NASCAR Must Accept Blame, Improve Safety After Kyle Busch's Crash and Injury

Joe Menzer@@OneMenzFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2015

Safety workers and emergency personnel attend to Kyle Busch after his wreck.
Safety workers and emergency personnel attend to Kyle Busch after his wreck.Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

For NASCAR, this week should be all about the terrific racing that took place over the last 25 laps or so of the Daytona 500.

But it's not.

And for that, NASCAR should be ashamed. 

Instead of talking almost exclusively about how Joey Logano pulled off his first win in NASCAR's biggest race, a dark cloud of regret hung over the very event itself because of what happened in the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway one day earlier.

That was when Kyle Busch, one of the brightest stars in stock-car racing, was involved in a huge wreck that caused the car he was driving to veer way off the 2.5-mile superspeedway. It did not come to rest until he violently slammed into an interior wall that for some inexplicable reason was not protected by a SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier.

At this point, in 2015, 14 years after the death of Dale Earnhardt at the same track in a last-lap accident during the 2001 Daytona 500, how in the world can any square inch of any track in America that NASCAR races on not be protected by SAFER barriers? And of all the tracks in America, how can Daytona be one that has failed the sport so miserably?

While it's true much has been done since Earnhardt's death, with the introduction of SAFER barrier technology, mandatory head- and neck-restraint devices and cars that absorb impact better and overall are much safer, the quest to improve safety standards in all motorsports should be never-ending and absolutely relentless. Those in charge here appear to have dozed off at the wheel.

Busch suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg and a broken left foot, incurring serious injuries that arguably never should have happened. (While racing inherently is dangerous and accidents such as the one Busch was involved in are sometimes unavoidable, softer walls almost certainly would have made a difference and lessened the physical damage to the driver.)

Doctors at Halifax Health Medical Center of Daytona Beach performed surgery on Busch's right leg Saturday night, and Joe Gibbs, his car owner, told Fox Sports' Tom Jensen on Sunday morning that he isn't certain how long his driver will be out.

To their very, very limited credit, both NASCAR vice president Steve O'Donnell and Daytona track president Joie Chitwood stepped up in a news conference that never should have had to take place and accepted responsibility for the accident that caused Busch's injuries.

"The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility," Chitwood said, according a transcript of the news conference held last Saturday evening. "We should have had a SAFER barrier there today; we did not. We're going to fix that. We're going to fix that right now.”

Chitwood then said track workers already were at work placing tire barriers on the inside walls of the track for the following day's Daytona 500.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster energy Toyota, is seen stopped against a wall after crashing during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Alert Today Florida 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2015 in Daytona
Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

"Following that, the Daytona International Speedway is going to install SAFER barrier on every inch at this property,” Chitwood added, according to the transcript. "This is not going to happen again. We're going to live up to our responsibility. We're going to fix this, and it starts right now."

O'Donnell added: "What happened (Saturday night) should not have happened. That's on us. We're going to fix it. We're going to fix it immediately."

Bold words indeed.

And more than a little empty because they come too late.

Tire barriers? This isn't 1985. How about SAFER barriers? Not tomorrow, not in time for the next race at Daytona, but yesterday.

Why weren't the SAFER barriers already in place? The answer is simple and can be explained in one word.

Money.

According to the Charlotte Observer's Scott Fowler, the barriers cost $500 per square foot—or as much as $2.6 million to install a mile's worth. That's a whole lot of money to cover a huge track like Daytona. But as also noted by Fowler, defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick tweeted a full year ago: "If you can spend $400 million on renovating your track you can afford a few more soft walls."

That's how much International Speedway Corporation, which is owned and run by the France family that also lords over NASCAR, is spending on a Daytona Rising renovation project. So Harvick's point is right on the mark, even if it was ignored by the powers that be until now.

Harvick certainly wasn't alone in heaping on the criticism following the incident involving Busch, with fellow drivers Regan Smith and Kasey Kahne also weighing in.

The bottom line is obvious. The Daytona track was trying to save a few bucks at the expense of driver safety. And the governing body of NASCAR was reactive, not proactive. Again.

And for that, there really is no excuse. In what should be one of NASCAR's finest hours, it and its crown-jewel track should instead both be ashamed.

Joe Menzer has written six books, including two about NASCAR, and now writes about it and other sports for Bleacher Report as well as helping cover NASCAR as a writer and editor for FoxSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

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