Crossover gate, fencing significantly strengthened at Daytona after February’s near-tragedy

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Rising from near-tragedy in February when dozens of parts of a demolished race car – including a tire – flew into the stands, injuring more than two dozen spectators, Daytona International Speedway will be a much safer place for this weekend’s return of racing.

Just in time for Friday’s Nationwide Series race, the same racing circuit in which a terrible wreck occurred back in February when Kyle Larson’s car was all but obliterated, track officials have reinforced and reconfigured the crossover gate and grandstand fencing protecting fans from race track debris, according to a story in the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News.

Significant safety improvements were made to both Daytona and sister track Talladega Superspeedway – the only two tracks on the NASCAR circuit that require restrictor plates to control horsepower on both Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series cars.

Following a study by a structural engineering firm, numerous improvements and upgrades were implemented, including more cables to keep the crossover gates in place, as well as additional tethers surrounding the crossover gate and support posts.

“I felt before that it was safe place,” track president Joie Chitwood III said. “We’ve been around 55 years and, yes, things happen.

“But we’ve done a really good job of giving fans a safe and fun environment. You never stop doing that.”

All eight crossover gates – which allow fans access to the track during pre-race activities and for pit tours when cars are not on the track – have been either replaced or strengthened.

Here’s a video replay of February’s near-tragedy:

INDYCAR: Newgarden, Sato quickest in first of 2 Friday practices at Road America

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Josef Newgarden was quickest in the first of Friday’s two INDYCAR practice sessions at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion covered the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course with a best lap of 1:43.0477, followed by Takuma Sato (1:43.4729), Alexander Rossi (1:43.5603), Robert Wickens (1:43.5774) and Marco Andretti (1:43.8825).

Sixth-quickest was Tony Kanaan (1:44.0429), followed by Spencer Pigot (1:44.1080), Zach Veach (1:44.1306), Scott Dixon (1:44.1643) and Matheius Leist (1:44.2963).

Alfonso Celis Jr., making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut and with Juncos Racing, was 22nd quickest in the 23-car field at 1:44.9164, while Gabby Chaves was the slowest driver on the course at 1:46.4485.

While there were no significant incidents during the 45-minute session, a number of drivers struggled in several turns, primarily due to some lingering puddles from overnight rain, as well as on rumble strips that threw their cars into adjacent grass areas.

The second practice session today takes place at 4:15 p.m. ET.

A third practice kicks off Saturday’s busy day at Noon ET, followed by qualifying at 4 p.m. ET, the second round of qualifying at 4:40 p.m. ET and the third and final round of qualifying at 5 p.m. ET.

The weekend’s main event, Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, takes the green flag shortly after 1 p.m. ET. Make sure to tune in to NBCSN for the live telecast of the race.

We’ll have the full practice grid and driver quotes shortly. Please check back soon.

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