Kenseth: Not having crew chief at track is like “missing your head coach”

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With the advancement of technology over the years, not having your crew chief at the track is not as bad as it probably would’ve been in the past.

But Matt Kenseth acknowledged that teams in that situation are still going about their business without their leader.

Such is the case for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, who will not have crew chief Darian Grubb by his side over the next six Sprint Cup races.

“You’re still missing your head coach – the guy who leads the people and gets them together and talks strategy, and you’re still not looking in his eyes and talking face to face and doing all of that kind of stuff,” Kenseth said today at Pocono Raceway.

“So, I think it’s not as hard as it was at one time but I think certainly you’d still want him here.”

Grubb was suspended for a six-race period (and also fined $125,000) as part of a series of penalties that NASCAR hit Hamlin’s No. 11 squad with earlier this week.

Following Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NASCAR found issues with the rear firewall plates inside Hamlin’s car in post-race inspection.

In addition to Grubb’s fine and suspension, car chief Wesley Sherrill was given his own six-race suspension. Hamlin and car owner J.D. Gibbs also lost 75 championship driver and owner’s points respectively.

After giving his reaction to the penalty on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR AMERICA, Hamlin issued the following statement today:

“I’m obviously disappointed in the penalties, but I respect NASCAR and the appeal process. I’m confident that regardless of the outcome, our No. 11 team will continue to fight each week to try to win races, secure a spot in the Chase and compete for the championship.”

Kenseth himself had to deal with not having his regular crew chief around during last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington.

After Kenseth won last April at Kansas, his engine failed post-race inspection thanks to a connecting rod being a few grams underweight.

Ratcliff was initially suspended for six races but after an appeal of NASCAR’s original penalties against the No. 20 team, his suspension was reduced to just the Southern 500.

Despite the issue, Kenseth was able to win the race with Wally Brown serving as his interim crew chief – and Ratcliff keeping close tabs away from the track.

“We had a lot going on that week for sure,” Kenseth recalled. “Jason was still really involved. Wally has been really plugged in at JGR for a long time. I’ve known Wally for a long time. He worked at Roush when I was back there and I’ve known him forever.

“He’s got crew chief experience, so JGR has a lot of depth and it wasn’t hard to just plug him into that. But certainly Jason was real close to it the whole time as well.”

No doubt Hamlin hopes that he’ll be just as successful this weekend at Pocono with Mike Wheeler as his guide in place of Grubb.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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