Atlanta Motor Speedway announced plans on Wednesday to add additional SAFER barrier to both its inside and outside retaining walls prior to the track's 2016 Sprint Cup Series weekend, scheduled for Feb. 26-28.
Installation of an additional 4,742 linear feet of the barrier, set to begin in January, will add protection in areas on both the frontstretch and backstretch as well as to inside sections in all four turns.
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Once the project is complete, the entire outer wall and significant portions of interior areas will be fitted with the protective barrier.
"The safety of both drivers and fans continues to be our utmost priority," track president Ed Clark said in a statement. "These additions solidify our commitment to providing the safest racing environment possible and the high-quality entertainment experience our fans deserve."
SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, which is designed to absorb and reduce the impact of race cars during a crash, was designed by a team of engineers at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and first installed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002. The barrier is made up of steel tubes mounted to concrete retaining walls, separated by polystyrene foam. The technology distributes the force of impact onto a greater area, and in turn lessens the force transferred to both the car and its occupant. SAFER barrier was first installed at AMS in 2004, covering approximately 8,000 linear feet and 75 percent of the outer walls, as well as sections inside Turn 2.
The new additions add protective coverage based on the recommendations of NASCAR and safety officials. AMS supplemented its barrier system prior to this year's NASCAR weekend by extending the protective wall at the exit of pit road as well as placing a temporary tire barrier along the inside wall in Turn 4. Both of those areas will be equipped with SAFER barrier upon completion of the new additions.
The Hampton, Georgia track faced intense scrutiny after its March 1 Sprint Cup race when Jeff Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet bounced off the outside wall, went across the track and struck the concrete infield wall nearly head on, just a couple of feet past where the SAFER barrier ended.
Although Gordon was uninjured, he was not happy.
"I am very frustrated with the fact there are no SAFER barriers down there," the four-time Sprint Cup champion said after the race. "I knew it was a hard hit. I was like, 'Man I can't believe (it).' ... I didn't expect it to be that hard.
"Then I got out and I looked and I saw, 'Oh, wow, big surprise. I found the one wall here on the back straightaway that doesn't have a SAFER barrier.'"
Gordon's wreck came just eight days after Kyle Busch suffered extensive leg and foot injuries when his XFINITY Series car struck an area of the Daytona International Speedway wall unprotected by SAFER barrier.