Lessons learned from Dale Earnhardt death readily seen in way NASCAR has dealt with Tony Stewart tragedy

2 Comments

HAMPTON, Ga. — While it did not occur on its watch or under its jurisdiction, NASCAR has still been forced to deal with the fallout of the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy.

Because one of NASCAR’s biggest stars, Tony Stewart, was involved, the sanctioning body was brought into the fray by default.

Unless they were in a cave the last three weeks, many casual observers to even non-motorsports fans have been made aware of the incident by almost non-stop news coverage.

And many of those same observers or non-fans have the mistaken misconception that because Ward was killed on a race track in an incident with a NASCAR driver, that somehow NASCAR was involved.

That’s simply not the case. The race on August 9 in upstate New York was on a dirt track and in a race series that has no association with NASCAR whatsoever.

Complicating the issue for the casual observers and non-motorsports fans is the fact that Ward was killed in a sprint car race, which sounds too close to a race in NASCAR’s premier series, the Sprint Cup Series.

You can see the confusion quite readily.

With Stewart having sat out the last three races – Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol – to grieve himself as well as not race out of respect to the young Ward, NASCAR had to both deal with the fallout of what happened to Stewart as well as prepare for his eventual return.

That return has come this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

And before Stewart climbed back into his No. 14 Chevrolet, NASCAR enlisted several outside professionals to assure that Stewart was mentally, emotionally and physically ready to get behind the wheel.

In a sense, NASCAR has had to deal with the Stewart situation in a similar fashion as when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500.

The sanctioning body had to close ranks inward to not only deal with the mourning and grief related to Earnhardt’s death, but also had to devise a plan to keep the series moving forward.

It’s been kind of the same way with Stewart. Although he was not killed, he was involved in an incident where another driver lost his life.

In both Stewart’s and Earnhardt’s case, there were resulting investigations, questions about safety and enhanced enforcement of existing rules.

Most notably, just days after the Stewart-Ward incident, NASCAR made it very clear to all competitors across not only its three professional series but all of its sportsman series as well, that it would ratchet up enforcement over drivers getting out of their wrecked race cars before a safety crew arrived on-scene.

NASCAR said it would significantly increase the potential for monetary and points penalties to keep drivers in their cars until assisted out.

The only exception is if a race car was on fire or a driver was in imminent danger of being further involved in yet another wreck not of his or her making (like being on the other side of a blind hill or turn on a road course).

Now that he is back racing, don’t think that NASCAR has ended its oversight of Stewart or actions of other drivers. If NASCAR subsequently believes that Stewart still isn’t fully recovered or healed from especially the mental and emotional parts of the Ward incident, it can park him just as easily as it reinstated him.

Through Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions, as well as Friday’s qualifying round, there was no reason to think such would occur. Stewart qualified 12th for Sunday night’s race at AMS and appears to be as close to being back to normal – at least from a racing perspective – as he was prior to the Ward tragedy.

NASCAR learned a lot of lessons after Earnhardt’s death and, while the circumstances of Stewart’s incident are significantly different, even more lessons have been learned over the last three weeks.

And the end result is the same:

NASCAR takes the responsibility to make its racing as safe as humanly possible very, very seriously.

The sport hurt for a long time after Earnhardt passed away, needing more than a year to mourn and grieve, but it ultimately survived and carried on.

It, too, will eventually get through the Stewart situation. It’s all part of the healing process for everyone.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Castroneves OK after heavy crash in Pocono qualifying (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Helio Castroneves lost the back end of his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet rolling into Turn 1 during qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), in a big accident that will hurt his weekend hopes and force the Team Penske crew to make significant repairs.

Castroneves looped around and hit the Turn 1 wall with his nose and left side of the car, with the car then tilting up on its side before coming back down to the ground.

The Brazilian got out of the car under his own power without assistance from the Holmatro Safety Team before heading to the infield medical center. He has been checked, cleared and released.

