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Thursday, August 9
Report: Seat belt not to blame
ESPN.com news services

NASCAR will not release its report on the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt until Aug. 21, but the Orlando Sentinel is reporting in Friday's editions that the investigation reveals safety problems in the design of the race cars.

The Sentinel based its report on "reliable sources" close to the investigation.

According to the newspaper's sources, the investigators also essentially confirm the findings of the court-appointed independent expert who determined Earnhardt died of a sudden head-whip action when his car hit the wall Feb. 18 in the final lap of the Daytona 500.

"Our investigation is on schedule and we will discuss the results at a press conference once it is complete," NASCAR issued a statement Friday. "Speculation prior to that time serves no useful purpose. We believe that this investigation is one of the most thorough and comprehensive in the history of motorsports and we are confident that the results will speak for themselves."

The four-month investigation has been the most far-reaching independent inquiry in NASCAR's 52-year history. The multiple sources closely tied to the investigation revealed just some of the findings to the Sentinel but have requested anonymity.

Here are three key points to be made in the report, according to the paper's sources:

  • NASCAR race cars, built by individual racing teams and inspected by NASCAR, lack sufficient crush resistance in the front ends to adequately protect drivers from the severity of crashes. Redesigning probably will be recommended, with energy-absorbent bumpers and the aluminum-foam "crush box" currently under development.

  • Earnhardt's fatal basilar skull fracture will be not be blamed on a broken seat belt.

    Investigators have essentially confirmed the findings of Dr. Barry Myers, the independent expert appointed to settle a lawsuit between the Sentinel and Earnhardt's widow, Teresa. Myers in April found that Earnhardt died of a violent forward head whip. He said the seatbelt, even if it had been broken in the crash, did not cause the fatal injury.

  • Emergency medical technician Tommy Propst might have incorrectly concluded that Earnhardt's lap belt was intact when he arrived at the crash scene.

    NASCAR president Mike Helton and chairman Bill France Jr. declined to comment on the findings of the investigation. It's also unclear what NASCAR will do with the results.

    Earnhardt's death was the fourth in NASCAR in a nine-month span and focused national attention on the organization's record on driver safety.

    Five days after the racing legend's death, NASCAR announced a broken seatbelt had been found in Earnhardt's car. Dr. Steve Bohannon, a physician employed by Daytona International Speedway, theorized that the breakage of the belt caused Earnhardt's head to move forward and strike the steering wheel, causing his fatal injury. But Myers concluded on April 9 that the belt, even if it broke during the crash, didn't cause Earnhardt's death.

    That same day, NASCAR announced an expanded investigation using "internationally acclaimed experts" and promised the results in August.

    Bohannon later recanted his theory, deferring to Myers' expertise. NASCAR has refused to divulge the identity of its experts or the results until the investigation is complete. The report is scheduled to be released on Aug. 21 in Atlanta.

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    Audio/Video
    SportsCenter interview
    Orlando Sentinel writer Ed Hinton joins Trey Wingo to discuss his story claiming the investigation reveals safety problems in car designs.
    Real: 56.6 | ISDN | T1

    Dale Jr. reacts
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. tells ESPN's Mike Massaro he'll wait for the official report from NASCAR.
    Real: 56.6 | ISDN | T1

    Sentinel reaction
    Winston Cup drivers comment on the investigation results reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
    Real: 56.6 | ISDN | T1

    RPM2Night
    Orlando Sentinel writer Ed Hinton discusses NASCAR's investigation with RPM2Night's John Kernan.
    wav: 1900 k
    Real: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

    SportsCenter analysis
    ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch talks with Trey Wingo about the Orlando Sentinel report.
    wav: 1280 k
    Real: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

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