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Watkins Glen considering safety changes Sprint Cup wrecks may bring action

While the crushed fenders and bent frames of David Reutimann's Toyota and David Ragan's Ford have long since been towed away, their stunning wreck on the final lap of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International is still fresh on the minds of track officials as they contemplate safety changes.

"We're all looking at it," WGI president Michael Printup said Wednesday. "I'm not an engineer. But if you look at the give on the safer rail [the steel Armco barrier that lines much of the 2.45-mile circuit], that safer rail gave a lot more than a Safer barrier does. Estimations are that it gave 3-4 feet. You've got to look at that."

Printup said he hasn't had his annual postrace meeting with NASCAR.

The Aug. 15 race won by Australian Marcos Ambrose ended under caution as Reutimann and Ragan crashed violently. Boris Said clipped the back of Ragan coming out of the 90-degree first turn, sending Ragan hard into the steel barrier just off the left side of the track.

Ragan's car ricocheted back across the asphalt, slamming into Reutimann as both cars smashed violently into the barrier lining the other side. Reutimann's Toyota then spun around upside down and catapulted back across the track, hitting the barrier again before coming to rest upright just behind Ragan, who also had spun back across the track and taken another hit.

Both drivers were treated and released at the track after climbing from their cars and limping gingerly away from the crash.

The Armco barrier curves toward the track from the back of the extensive runoff area off the first turn and ends only a few feet from the left side of the racing surface at a paved crossover where tractor trailer trucks enter the facility. That leaves little margin for error when cars are pushed off the asphalt.

Ragan hit the end of that section of rail first when the chain-reaction wreck began and suggested that "might not be the right place for that."

"I think he's got a real valid point," Printup said. "I promised him we'd take a look at that. On a road course, things change, as we just found out, when you get tapped by another driver."

Watkins Glen International made several safety upgrades in the aftermath of violent crashes in consecutive Cup races.

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon and Sam Hornish, Jr., were involved in a bone-jarring, six-car collision in 2009. The previous year, a multi-car pileup occurred coming out of Turn 11 at the top of the front straightaway, when the cars are usually at full throttle. Pieces of David Gilliland's car flew through the air, Hornish slammed the sand-filled barriers at the entrance to pit road, and Bobby Labonte limped away as Gordon barely made it through. That race was halted for 43 minutes.

Since then, WGI has installed Safer barriers in key sections, paved gravel traps to form extended runoff areas, and pushed sections of the guard rail system further from the racing surface.

It's been 20 years since J.D. McDuffie was killed in a crash during the Cup race at Watkins Glen. McDuffie lost a wheel exiting what then was the troublesome fifth turn and slid off-course.

The track then added the chicane, or Inner Loop, before that turn to slow the cars, which reach speeds exceeding 170 mph through the esses.

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