Unfortunately for Jeff Gordon, the final Sprint Cup Series race of his career at Atlanta Motor Speedway ended much the same his first did more than 22 years ago – in a wreck.
And once again his No. 24 Chevrolet found an area of the track walls that were not protected by energy-absorbing SAFER barriers, or the tire packs which were added this week after Kyle Busch’s wreck last weekend at Daytona.
Gordon, a vocal advocate for having SAFER barriers cover all walls of tracks, was not pleased with the outcome of Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500.
“It wouldn’t have been too bad except that I found that one spot where there’s no SAFER barrier. I can’t believe it,” Gordon said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
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“That’s amazing to me. Anyway, hopefully soon that will get fixed. It was a pretty big impact.”
Gordon finished 41st on top of his 33rd-place finish last weekend in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Busch suffered a compound fracture of his right leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot in a wreck last Saturday when his No. 54 Toyota slammed nose-first into a wall not covered by any safety barriers.
After the race, both NASCAR and Daytona track officials vowed “every inch” of Daytona would be covered by its July race, and NASCAR said it would make recommendations for other tracks in the coming weeks.
This week, Speedway Motorsports Inc. – which owns Atlanta – sent 1,100 tires to Atlanta to cover some of the unprotected areas.
The area Gordon hit, entering Turn 3 from the backstretch, remained unprotected, however.
“I don’t think we can say any more after Kyle’s incident at Daytona. Everybody knows we have to do something, and it should have been done a long time ago,” Gordon said.
“All we can do now is hope they do it as fast as they possibly can.”
SMI CEO Marcus Smith told the Observer this weekend some new safety changes might be put in place before next weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which SMI also owns.
SMI was already planning additional SAFER barriers to be added to Charlotte, New Hampshire and Kentucky before those tracks’ respective NASCAR races this season.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.