Denny Hamlin latest driver to call for more SAFER barriers

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Denny Hamlin’s 2013 season was altered severely when he slammed head-on into a part of Auto Club Speedway’s inside retaining wall that wasn’t covered by a SAFER barrier.

Hamlin sustained a fractured vertebrae in the incident, which occurred after he battled on the final lap with Joey Logano last spring at Fontana. He missed four full races and his hopes for the Chase were effectively scratched.

Today at ACS, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said that it was time for more tracks to adopt the SAFER technology, echoing the comments made by Kevin Harvick earlier this month during the Phoenix weekend (Harvick crashed into an uncovered inside retaining wall during the previous week’s Daytona 500).

“Anywhere that we have a concrete wall should be covered by SAFER barrier,” he said. “There’s a lot of race tracks where you look at the map from the sky and my particular team has highlighted where there is no SAFER barrier at a lot of mile-and-a-half [tracks]. Eighty percent of the inside walls are not covered at all.

“Even though this is a small section that they have here at this track, it’s not just about this one. It’s about many, many other mile-and-a-half [tracks] – they have to improve on getting SAFER barriers where they should be. It could save someone one day. It should be at the highest priority.”

The good news is that Hamlin is feeling much better after having a full offseason to truly recover from the wreck.

“Physically, I feel really good, actually – the best I’ve felt back-wise in a really long time. I mean years and years,” he said. “I’m better than I was before the wreck, for sure.

“I had issues – degenerating disc issues that have plagued me for a long time and the wreck obviously made that a lot worse. I’ve found things that help me through that now and I hate to knock on wood and say cured me, but it’s really helped a lot. I’m past that part.”

Hamlin qualified 13th today for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.