Various drivers talk about how they ran during the Smith's 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
At least four NASCAR drivers have crashed hard into walls not protected by SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers this season, with two sustaining injuries that required medical treatment. Camping World Truck Series driver Austin Theriault was the most recent victim, as the Brad Keselowski Racing driver suffered a 10 percent compression fracture of the lower back after crashing during the Oct. 3 Rhino Linings 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . Theriault's No. 29 Ford struck the wall nose-first in approximately the same spot hit by Erik Jones ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) earlier this year during an XFINITY Series event. Jones was not injured as a result of his crash. Tuesday, team owner and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski said he had not seen Theriault, "but I spoke to him and I know he's going through all those stages with the protocol you have to go through for NASCAR. Until that's done, I think it would be a little premature for me to say anything as to how he’s doing." Keselowski, whose organization fields two full-time trucks, said he is hopeful his driver will be "ready to go" when the series heads to Talladega Superspeedway in two weeks. On Thursday, Talladega officials announced "significant safety enhancements ... will be in place" before the track's Oct. 23-25 race weekend. In a statement posted on the track's web site, officials said "we have installed more than 8,000 linear feet of (SAFER) Barrier in 2015. We are covering the entire outside and interior retaining walls of the 2.66-mile facility." The fact that another driver hit in an unprotected area at a track, Keselowski said, does make him cringe, "but then I get back in the race car and say 'What are my options?' "As a team owner I have no ability to affect chance on the tracks, and as a driver I'm consistently told how lucky I am to have a spot as a race car driver and I need to shut up and driver the car. "There are no options available for me to remedy the situation, so I move on to things I can affect change on." Steve O'Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief racing Development Officer for NASCAR, told NASCAR.com on Monday that the installation of SAFER barriers and other safety enhancements is "something that we've been very diligent about. "We were very vocal coming out of Daytona (in February)," he said. "We've worked with each of the facilities to have an aggressive plan in place for the SAFER barriers. In this case we've already had those conversations with Las Vegas and you'll see some changes heading into the 2016 season. "It was very unfortunate ... but the tracks have made some big investments in terms of from the first race to the second and I expect that to happen again as we look at Las Vegas and heading into the Cup weekend for 2016." Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials, contacted this week, said that plans are in place to have SAFER barrier installed in the area of the Theriault and Jones crashes before next season and that those plans were in place before this most recent incident. JGR driver Kyle Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractures to his left foot when he hit the inside wall nearest to Turn 1 during the season-opening XFINITY Series event at Daytona International Speedway in February. Busch, who competes full-time in the Sprint Cup Series, missed the season's first 11 races while recuperating. DIS president Joie Chitwood said that SAFER barrier should have been in place where the Busch accident occurred, but added after the incident, "we're going to fix that" and that the energy-absorbing barrier would be installed "on every inch at this property." By the time the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series returned to the 2.5-mile track in July, additional barriers had been put in place beyond the exit of pit road (where the Busch impact took place), along the entire backstretch and at the entrance to pit road beyond Turn 4. More than 20,000 square feet of grass areas inside the track, between the racing surface and interior walls, was paved as well. "My thing about it is they do need to work faster," Busch said of additional SAFER barrier being installed at facilities. "I know there's a plan, but there's no reason why some of these race tracks -- like Bristol for instance had (SAFER barrier on) the walls on the straightaway" before this year's spring events at the track. "And at a place like (Las) Vegas, it's been eight months and ... they don't have (SAFER) walls. It's frustrating sometimes. "I've said it before and I'll say it again ... we'll figure out how to crash in the stupidest ways in the weirdest spots and get hurt. That Austin (Theriault) crash, that was so weird and never should have happened, but it did. We all need to stop playing God and protect as much as we can protect and let the rest take care of itself." Fellow Sprint Cup driver Jeff Gordon was not injured when he crashed at Atlanta Motor Speedway , a week after Busch's wreck, hitting a portion of the backstretch wall not covered with SAFER materials. Incidents such as Theriault's "points out how important it is to have every single wall covered at these race tracks," Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion, said. "You know, for whatever reason, somewhere along the way somebody said 'we can put it here and we don't need it here' and that just proved that it doesn't matter what stats show. ... These incidents can happen at any time," said Gordon. According to AMS officials, additional SAFER barrier will be installed in January of 2016 along the outer wall on the front and backstretch as well as portions of the inside wall and in the turns.
Matt Crafton comments on his chance at a win dashed again, while others comment on strong top-five finishes.
