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Ragan To Sub For Kyle Busch; Champ Rips Safety Effort

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 25 2015

David Ragan will fill in for injured Kyle Busch. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

David Ragan will replace Kyle Busch as driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing beginning with Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Meanwhile, Daytona 500 runnerup Kevin Harvick used his “Bully Pulpit” position as reigning Cup champion to sound-off on the subject of safety even as International Speedway Corp. announced a new round of initiatives.

Busch was released Tuesday morning from Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., and transferred to a hospital near his home in Charlotte, N.C., for further treatment. Busch sustained a compound fracture of the lower right leg in an accident during Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Busch also suffered a mid-foot fracture of his left foot.

Busch was injured when his car slammed nearly nose-first into an unprotected concrete wall inside Turn 1 of the high-banked, 2.5-mile DIS trioval on Lap 112. Busch climbed out of his seat after the 10-car crash but was unable to stay on his feet. The wall Busch hit was not protected by an energy-absorbing SAFER Barrier _ a fact that drew criticism from numerous drivers post-race.

DIS management had stacks of tires placed in front of the wall in question before Sunday’s season-opening Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500, with work scheduled to begin on a permanent SAFER Barrier following the race. Ironically, Joey Logano scored his first Daytona 500 victory in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Taurus when a wreck brought out a caution for a major crash just after the Penske Racing driver had taken the white flag during a green/white/checkered restart.

Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing, criticized DIS management for its “lack of attention” concerning installation of additional SAFER Barriers.

“I hit the same wall further up last year and voiced my opinion – and unfortunately I was just a dot on the chart and there was no reaction,” Harvick told Racer.com. “Hopefully this is a lesson learned. You don’t want to have a reaction, the tracks have to be proactive, they have to look ahead for accidents that might happen.

“We know what fixes these walls and that’s to put a (SAFER) wall in front of them. That’s why we wear a helmet. That’s why we wear a harness, that’s why we wear fire suits, that’s why we have fire bottles. It’s for that one moment that you have to protect yourself against; 98-99 percent of the time things are going to be fine, so help us by trying to prevent that one situation.

“Kyle Busch, one of our sport’s biggest stars, is out and not able to race because of the lack of attention to the safety on these superspeedways. It’s unfortunate and I hope we all take something from this. Fortunately it’s not a situation to the magnitude of (Dale) Earnhardt’s (fatal accident) at Daytona but in my opinion it is a wake-up call to make sure that we do things right.”

Earnhardt, a seven-time Cup champion, was killed in a crash in Turn 4 of DIS on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001. Harvick was selected by team-owner Richard Childress to replace Earnhardt, who died from a basal skull fracture _ the result of a series of events that a panel of investigators hired by the sanctioning body said included the angle of impact, contact with a second car and a torn seat belt.

Earnhardt’s death led to a vigorous series of cockpit safety improvements in NASCAR, as well as the initial round of SAFER Barrier installations at series circuits.

“This sport is still tremendous amounts safer than it was 15 years ago,” Harvick said. “Unfortunately, we had that one situation where all the stars lined-up and things happen.”

In Saturday’s crash aftermath, DIS President Joie Chitwood III announced that SAFER Barriers _ energy-absorbing walls featuring a flexible steel railing backed by foam blocks _ would be installed “on every inch of our property.

“The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility (Saturday). We should have had SAFER Barrier there. We’re going to fix that. We’re going to fix that right now.”

Additionally, International Speedway Corp., parent company of DIS, updated its latest safety initiative via a statement on Tuesday:

“Beginning with our two superspeedway motorsports entertainment facilities, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, ISC is developing a significant plan for the installation of additional impact-absorbing technologies including but not limited to SAFER Barriers (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction).We will utilize all available tools to ensure the safety of the drivers and our fans. It will remain our top priority.

“A thorough review of our other ISC facilities will continue with the focus to prioritize each track’s most critical areas first. This includes but is not limited to our upcoming races at Phoenix International Raceway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. ISC is working very closely with NASCAR and industry experts to identify areas for additional safety protections. As we finalize our plans, we will communicate them to the drivers and necessary stakeholders ahead of our races at each ISC facility.”

Atlanta Motor Speedway, part of O. Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc., empire, also announced installation of additional safety barriers for Sunday’s race on the 1.5-mile quadoval.

“Following discussions (Monday) between Atlanta Motor Speedway and NASCAR officials and a subsequent review of the existing SAFER Barriers at the facility, AMS will add a number of additions to its existing barrier system,” track management announced Tuesday. “The protective wall at the exit of pit road near Turn 1 will be extended, and a tire barrier will be added along the inside wall of Turn 4 to offer supplementary safety protection. The installations will add a total of 130 linear feet of additional protective barrier prior to this weekend’s NASCAR events.

“Further review regarding future installation of additional SAFER Barriers at the facility will take place following Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Atlanta Motor Speedway is dedicated to providing the safest possible facility for its fans and drivers.”

Meanwhile, no timetable has been determined for Busch’s return to the cockpit. JGR said Ragan will drive the No. 18 Toyota “for at least the next several weeks.” Ragan’s current No. 34 Ford Taurus team _ Front Row Motorsports and sponsor CSX _ accommodated the move. Ragan is expected to return to the team later this season.

Ragan placed 17th Sunday at DIS. Ragan has run eight full seasons in the Cup Series with 291 career starts. The 29-year-old Georgia native has two career wins, the most recent at Talladega Superspeedway in May 2013.

In addition, JGR announced that Erik Jones will drive the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this weekend in Hampton, Ga. An announcement on who will drive the Monster Energy Camry following the Atlanta race will be made later.

“We appreciate being able to work with Front Row Motorsports and CSX for David’s availability,” team-owner Joe Gibbs said in a statement. “We are fortunate to be able to have someone of David’s caliber behind the wheel while Kyle recovers.

“Erik is a big part of our future at JGR and we will be increasing his schedule in the XFINITY Series beginning this weekend in Atlanta and seeking the earliest opportunity to provide him Cup experience. We appreciate all the support we have received from the NASCAR community including our fans and we look forward to getting Kyle back in the car as soon as possible.”

Jones currently is running a full season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports and a partial schedule for JGR in the No. 20 XFINITY Series Camry.

“Kyle Busch is a key member of our Toyota NASCAR family and it goes without saying that everyone at Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development), USA has Kyle in their thoughts and prayers,” said Ed Laukes, vice president marketing, performance and guest experience for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA. “Kyle is as tough a competitor as you’ll find in motorsports and I’m confident he’ll recover quickly and return to the track with an even greater passion to win.”

Matt Crafton, the two-time/reigning NASCAR Camping World Series champion, replaced Busch at DIS and recorded an 18th-place finish in his first Cup start.

“Everyone at Mars is thankful that Kyle is doing well and we continue to wish him a speedy recovery,” said William Clements, vice president of sponsorship and sports marketing for Mars Inc. “While we can’t wait until Kyle returns behind the wheel of the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota, we are excited to work with David and we’re pleased JGR was able to work it out for him to step in during Kyle’s absence.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 25 2015
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