“The key is sitting down with NASCAR, finding out the things that happened and how we deal with them.”
Daytona reexamined its fencing and ended up replacing the entire thing following Carl Edwards’ scary crash at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in 2009. Edwards’ car sailed into the fence and spewed debris into the stands.
“We’ve made improvements since then,” Chitwood said. “I think that’s the key: that we learn from this and figure out what else we need to do.”
NASCAR plans to take what remained of Larson’s sheared car along with debris back to its research and development center in Charlotte, N.C., for testing.
“We’ll bring in the best and brightest,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president for racing operations. “Anything we can learn will be put in place. … Fans are our first priority. Obviously we want everybody to be safe at an event. We’ve talked to the speedway. We’re confident in what’s in place at today’s event. Certainly still thinking about those affected, but we’re confident to move forward for this race.”
The 12-car crash began as the front-runners approached the checkered flag. Leader Regan Smith attempted to block Brad Keselowski for the win, triggering a pileup that could have been much worse.
Larson’s burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence. Parts and pieces of his car sprayed into the stands, including a tire that cleared the top of the fence and landed midway up the spectator section closest to the track.
The 20-year-old Larson stood in shock a few feet from his car as fans in the stands waved frantically for help. Smoke from the burning engine briefly clouded the area, and emergency vehicles descended on the scene.
Ambulance sirens could be heard wailing behind the grandstands at a time the race winner would typically be doing celebratory burnouts.
“It was freaky. When I looked to my right, the accident happened,” Rick Harpster of Orange Park said. “I looked over and I saw a tire fly straight over the fence into the stands, but after that I didn’t see anything else. That was the worst thing I have seen, seeing that tire fly into the stands. I knew it was going to be severe.”
In 1987, Bobby Allison’s car lifted off the track at Talladega while running over 200 mph, careening into the steel-cable fence and scattering debris into the crowd. That crash led to the use of horsepower-sapping restrictor plates at Talladega and its sister track in Daytona, NASCAR’s fastest layouts.
As a result, the cars all run nearly the same speed, and the field is typically bunched tightly together _ which plenty of drivers have warned is actually a more dangerous scenario than higher speeds.
“That’s one of the things that really does scare you,” Allison said Sunday. “But it’s always a possibility because of the speeds, where they are.”
Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.
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