NASCAR is in the midst, or I guess I should say coming into the homestretch, of 2013 Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. After all, Sunday afternoon the Sprint Cup Series is scheduled to take the green flag for the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s marquee event and yearly season opener.
History has been make, already, during this year’s Speedweeks, with Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to win a Sprint Cup Series pole last weekend, taking the front starting spot for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
But with all that’s been accomplished this Speedweeks, from Patrick’s history-making pole to Kevin Harvick’s two wins in two races (Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel) and Tony Stewart’s fifth win in six years in the season-opening Nationwide Series Daytona race, focus shifted to negative on Saturday afternoon when a last-lap, 12-car crash in the Nationwide race resulted in injuries for 28 fans in the grandstand.
“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said in a statement. “Following the incident, we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately.”
The incident started when Regan Smith, who has publicly accepted blame for the wreck, attempted to block Brad Keselowski in an effort to win the race. As a result, the No. 32 car of Kyle Larson got airborne, shearing the catchfence and the front end off the car. Much of the front of the car, including the engine and at least one of the wheels ended up on the fan side of the catch fence, causing injuries, some serious, to several fans.
The incident looked somewhat similar to a wreck at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in the Sprint Cup race there in April 2009. That wreck, too, came as a result of a blocking move. In that case, Carl Edwards came down on Keselowski. Edwards’ car then hit the catchfence, causing fan injuries.
It’s an accepted fact that race car drivers accept the dangers of racing when they climb behind the wheel of a race car, but fans don’t really sign up for that. Fans expect to be safe. After all, they’re not the ones signing waivers, relieving the track of responsibility for their safety, when they enter the gates of a racing facility.
But what can be done? Should there be a rules against blocking? Isn’t the main point of racing to stay in front of your competition? Isn’t blocking a part of that? There has to be some kind of solution somewhere. Here’s hoping it’s discovered soon.