It was almost a disaster. Sunday during the NASCAR Sprint Cup FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway, a chunk of concrete from the track dislodged. The piece of the track was hit by driver Ryan Newman and then by driver Jamie McMurray. The piece of concrete disintegrated damaging the front of McMurray’s Chevy and sending shrapnel into a crossing bridge near the exit of turn 2 cracking a glass panel.
“When I came off of the corner, it just felt like I hit something, obviously, heavy,” McMurray said. “Initially I thought I’d blown a tire out. When I hit it, it actually pushed the car to the right and I got into the fence a little bit. And as I slowed down, I couldn’t figure out first off, why I didn’t hit the fence harder, and then what happened. I didn’t see anything. It just hit the front end and ripped the splitter off and it pushed the car to the right.”
NASCAR put the field under a red flag. Track crews as well as NASCAR officials rushed to repair the spot and another nearby. After 22 minutes, the field was put back under yellow and soon after the race continued and there were no further incidents. Sunday’s winner, Jimmie Johnson said he knew the spot was there prior to the race.
“When I was coming to the drivers' meeting,” Johnson said. “I could just see the corner of one of those slabs, the way the squares are -- rectangles are poured on the track I could see something from afar that just looked like the edge was broken, like the corner was broken on it. I didn't think much of it. I mean, there's countless track vehicles driving around the racetrack, and actually right over the top of it looking at it, and everybody else -- I just didn't think much of it. I saw it from afar and just chalked it up to maybe a bad angle looking at something, because I didn't drive over the top of it, I saw it from 40, 50 yards away.”
“And when I came back around and saw that was the spot,” he added. “I'm like, no way, that's what I saw from afar earlier.”
The vice president of competition and racing operations for NASCAR, Robin Pemberton met with the media after the race and said officials had walked the track prior to the race.
“At the time that had been a previous patch,” Pemberton said. “But our staff, our crew didn't see anything wrong with it.”
Pemberton added that no one from the track had mentioned anything to NASCAR about any issues with the racing surface.
“There’s a staff at every racetrack that goes and walks and checks for things like that,” he said. “When they did their check, either post-race or this morning, they did not see a problem with that.”
NASCAR was aware of the issue on the walkway while repairs to the track were being made.
“When we were notified about that, the track maintenance department went up and looked at it,” Pemberton said. “They felt that it was not going to be an issue. They kept personnel on the bridge for the rest of the race. They also put tape on or duct tape to try to secure to help with the vibration, but they did not feel it was going to be an issue.”
During the red flag, fans took to social media to complain that McMurray’s crew should be allowed to work on his car, despite a NASCAR rule forbidding teams from doing anything to a car during a red flag.
In 2004 a similar incident occurred at Martinsville Speedway. Parts of the concrete surface came up and damaged the Chevy being driven by Jeff Gordon. Like they did Sunday, NASCAR wouldn’t allow Gordon’s crew to work on his car during the red flag period. Last May at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a wire begin used for TV equipment came loose and fell across the track while the field was under green. Cars ran over the wire and several fans received minor injuries. Several cars also suffered damage. Under that red flag period, NASCAR allowed crews to make minor repairs, specifically removing parts of the wire that had wrapped around the cars. That incident was on McMurray’s mind Sunday.
“Well it’s really frustrating,” McMurray said. “All I was thinking about was the No. 18 at Charlotte last year when he got the wire stuck under his car. I thought they let him work on their car under the red flag, but I don’t know. It’s hard. It’s really frustrating when you are sitting in there and you want them to be able to fix it, but it is what it is.”
Pemberton mentioned the Busch incident but reiterated that normal NASCAR policy is not to let teams work on cars during a red flag.
“We've had issues of things like this in the past, and Martinsville comes to mind, some other things similar to that,” Pemberton said. “Our policy is not to let them work on the car. You may remember when we had an equipment failure, broadcast equipment failure, sometime back, and that affected the entire field of race cars, and at that time we did red flag and we did allow the teams to fix the damage that was caused by that equipment failure. But that is our normal policy, to not allow teams to work on their cars.”
As for the future, Pemberton said he doesn’t expect NASCAR to make any recommendations to the track.
“The track doesn't want things like this to happen any more than we do or the competitors do,” Pemberton said. “I mean, you always go into a facility -- things happen, and that's why we have -- that's why we're trained, we have people that are trained in these types of things, and that's why the group is able to make repairs in 20 minutes or so.”
“You always have to be ready for the emergencies,” he added. “You don't have to recommend because everybody wants to have the same perfect race day as they can.”