. They’ve got a can that shoots stuff at the windshields. I appreciate all of that. Jamie was really lucky that it wasn’t any worse, but I think we’re all lucky to have that standard of safety in our cars."