For as long as I can remember, NASCAR has had a strictly enforced policy that any driver involved in a crash, which renders his or her vehicle undrivable, on a track one-mile or longer must visit the infield care center for a medical evaluation. This has proven itself to be a fairly effective policy with only one flaw: it assumes the steel car to be more fragile than the human body it carries.
This came to a head at the end of the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500. We all know Tony Stewart caused a 25-car pileup, and we know that Dale Earnhardt Jr. received a concussion in said pileup. There is, however, a devil in the details. Earnhardt (concussion and all) was able to keep driving after the crash and finished the race. Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Sam Hornish, Michael Waltrip, Casey Mears, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard, and Dave Blaney were unable to finish the final lap and all had medical examinations accordingly. Hindsight teaches us that Earnhardt was the only driver needing a checkup, but instead gave Jimmie Johnson a ride back to the garage.
This time we got lucky because the crash was on the last lap and nothing of consequence followed it. What if it happened on lap 5? Given that only 3 cars on the lead lap weren't damaged by it, it probably wouldn't have been a very interesting race, except for the brain damaged missile riding around while a lap down. The ancient policy of only examining the immobile drivers has clearly run its course.
I am not one to complain about a problem unless I can prescribe an alternative. Sprint Cup Cars already contain a crash data recorder. Why should it be limited to recording? If an onboard accelerometer could broadcast real time telemetry, safety crews could be alerted to the severity of a crash before the yellow flag even waves. With acceleration tracked in real time, any driver who triggers an abnormally high g-force in a crash can be made to report to the care center regardless of the car's condition.
Earnhardt's crash exposed a problem in NASCAR's safety procedures, but this is a solvable problem. We can do better; therefore, we should.
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