Stewart’s accident needs to create safety improvements

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The hand-wringing over Tony Stewart racing sprint cars, and getting injured, is already underway.

Suddenly hundreds of armchair experts are saying something to the degree of, “Why is he racing a sprint car? Shouldn’t he be more concerned with his NASCAR commitments?”

Fact is, “Smoke” is the only person qualified to comment about what Smoke wants to do, and the only person who can give him the green light on what he chooses to do.

He exemplifies the term “racer” because he’s keen on running as many different types of cars, on so many tracks in so many cities. He’s his own boss; he races anytime, anywhere at his own risk and for his own enjoyment. He’s the closest modern day thing to his hero, A.J. Foyt, and just like Foyt, he runs the No. 14.

And if his sponsors had a problem with it, they wouldn’t be sponsoring him. Or allowing him to race in these events. Period. End of story.

The more pressing issue, and with dirt racing heavily in the national motorsports news in 2013, is what kind of safety upgrades tracks or sprint car series need to make to prevent this onslaught of serious injuries or worse this year.

Jason Leffler, one of Stewart’s friends and a high-profile name, was killed in June; an improved headrest may have saved his life.  Kramer Williamson died Sunday from injuries sustained in a crash in Pennsylvania, and Josh Burton died a couple weeks before Leffler from injuries sustained in a crash in Indiana. Per a USA Today report, there have been other deaths in Nevada (late May, two drivers) and California (two people killed after a car crashed on pit road, leaving a track).

Track themselves largely lack the SAFER barriers. Roll cages and seats can be improved. The HANS device or other head-and-neck support systems should be mandated if they aren’t already. There’s a lack of unity in the regulations across several series.

Dirt racing had its national breakout night a couple weeks ago with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ race at Eldora Speedway, a track Stewart owns, in Rossburg, Ohio. But now, the focus should shift to improving the standards at the tracks, cars and drivers, and not questioning who chooses to race there.

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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.