(Illustration: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

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


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

Here are your Abu Dhabi GP TV Times on NBCSN, CNBC, Live Extra

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It’s the final Grand Prix of the year, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the Yas Marina Circuit.

Here’s the TV times and game plan for the weekend across NBCSN, CNBC and NBC Sports Live Extra:

NBC Sports Group presents the season finale of the 2015 Formula One season this weekend with live coverage of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – F1’s only twilight race – from Yas Marina Circuit this Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

NBC Sports Group is on pace to deliver its most-watched Formula One season to date, with just Sunday’s season finale in Abu Dhabi remaining on the schedule. Through 18 races, NBC Sports Group’s F1 coverage has averaged 533,000 viewers, up 17% vs. the same point of the 2014 F1 season. Last week, NBCSN delivered the most-watched live cable telecast of the Brazilian Grand Prix since 2010, averaging 493,000 viewers.

Lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey will call the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driver David Hobbs, and analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett. F1 insider Will Buxton will serve as the team’s on-site reporter from Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) is looking to close out the 2015 campaign with a third consecutive victory, following wins in Mexico and Brazil. Rosberg has also earned the pole position in five consecutive races. Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton clinched his second consecutive Drivers’ Championship with a victory at the United States Grand Prix in October. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has won the race in Abu Dhabi three times (2009, 2010 & 2013), followed by Hamilton’s two victories (2011 & 2014). The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix debuted in 2009 and holds the distinction as F1’s only twilight race, beginning in the sun of the afternoon and concluding after dusk under the lights.

Coverage of this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi begins Friday at 4 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra with Practice 1, followed by NBCSN’s live coverage of Practice 2 at 8 a.m. ET. Live Extra will carry Practice 3 on Saturday at 5 a.m. ET, and CNBC will present live qualifying on Saturday at 8 a.m. ET.

NBCSN’s race day coverage begins Sunday at 7 a.m. ET with F1 Countdown, followed by NBCSN’s live presentation of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at 7:30 a.m. ET. F1 Extra will provide post-race analysis at 10 a.m. ET, and NBCSN will air an encore presentation of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET. NBCSN will also air coverage of the GP2 race in Abu Dhabion Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, with Alex Jacques calling the action.

Motorsports Coverage This Week on NBCSN, CNBC & NBC Sports Live Extra (subject to change):

Date Program Time (ET) Network
Fri., November 27 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 1 4 a.m. Live Extra
Off The Grid – Talladega (Encore) 7 a.m. NBCSN
Off The Grid – Austin (Encore) 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 2 8 a.m. NBCSN
“1” – F1 Documentary 9:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sat., November 28 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 2 (Encore) 1:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Practice 3 5 a.m. Live Extra
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Qualifying 8 a.m. CNBC
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Qualifying (Encore) 12:30 p.m. NBCSN
Sun., November 29 F1 Countdown 7 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Extra 10 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Encore) 4:30 p.m. NBCSN
GP2 – Abu Dhabi 10 p.m. NBCSN

Haas F1 Team finishes its first pit wall gantry

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Haas F1 Team logos during the press conference for their driver announcement on October 30, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images for Haas)
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As Haas F1 Team continues to prepare for its debut season in the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship, it’s putting together all the pieces it needs to compete.

It’s got a driver lineup – Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez have now finally, formally been confirmed within the last month – and now it has the pit wall equipment complete for the strategists to call their respective drivers’ races.

Here’s a video of how the team’s first pit wall gantry was assembled, and finished today:

And here’s some still shots:

INDYCAR confirms additional car tethers among other 2016 safety enhancements

Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud
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INDYCAR has outlined the formal safety enhancements it plans to do to the base Dallara DW12 chassis for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The full release from INDYCAR is below:

Tethering aerodynamic components of the Dallara IR-12 chassis is among safety enhancements announced by INDYCAR that will be implemented for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The high-tensile Zylon tethers minimize the possibility of components becoming detached from the race cars during accidents.

The rear beam wing and rear wheel guards will be tethered for all Verizon IndyCar Series events and the car’s nose will be tethered on superspeedway ovals (1.5 miles or longer). Dallara also has designed a tethering system for the front wing main plane for the three superspeedways on the 2016 schedule – Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway.

Since 1999, Verizon IndyCar Series cars have employed wheel restraints attached to the chassis and suspension. The Suspension Wheel/Wing Energy Management System (SWEMS) also includes one or two restraints attached from the rear wing main plane to a secure location on the transmission.

“It is a continual goal to improve safety for all the participants, fans and drivers alike,” said Will Phillips, INDYCAR Vice President of Technology. “We also need to do this in a fashion that does not create more yellow-flag racing and try to prevent as much debris as possible. We have great support from our partners to improve safety and wish to thank Chevrolet, Honda and Dallara for their participation and efforts in working together to implement change.”

Other changes for the 2016 season as part of INDYCAR’s ongoing research and development to improve the on-track product and safety include:

  • A domed skid plate on the underside of the chassis, which improves its yaw/spin characteristics, will complement rear wing flaps that deploy at 90 degrees if a car spins and travels backward on a superspeedway. The package will minimize the incidence of the car becoming airborne. The rear wing flaps have been tested in wind tunnels at General Motors and Texas A&M University. Components are scheduled to be available for the April 6 test on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
  • An update to the Engine Control Unit (ECU) prevents a car from moving forward during a pit stop if the gearbox is not in neutral while the fuel hose is attached. Through the ECU, the fuel probe activation sensor can stop the car from moving forward by returning the engine to idle and engaging the clutch if the car is not in neutral when the fuel probe is plugged in.
  • Another ECU update puts the engine in idle faster if too much pressure is applied to the throttle or brake pedal. The throttle pedal failsafe will engage and idle the engine when pressure applied to either the throttle or brake pedal exceeds a calibrated threshold.

Next round of “Dinner with Racers” podcasts come out today

Photo: DWR pres. by Continental Tire
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Last week, we were introduced to the “Dinner with Racers” podcasts, presented by Continental Tire, where Ryan Eversley and Sean Heckman toured the country in an Acura MDX fitted with Continental Tires to have lunch or dinner with various people in racing.

These could be drivers, team owners, media members, track officials, or other athletes/individuals who are racing fans.

You wouldn’t think of Erik Valdez or Sean Johnson necessarily in racing terms, but Valdez is an actor who has made a handful of Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race starts, and MLS star Johnson was a guest of Continental Tire at the Road America IMSA round this year, where he saw the cars first hand and was involved in the pre-race ceremonies.

The episode guide is linked here, via dinnerwithracers.com, or all can be downloaded on iTunes. More will come up likely throughout the next couple days to hit the planned 27 number of episodes.

Stuff your face full of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and listen to some good interviews and insights along the way.