‘I need help’, Lack of SAFER barriers becomes an issue once again


It seems as though the talk of NASCAR’s Steel and Foam Energy Reduction Barrier System better known as SAFER walls, gets louder only when a driver hits a wall that isn’t protected the system that has been mandatory at every NASCAR sanctioned track since 2005.

The talk returned Sunday night.

On a restart on lap 148, Brad Keselowski in third wasn’t able to take off and slowed. Several cars checked up behind including the Ford of Ryan Blaney. Blaney’s car was hit by the Chevy of Kyle Busch and sent sliding across the grass nearing the entrance of Turn 1. His Ford slid across pit road and hit nose first into an inside wall ending in a hard hit that destroyed the front of the car.

“Holy shit I need help.” Blaney said on his team radio when asked if he was okay.

Blaney took a few moments to climb from what was left of his car. He slowly climbed out then crouched down to the pavement. He was able to get up and walk to a waiting ambulance. He was later checked and cleared at the infield care center.

“I feel better now,” Blaney said, explaining that he just needed to catch his breath after the crash. “… I don’t really know what happened. Someone checked up on the restart I guess. I kind of checked up and I got hit from behind. I didn’t know if they were wrecking. I just couldn’t get it straightened out when I got out of the grass. I thought it was going to come back around and I’d be okay, but it just never got back right.”

Blaney then wondered why the wall he hit had no barrier.

“I don’t know why there’s no SAFER Barrier there,” he said. “That’s pretty ridiculous honestly. Hardest hit I’ve ever had in my life. Happy to be alright.”

The talk about the lack of SAFER barriers covering all walls at racetracks has been something that has been talked about in NASCAR anytime a driver hits one. While some tracks have SAFER barriers on the inside walls, not all do. And through the years that has been an issue, but only after a driver hits one.

Jeff Gordon criticized the lack of SAFER barriers after he hit the unprotected inside wall at Las Vegas in 2008, and at Richmond in 2011. And that same year he hit the inside wall of Charlotte’s Turns 1 and 2; a wall without SAFER barriers.

While Gordon wasn’t injured in those crashes, Denny Hamlin wasn’t as lucky. In March of 2013 at California Speedway in Fontana, Hamlin hit an inside wall and suffered a fractured vertebra and had to miss parts of five races.

At the time the lack of SAFER barriers around all of the inside walls, Hamlin said while he was sidelined, “disturbs me.”

The most famous crash came in 2015 when Kyle Busch broke both legs at the end of a NASCAR Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway. He would go on to recover and win the championship that season in one of the greatest comeback stories in all of sports history.  A SAFER barrier was installed on the part of the wall Busch hit at Daytona and NASCAR said at the time they were developing a plan for the installation of additional SAFER barriers at Daytona and Talladega, and that they would review the safety standards at its other racetracks.

Yet, there was Ryan Blaney hitting an unprotected concrete wall Sunday night.

The estimated cost for a SAFER barrier is somewhere between $500 to $1000 per foot. As Blaney’s incident showed Sunday night, NASCAR still has some reviewing of safety standards it would seem.

As for the cost, they might have some help in that department.

“It sucks that things like that have to happen, hit a wall head on like that,” Blaney said. “It’s like ‘why aren’t you doing the whole track?’ I’ll pay for the f-cking thing to get put on there.”

Late Sunday NASCAR issued a statement:

“NASCAR safety engineers work closely with safety experts on the implementation of barriers around the track. As we do following every race weekend, we will evaluate all available data and make any necessary improvements.”


Greg Engle