LONG POND, Pa. It could have been worse. But the safety concerns it raised should have been resolved by now.
That was the general consensus among drivers after frightening wrecks Sunday at Pocono Raceway involving Kurt Busch and Elliott Sadler. The incidents and scattered debris forced the Pennsylvania 500 to be red-flagged 35 laps from the finish.
Sadler's wreck was particularly horrifying. The No. 19 Ford slid across a grassy area between turns 1 and 2 at speed before plowing nose-first into an old fence and tire barrier.
The impact separated the engine and drive-shaft from Sadler's car and scattered parts and debris all over the track.
"I think it's going to be a wake-up call for some improvement," said four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Gordon has been involved in a hard wreck of his own at the track.
As Gordon battled Juan Pablo Montoya for the lead on Lap 165 of the scheduled 200, Busch was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson. Then Sadler was hit from behind as drivers slowed in reaction to the Busch wreck.
"Jimmie Johnson just drove straight through us," Busch said when he was asked what had happened.
In a radio transmission highlighted by ESPN during the red flag, Johnson accepted responsibility and asked his crew to pass along his apologies to the drivers involved.
Sadler put his window net down, but had difficulty climbing out of his destroyed car. Once he was helped out, Sadler had to lie down.
He stretched out on the track for several minutes before getting into an ambulance for a ride to the infield care center. He was later released.
"I'm a little sore, I think, from where the (safety) belts grabbed me. It knocked the breath out of me pretty good, but it's definitely the hardest hit I've ever had in a race car," Sadler said.
"These new cars are built to be safer and if I can get out of that and walk through that, I think it did its job."
Track president Brandon Igdalsky said in the days leading up to Sunday's race that plans were already in place to add SAFER barriers before next years events.
Grassy run-off areas produce little of the friction that helps slow out-of-control race cars. There are more such areas at Pocono than anywhere NASCAR races are held except for the road courses at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Sonoma, Calif.
"I'm still in one piece, so it did its job," Sadler said. "The way it hit the guardrail back there was pretty tough."