Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

Keselowski Doesn’t Hold Back on Dangers of Road Course Racing

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

After a scary crash during a test at the newly repaved Watkins Glen International earlier in the week, 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski didn’t hold back on Friday morning at Pocono Raceway as he discussed the crash and the dangers of road course racing.

During the test, an improperly installed brake line caused him to lose all braking capability entering the sharp right-hand Turn 1 at Watkins Glen, which sent his No. 2 Ford into the tire barriers along the Armco barrier at the end of the runoff area on the outside of the turn at more than 80 mph. The resulting impact caused heavy damage to the front of Keselowski’s car, but Keselowski was able to walk away from the crash unhurt.

The Watkins Glen crash was not the first time that Keselowski has had an issue in road course testing. In 2011, Keselowski had brake issues in a test at Road Atlanta, sending his car into an unprotected concrete wall at more than 100 mph, which would wind up breaking his ankle and leaving him battered and bruised from the sternum on down. Needless to say, Keselowski knows a thing or two about the dangers of road courses.

“In general, I’m not comfortable with tracks that have run offs that lead to very harsh angles, and that’s certainly the situation that that track has, and always has had it.  Road courses remain the most dangerous tracks in motorsports for a good reason because of that, but we know that going in.  Some place has to be the safest and some place has to be the most dangerous.  It’s funny because a lot of times we end up talking about Daytona and Talladega and they don’t ever worry me as much as road courses do, I can promise you that,” said Keselowski.

“As far as the car, there has been a lot of changes in our car since 2011 with regards to safety.  I think we went through, at least with Team Penske, a complete safety overhaul from the pedals being redesigned to hopefully not break my feet, which they didn’t and that was great.  The floorboard is redesigned with a completely new style of carbon fiber and I’m trying to think of the right term there – but composite materials.  The seat, we helped a company design a new seat from that time, which I think there are a handful of teams in the garage that are running it that we feel is significantly safer.  The steering wheel itself.  Max Papis designed a new steering wheel that’s meant to absorb a lot of energy, so that was redesigned.  I know the shifter was redesigned.  I’m sure I’m missing some parts out there.  I know there was some helmet redesign work and some seatbelt redesign work, so a lot of pieces were redesigned and I think, from what I can tell at this moment, all of the pieces that we were able to redesign performed very well.”

Though much of the car was redesigned in the wake of Keselowski’s 2011 Road Atlanta crash, Keselowski noted that there is still work to do on both the car and the tracks themselves.

“The one piece that we weren’t able to redesigned was the steering column.  That’s probably the weakest link in those type of impacts at the moment.  Of course, there’s always going to be one weak link, but that one in particular continues to be a pretty big issue.  I think we’ve seen that a couple times over the last few years where the steering wheel comes back up in your face and can do a lot of damage to your helmet and your head, etc.  I got lucky that I didn’t get too much of it, so in general I would say that I’m fairly pleased but always looking for more.”

Watkins Glen in particular has redesigned certain parts of their track in the past for safety reasons, but Turn 1 still remains one of the most dangerous parts of the track due to the high speeds in that part of the track. When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits the track on August 7th, the speeds will be even higher due to the new pavement at the track.

“The answers I do have is that there’s only so many of those hits you’re gonna take before someone gets killed.  It’s just the way it is.  I know that.  It’s not something I’m comfortable with, but I think as a sport there’s a lot of different ways to look at it.  At the end of the day I am still standing here.  Odds are that if 100 people take that hit, one or two are not gonna be standing here anymore.  I think that’s pretty safe to say, so since a half-dozen have taken pretty similar hits in that same part of the race track I would say that it begs to reason that maybe a change should be made in that area.  But I can’t say that I have a specific idea at this time because more people are gonna take that hit and eventually one of us ain’t gonna come back.   That’s something that the smart guys that work on that stuff are gonna have to figure out some time.”

“To some point we’ve signed up for a certain level of risk and that’s right on the edge of what’s acceptable risk.  I think every driver has their own line and if you’re looking at it from that perspective, I think every driver is saying that that’s the acceptable risk they’ve signed up for and it falls within those parameters.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.

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