Monday, Aug 29, 2016
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MIS NOTEBOOK

Dirt track safety an issue

Drivers sound off about local raceways after fatality

BROOKLYN, Mich. — When asked about the death of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler, Brad Keselowski didn’t just express his sympathy.

The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion had strong words Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway in regard to the safety of short tracks.

“If trepidation means hesitation, I don’t run those races for a reason,” Keselowski said. “There are a handful of drivers who run at the local level. I don’t very often. I’m not going to say I never had, but I don’t very often because they don’t have SAFER barriers and they don’t have the safety standards that we have in NASCAR.

“That said, that’s not to say that all tracks in NASCAR have it right either. There are quite a few that could use some serious upgrades and face-lifts, but it’s even 100 times worse at the local level.”

Keselowski’s comments came two days after Leffler was killed when he crashed into the wall during a sprint-car race in Swedesboro, N.J.

Motor Racing Network reported Friday that the Delaware County (Pa.) medical examiner ruled Leffler’s cause of death as blunt-force neck trauma, after an autopsy performed on Thursday.

“I’m nervous for anyone that races at those levels,” Keselowski said.

“I know what happens if something goes wrong and those safety standards aren’t there.”

Tony Stewart defended short tracks, their owners, and the safety standards at those tracks.

“They’re the best they’ve ever been at this point,” said Stewart, who owns Eldora Speedway in New Weston, Ohio. “There’s facilities that need some work and facilities that put a lot of effort into it. But it’s like getting on a city street today. Can it be safer? Sure.

“The majority, just about everywhere you go, does a pretty good job and do the best they can under the circumstances they work with. The safety standards weren’t what caused the problem.”

While the New Jersey State Police said an investigation is ongoing, Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney told reporters at MIS that car failure contributed to Leffler’s accident and death.

“I’d be grateful if you guys would understand that it wasn’t because of something somebody didn’t do right at the racetrack. It was an accident. Short-track promoters are doing everything they can do to operate and just stay afloat. Nobody at a track has to go through what happened this week.”

GOOSE-EGGED: Jimmie Johnson acknowledged that he has yet to win a race in 22 appearances at Michigan International Speedway, but also acknowledged that while he leads the Sprint Cup Series points standings, with four months into the season, it’s too early to think championship.

“It’s seems crazy, but I’m still just thinking Chase,” Johnson said in reference to the Chase for the Championship, the final 10 races of the season. “A lot could go wrong. You’ve got to think about races, and I’m at the point right now where we’ll have to see. But my mind is still on getting well and getting ready for the Chase, honestly.”

The five-time Sprint Cup champion has won three races this season, including Sunday’s Party in the Poconos 400. Johnson enters Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 with 521 points in 14 races, ahead of Carl Edwards (470).

JUNIOR’S DROUGHT: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is in search of his first win wince he won the Quicken Loans 400 a year ago at MIS.

Earnhardt has four Top 5 finishes this season, and was third last weekend in the Poconos, behind Johnson and Greg Biffle. But as his career has progressed, so has the scrutiny.

“When we started working together, we were looking at 15th-place combination for a Top 10 finish,” said Earnhardt, who is fourth in the Sprint Cup points standings. “Now when we run in Top 10, it’s just another weekend, and what do we have to do to win?

“The perception from you guys [the media] is similar to what we feel.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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