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CUP: Daytona Crash Investigation Eyes Car, Fencing

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NASCAR’s ongoing investigation into last week’s Daytona International Speedway race accident that resulted in injuries to dozens of fans in the track’s main grandstand will focus on the reconstruction of one of the cars involved in the last-lap crash and its contact with grandstand fencing.

Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet was the focal point of the multi-car crash near the end of the DIS Nationwide race. The car was pushed into the air and then sailed into the fence. The car’s front clip was sheared away, and pieces of the car, including a wheel assembly, flew into the grandstand. No drivers were injured.

At least 28 spectators were injured, and two remain hospitalized in Daytona Beach, according to NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell.

On Saturday, O’Donnell said the remains of Larson’s car have been kept at the Daytona speedway so that officials there could examine it. The car will be transported to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, NC for more study.

“The first step is that most of the safety elements that are in that car did their job,” O’Donnell said. “The driver walked away. The car got up into the fence. The focus now is going to be what do we need to do considering the impact into the fence and what happened with the impact.”

O’Donnell said the car will be reconstructed to the fullest degree possible. NASCAR will use information from that process, plus video of the accident and consultation with fencing experts, to determine if changes need to be made.

Although O’Donnell said the investigation is ongoing, he said anything learned will be implemented for the next restrictor-plate race weekend, which will be at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in May.

“This will be a two-phase process,” he said. “Superspeedway racing at Daytona and Talladega will be the first concentration for us, with a race in May at Talladega. Anything that can be applied to Talladega – we’ll do that. The second phase is all of our tracks. There is no set timetable as to when this will be completed, but we know there’s a race coming up in May.”

O’Donnell said the crash investigation will focus on a crossover gate that was located in the section of fencing hit by Larson’s car. Although the gate obviously was closed during the race, there has been speculation that the different configuration of that part of the fencing might have contributed to the ripping apart of Larson’s car.

“We know the gate was locked and secure,” he said. “Does that provide as much security as the rest of the fencing? We believe it does, but we have to take a look at that.”

Among suggestions bouncing around NASCAR garage areas and shops are adding clear hard-surface sheeting to fences or building what in effect would be a second fence behind the original fencing at restrictor-plate tracks.

O’Donnell said the investigation isn’t at a point that would allow comments on those suggestions.

“We’re going to look at any or all of them,” he said. “We’ve got to take the time to reconstruct the car, the fence and the accident. We want to know what happened and what will prevent that going forward.”

O’Donnell also commented on the suspension this week of Nationwide driver Jeremy Clements, who was penalized for the use of a racial slur during a media interview last week at Daytona Beach.

“We believe strongly we made the right move there,” he said. “The go-forward plan is to quickly engage Dr. Richard Lapchick (an expert in racial attitudes in sports) and get him (Clements) back in the race car as soon as possible and as soon as we deem fit.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.