Just when NASCAR appeared to have all the holes patched, its drivers showed Sunday that they can always find new ways and new places to crash.
Mark Martin's frightening crash on lap 64 of Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 uncovered yet another weak spot in NASCAR's quest to make its events as safe as possible, one that must be amended as soon as possible.
If you missed it, contact from Kasey Kahne sent Martin's car spinning down the entrance of the pit road, where it eventually made contact—driver's side first—with the end of the pit wall at one of the points where the wall opens into the garage area.
Martin and the pit crew of Kahne, who was ironically pitted in the stall closest to Martin's point of impact, were all luckily unscathed.
But that doesn't change the fact that give or take another foot, Martin's accident could have been catastrophic for himself and others in the area.
Having those openings in the pit wall is extremely dangerous, and Sunday's incident shows that it is beyond time to close them up while the cars are at full speed on the racetrack.
Had Martin's car hit the wall just a foot or two forward of where it did, the wall would have made a direct impact with the driver's compartment, resulting in potentially-dire consequences. Another foot or two forward from that point, and Martin's car could have been spun around and wound up behind the pit wall, injuring scores more.
Now, the thought process of most readers will likely start with one notion: The fact that Martin's car hit that precise spot was sheer luck or chance, unlikely to ever happen again.
This is a valid point. Cars sliding that far onto pit road is rare, but that doesn't change the fact that what happened yesterday highlighted a portion of pit road that is remarkably unsafe. And if it happened once, there's nothing to say that it can't happen again, with less-desirable results.
Honestly, it's a wonder that a car hasn't already taken a nasty lick on one of those openings before now.
NASCAR has a history of acting swiftly in response to complaints about similarly unsafe areas.
In 2008, after Jeff Gordon endured this frightening hit on an opening in the inside wall at Las Vegas, promoter Bruton Smith and NASCAR responded swiftly, closing the opening and installing safer barriers (via Associated Press/ESPN.com) along the inside wall to prevent a similar impact.
The Sprint Cup Series' 2010 trip to Pocono saw Elliott Sadler suffer NASCAR's hardest hit ever recorded to an oddly-shaped barrier along the straightaway between the triangle's Turns 1 and 2 (at about the 1:35 mark of this video). NASCAR's response? Working with Pocono to immediately revamp that portion of the track, straightening out that guardrail in an effort to avoid another crash like Sadler's.
And in 2011, after David Reutimann and David Ragan were involved in this wild crash at Watkins Glen, NASCAR and the racetrack changed the configuration of that area of the course, widening the racing surface and paving the nearby grass to give drivers more runoff room to avoid contact.
Now is another one of those times for NASCAR to act, not just at Michigan, but at all racetracks. Having these openings in the pit walls poses a grievous threat to the safety of not only the drivers, but the crew members working in the stalls adjacent to the openings.
It is imperative that NASCAR work with these racetracks to implement some sort of gate or barrier that can be opened and closed; something that can provide quick garage access, but protect drivers from potential hits like the one Martin took Sunday.
The sooner it happens the better, because as drivers are so apt to show, they can find ways to crash just about anywhere.
What do you think? Do NASCAR and its racetracks need to fix this problem? Or is a big deal being made about nothing? Answer the poll above and tell us why you feel the way you do in the comments below!
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