Kevin Harvick wants more SAFER barriers to fill in unprotected voids at Sprint Cup tracks

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Kevin Harvick has never been shy about speaking his mind, especially when it comes to his safety and that of his fellow competitors.

During his media session Friday at Phoenix International Raceway, Harvick made it clear that he wants to see more racetracks further expand installation of SAFER barriers.

While all Sprint Cup tracks have the speed absorbing barriers, several do not have them completely around both outside and inside retaining walls.

Harvick slid through the infield grass and hit hard into an inside retaining wall that was not protected by a SAFER barrier during last Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Although he was uninjured, Harvick did suffer soreness and just started feeling better Friday from the lick.

“The tracks, for the most part, don’t listen to really anything unless it’s profitable for their shareholders,” Harvick said. “So, when you see somebody spending $400 million dollars on their track and they don’t have soft walls around the inside, maybe they could spend $403 million to go ahead and finish the inside of the superspeedway there at Daytona.

“Yeah, I was sore all week. And just today I feel good enough to do what I need to do.”

Several other drivers have had similar hard wrecks into inside retaining walls that haven’t been protected by SAFER barriers at other tracks in recent seasons, including Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin suffered a serious back injury in his particular wreck last spring when his Toyota crashed into an unprotected inside retaining wall at Auto Club Speedway. The wreck forced him to miss four weeks of the Sprint Cup schedule.

Harvick had absolutely no control of his No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet at the time of Sunday’s wreck.

“It was just a weird situation,” Harvick said. “The car didn’t have any brakes or any steering and the throttle was partially hung coming off the wall and going through the wet grass and then into no SAFER barrier at the end of pit road there.

“So, it was a hard shot. It’s a little bit frustrating because it really shouldn’t even be a debate. I know they have data that shows where the most frequently hit spots are but we wear all this safety equipment and do all the things that we do to these race tracks for that one freak incident to keep things from happening like happened back in 2001 (when Dale Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedway).”

Harvick succeeded the late Earnhardt in what became the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

“It shouldn’t even be a debate,” Harvick said. “It’s just one of those things I guess that you just wait around for something else to happen and then they’ll fix it.”

DIS spokesman Lenny Santiago issued a statement in response to Harvick’s comments.

“Fan and competitor safety is a top priority at Daytona International Speedway,” Santiago said in the statement. “We work closely with NASCAR, the Motorsports Technology Group, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and its Midwest Roadside Safety Facility division on recommendations for placement of the SAFER Barriers. We continuously review incidents that take place with these experts, and make improvements based on their ongoing recommendations.”

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MRTI: Barber Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The weekend at Barber Motorsports Park for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was a tale of two completely different days.

Saturday was a picturesque Spring day for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, with bright sunshine and temperatures above 70 degrees. Sunday, however, was much cooler and wetter, with rain hitting both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races.

Still, the packed weekend for both series produced plenty of drama, and each now sees its championship picture beginning to take shape.

Major stories to surface from the weekend at Barber for both series are below.

Indy Lights

  • Pato O’Ward has been, by a considerable margin, the fastest driver after four races in 2018. A winner of three races – which easily could be four if not for a mistake while leading Race 2 in St. Petersburg – and a polesitter for two, O’Ward has asserted himself as the early-season man to beat in the title chase, leading Santi Urrutia with 110 points to 94. O’Ward already has big-league championship to his name – he was a co-champion of the Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship last year, and he is poised to add to that in 2018.
  • Victor Franzoni is starting to get his arms around the IL-15. Last year’s Pro Mazda champion gets better with every race, and he earned his first Indy Lights podium in Race 2 at Barber, finishing second. It would hardly be a surprise if Franzoni breaks into the win column soon.
  • Aaron Telitz’s run of hard luck continued in Race 1 on Saturday, as he was collected by a spinning Dalton Kellett and retired from the race with a damaged right-front. That meant through three races, Telitz had completed a combined four corners. Race 2 finally produced a clean day for the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, as he ran all the laps on his way to finishing fourth.
  • Colton Herta scored a double-podium at Barber, with finishes of second and third. Sitting on 83 points, he is 19 back of leader O’Ward. He’ll need to break into the win column to make up ground, but consistently finishing on the podium will also help his efforts, and prevent O’Ward from making big leaps away from him.

Pro Mazda

  • Although he might be disappointed to miss out on sweeping the weekend, Parker Thompson has lots of reasons to smile leaving Barber, as he overtook Rinus VeeKay for the championship lead by four points, 102 to 98. Thompson has had two strong weekends to open the Pro Mazda season, with finishes of second, fifth, first, and second after four races. He and VeeKay have emerged as possible title combatants after the opening two weekends.
  • Speaking of VeeKay, the 17-year-old Dutchman had a quiet weekend at Barber, with finishes of fourth and fifth after lacking pace in qualifying – he qualified seventh and ninth for Race 1 and Race 2. After dominating at St. Pete, VeeKay’s lack of pace was somewhat puzzling, though it could be indicative of a Pro Mazda field that is deep with talent. Expect him to rebound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May.
  • Oliver Askew’s troublesome start to the 2018 season only got worse at Barber, with finishes of seventh and 12th on a weekend in which he never factored into the outcome. The struggles of him and Cape Motorsports is mystifying given their prowess in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on their way to winning the championship last year. Getting into championship contention at this point is a tall task – he is 46 points behind Thompson – but righting the ship will be priority No. 1 for him and Cape heading to Indianapolis.
  • Harrison Scott enjoyed a great rebound after struggling in St. Pete, where he finished ninth and 12th. He took his first Pro Mazda podium in Race 1, finishing second, and then survived a chaotic and rainy Race 2 to take his first victory. The successful weekend also vaulted him into fourth in the championship.
  • David Malukas has also put together a solid season through four races, with finishes of seventh, second, third, and fifth. The BN Racing driver sits third in the championship, and may well end up challenging for race wins soon.

All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will be in action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course during the weekend of the INDYCAR Grand Prix (May 11-12), with USF2000 returning after a two-month break following the season opener in St. Petersburg.

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