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MIS notebook: New safety rules get a quick test

08/18/2014, 12:00am EDT
By By RACHEL LENZI and NICHOLAS PIOTROWICZ BLADE SPORTS WRITERS

Larson sticks close to car, waits for help after fiery crash

New safety rules get a quick test

Kyle Larson exits his car after it catches fire on the 97th lap at Michigan International Speedway . New rules require drivers to stay in their cars if possible. ASSOCIATED PRESS

BROOKLYN, Mich. — About halfway through the Pure Michigan 400, NASCAR got its first look at the formalization of new rules regarding driver safety and on-track incident procedures when Kyle Larson’s car caught fire after it hit the wall on Turn 3 at Michigan International Speedway.

Larson’s car went into flames Sunday in the 97th lap of the Pure Michigan 400. While it didn’t create a confrontational predicament, it was the first on-track incident that required immediate attention — and required a driver to exit from his car on the track.

After his car came to a stop, Larson took the netting down from his driver’s side window, and his crew urged him to take his time getting out of the car.

“I had smoke in the cockpit, and I let my crew know I was going to get out,” Larson said. “I had to get out with all the smoke in there. Any time you see flames you want to get out.”

Still, Larson remained close to his No. 42 Chevrolet until on-track medical personnel arrived. Larson was treated and released from the infield care center at MIS.

“I had no warning the right front was going to blow,” Larson said. “Michigan is a fast track and into Turn 3 is fast too. We are turning some really high speeds here, so the hit was definitely a hard one. But my team, NASCAR, and everybody develop really safe race cars, so that’s why I’m here right now talking to you.”

NASCAR announced Friday it had issued a five-point edict for its on-track incident procedure for competition that requires drivers to follow safety guidelines, including remaining in their cars after crashes and to not approach any portion of the racing surface or apron.

The formalized rules came in the wake of last week’s on-track sprint car accident involving Tony Stewart and the death of Kevin Ward, Jr., but during Sunday’s driver’s meeting prior to the Pure Michigan 400, several drivers spoke on the topic, including Carl Edwards, who implored drivers to respect the new rules when the race went under caution.

QUICK FIX: When the handle of Jimmie Johnson's shifter broke during Sunday's race, he and his team had to become creative. The pit crew gave Johnson tools to fix it, which didn't solve the problem, so they improvised with a vice grip so Johnson could shift gears.

It didn't last long.

“They had some contraption with a vice grip to try to figure that out, and it fell off before I even got back to put under caution,” Johnson said.

The team did manage to correct the problem before too much harm was caused.

Ironically, Johnson recovered to have his best race in nearly two months. He finished ninth and now sits in fourth place in the Sprint Cup standings. After the race, ESPN crews showed footage of him in a heated conversation with Ryan Newman, after the two clipped each other late in the race.

“It was just normal ‘Ryan Newman stuff,’ ” Johnson said. “Anybody who has watched this sport long enough or has been in a race car out there understands the frustration that comes with racing Ryan. I don’t want to take away anything from what this awesome race team did.”

THEY’VE QUALIFIED: Five additional drivers clinched a spot in the Sprint Cup’s 16 driver “Chase for the Championship”: AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Their spots are contingent upon each driver qualifying in the next three races, prior to the start of the Chase on Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Twelve drivers have clinched spots so far.

GRAND MARSHALS: Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the Michigan-born duo who won an ice dancing gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, served as the grand marshals for Saturday's race and gave the Sprint Cup drivers the command to “start your engines.”

Davis and White are taking the rest of the year off from skating, but they taught driver Austin Dillon how to skate in a promotional event last month.

As for flipping the roles, neither Davis nor White said they're sure about trying auto racing.

“As to racing, I'm not sure I'm there yet. Maybe I'll see these guys go around the track a few times and be, like, 'I want to do that.' But we'll have to wait and see,” White said.

“I've had long, stern lectures from my dad about slowing down my driving,” Davis said.

Father Geoffrey Rose, the president-elect of St. Francis de Sales High School, gave the benediction for Sunday’s race. Rose is currently the vice president of St. Francis.

GOING GREEN: Michigan International Speedway officials and Consumers Energy officials announced that the track will take on environmental and energy usage initiatives.

Those initiatives include planting more than 3,000 trees in Michigan for each of the race weekends at MIS, consultation in and implementation of identifying ways to cut energy usage; developing wind, solar, and other renewable energy generation at the racetrack; providing information about energy efficiency and Green Generation to more than 2,200 campsites in and around the racetrack this weekend, and providing race fans with access to cell phone charging stations.

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Tag(s): Pro  Rachel Lenzi