RELATED: Race results " Updated NXS standings DOVER, Del. -- Regan Smith charged from fourth to first during a restart on Lap 121 and stayed there for the rest of the Hisense 200 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Dover International Speedway Saturday, posting his second victory of the season and working his way back into championship contention. After a 31-minute rain delay, Smith passed Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin and leader Elliott Sadler on the restart on Lap 121 of 200, staved off intense pressure from Hamlin midway through the final green-flag run and pulled away as the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates battled for second place. Without a concrete deal in place for next season, Smith won for the first time at the Monster Mile -- in fact, the 80 laps he led were the first circuits he had ever spent out front at Dover. The victory was the sixth of Smith's career, and all of them have come under the JR Motorsports banner. RELATED: Dillon has tire failure as caution waves Hamlin won the fight for the runner-up spot, crossing the finish line .703 seconds behind Smith. Busch led a race-high 110 laps and came home third, followed by Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson . Austin Dillon ran sixth, one spot ahead of Chase Elliott , who moved into second place in the series standings, 24 points behind leader Chris Buescher , who finished eighth on Saturday. Smith, who rallied from a flat tire in the first third of the race, took over third in points, 36 behind Buescher. "I knew the car was fast, but I didn't know it was that fast until we got out in clean air," Smith said in Victory Lane. "This wasn't a Hail Mary. We came from the back to the front and just had a fast race car. "If we can keep doing that every week, and get another win or two here or there, I don't know what's going to happen. I'm trying to figure out some things for next year, so wins never hurt -- that's never a bad thing going forward." A victory for Smith was not even a remote consideration when a light rain began falling shortly after the halfway point, with the race already under caution for a wreck involving Stanton Barrett and Cale Conley on Lap 106. Sadler, whose 2016 move to JR Motorsports was announced on Friday, took two new tires under the yellow and was first off pit road, leading the race and praying for a monsoon. But the rain abated, depriving Sadler of a going-away present to Roush Fenway Racing , the organization he will leave at season's end. "I've never had much luck with the rain," Sadler said ruefully. "I've always been on the wrong side of that, going back to the 2009 Daytona 500 (where Sadler was fifth with a chance to win when the race was called because of rain after 152 laps)." Note: Ty Dillon cut a tire and hit the outside wall on Lap 24, resulting in a 28th-place finish. He slipped from second to fourth in the series standings, 39 points back of Buescher.
Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. RELATED: Harvick and the most clutch moments in sports history DOVER, Del. -- How strong was Kevin Harvick and the Stewart-Haas Racing team in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway ? "If we would have had qualifying on Friday," crew chief Rodney Childers said Sunday evening, "we'd have led 400 (laps)." Folks laughed and Childers smiled. But beneath the euphoria of another victory, Childers wasn't kidding. Harvick, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, didn't lead every lap in the series' 29th race. He led 355. The dominating performance came one week after the No. 4 Chevrolet was out front for 216 of 300 laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . A miscalculation cost Harvick that particular victory -- his fuel cell ran dry just three laps from the finish to drop him from first to 21st. Combined with a crash at Chicagoland Speedway the previous week, Harvick arrived in Dover with seemingly little chance of advancing out of the Challenger Round of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Fifteenth in a field of 16 that would see four drivers eliminated from Chase contention, Harvick didn't accomplish the impossible at Dover. The improbable? Yes. The impossible? No. We've seen this movie before. Faced with elimination last year, Harvick thrashed the field at Phoenix and then went on a week later to win the race and the championship at Homestead. Pressure rolls off the 39-year-old like rain off a freshly waxed car. Being put in a must-win situation isn’t pressure in Harvick's world. It's opportunity. Pressure is being thrust into the spotlight following the loss of one of the sport's legendary figures. "That was pretty high," Harvick said of the call-up to fill the ride formerly held by seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt in 2001. "There will never be anything close to that one. "When you look at the sport's biggest hero gone, you look at millions of race fans that are depending upon somebody to drive that car and you have 350 people that have jobs and families and you're their guy, never done it before, but good luck. You know what I mean? That's a lot of pressure." Before Sunday, Harvick had never won at Dover. Cross the 1-mile concrete track off the list. Only Sonoma , Texas, Pocono and Kentucky remain to be conquered. In a span of barely three-and-a-half hours Sunday, Harvick and his team went from the best team not expected to advance to the team to beat from here on out. Runner-up Kyle Busch , extending his own amazing season by racing his way into the next round from outside the top 12, said as much. "That was a guy," Busch admitted, "that we wanted to knock out ... that's a guy that can win all these races and you don't want to have to compete against a guy like that." Harvick has finished second 10 times this year, and to come so close without closing the deal can be disheartening. It can also build character. "If you're going to get frustrated over running like we've run this year, you're probably going to be a detriment to your team," Harvick said. Win or lose, he said, you show up at the start of a new workweek and begin anew. "It's just the nature of this team and what they do, and the character of it is deep, and they all believe in each other," he said. "When you have a group of people like this that doesn't do things out of the ordinary for situations like this, you know, they just look at it as another task at hand." He has led more than 2,000 laps for the second consecutive season, a mark as impressive as this year's 19 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes. It was a demoralizing defeat for those who thought they had the defending champion on the ropes. But there are more opportunities ahead for Busch and others in the Chase field. "We'll see what happens," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. "There are still two more rounds to figure out who's going to make it to Homestead." In the meantime, Harvick and his group aren't making any apologies for Sunday's runaway. "“We're not going to ride around fifth all day and wait to take the lead at the end," Childers said. "That's not what we're made out of. "We came here to lead laps and to do our job and to end up with that car in Victory Lane." And at the end of the day, that's exactly what they accomplished.
Ron Hornaday Jr. makes contact with Brennan Newberry but avoids major contact in the Smith's 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Jennifer Jo Cobb loses a tire and makes hard contact with the wall bringing out a late caution during the Smith's 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
James Buescher and Ross Chastain make slight contact on pit road, causing tempers to ignite on pit road during the Smith's 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Timothy Peters takes the checkers and wins the Smith's 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Brennan Newberry's tough night continues as he spins for a third time collecting Matt Kruszewski during the Smith's 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.