Castroneves told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis: “Good news the hair is still good. Unfortunate for the car. We didn’t have a chance to do qualifying (in practice). I was a bit slow, so the car pushed a bit, it might have been a bit too aggressive. It caught me in Turn 1, and came around, unfortunately spun out on me. Hopefully it’s not a snowball. Now that practice is tonight before the race.”

Castroneves enters Sunday’s race second in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, seven points behind teammate and points leader Josef Newgarden (423-416).

Porsche: Formula E more than a marketing tool, ‘no passing fad’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Porsche executive board member Michael Steiner is confident that Formula E will be more than just a “passing fad” or a tool for good marketing as the German marque begins to prepare for its entry to the series in 2019.

Porsche rocked the racing world last month by announcing it would be closing its LMP1 program at the end of this year, shifting its focus to Formula E where it will race from season six onwards.

The move sees Porsche follow in the footsteps of many more manufacturers, with Audi, Jaguar, Mercedes, Renault and BMW among those who will also be racing in season six.

Porsche had previously dismissed Formula E as not being of enough technical interest in its current state, but Steiner is confident of its future direction.

“The series is developing in an interesting direction,” Steiner said. Think, for example, of the rear axle with the electric motor, which manufacturers are able to design themselves within the regulations.

“Or take the inverter and the battery management, where there will also be more freedom. In the relatively short term, it is expected that a better battery will be used in Formula E, which will eliminate vehicle changes during the race.

“There are also planned increases in drive performance. And brake-by-wire is coming, along with other things. We have seen the roadmap on the technical side. The regulations will start to open up and the planned developments are very interesting.”

Steiner said Porsche is expecting Formula E to become a strong technical formula, adding: “We would not make such a wide-ranging strategic change for an event that only had marketing potential.

“If Formula E were just a short-term trend or a passing fad, we would certainly not become involved.”

Leah Pritchett has quickest run in NHRA history at 3.640 seconds

Photo courtesy Don Schumacher Racing
Leave a comment

BRAINERD, Minn. (AP) Leah Pritchett had the quickest run in NHRA history with 3.640-second pass at 330.63 mph Friday night at Brainerd International Speedway in Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals qualifying.

She broke her own Top Fuel record of 3.658 set in Arizona in February.

“We’ve looked forward to this night session for a long time,” Pritchett said. “Knowing that Brainerd, this track, this surface, the conditions and what NHRA is able to do to it, lays down the ground work for us to pull out the most power possible. That’s what this team did. They have been working tirelessly at finding small amounts of power here, there and everywhere and to be able to put it on the track tonight was incredible.”

Robert Hight broke the Funny Car time record with a 3.793 at 338.00 in a Chevrolet Camaro SS, the first run in the 3.7s in Funny Car history. He set the speed record of 339.87 last month at Sonoma Raceway.

“I could tell it was running fast and I saw the 3.79 on the scoreboard,” Hight said. “It’s just something you dream about. There are so many things that have to happen and work together for it all to come together. It’s not that easy. This is a big milestone. To be part of a milestone as a driver, this was big for me.”

Tanner Gray topped the Pro Stock field, and Hector Arana Jr. was the fastest in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Gray had a 6.607 at 208.617 in a Chevrolet Camaro, and Arana had a 6.879 at 194.24 on a Buell.

Back racing after F1 test, Norris dominates Zandvoort F3 opener

LAT
Leave a comment

McLaren younster Lando Norris made an emphatic return to racing action after the summer break by dominating the opening race of the FIA European Formula 3 weekend at Zandvoort, taking his sixth win of the season.

Norris, 17, moved up to F3 for 2017 after winning two Formula Renault titles last year, as well as linking up with McLaren’s junior program.

The Briton impressed during his maiden Formula 1 test in Hungary at the end of last month, and carried the momentum through to Zandvoort by taking pole position for Carlin for the first race of the weekend.

Norris retained his lead at the start and only came under pressure following a safety car period, with Swedish youngster Joel Eriksson running close for the lead.

Norris was able to create a gap and pull away, completing a wire-to-wire win with almost nine seconds in hand over the pack for his sixth win of the season.

The result sees Norris move to within eight points of championship leader Maximillian Günther, the German finishing third on Saturday at Zandvoort.