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Sunday, November 11
Pit road incident sparks concern
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- A frightening accident on pit road Sunday during the Pennzoil 400 has raised the latest in a series of red flags about safety in NASCAR's top stock car series.
Ricky Rudd's front tire changer, Bobby Burrell, was seriously injured when he was hit by a car and thrown headfirst into a concrete wall. Burrell, who was not wearing a helmet, was in serious condition with undisclosed head injuries in a Miami hospital, although NASCAR officials said he was awake.
Another crewman was hospitalized for injured knees and a third crewman and a NASCAR official were treated for minor injuries at the infield care center and released.
Helmets, which have been mandatory for several years in the CART series after some serious pit accidents, are not mandated by NASCAR in any of its series. Only the PPI team, operated by Cal Wells III, who previously ran a team in CART, currently uses helmets for its over-the-wall crewmen.
Mark Martin's team did wear helmets in 1999, but shed them last season, saying the helmets hampered their pit work.
NASCAR officials had no comment on the pit accident or on the use of helmets.
"I'd just wish those guys were wearing helmets," said three-time series champion Jeff Gordon, who saw the injured crewmen on the ground as he left the pits. "I wish all of our guys were wearing helmets.
"Accidents are going to happen. You can't control when a guy gets knocked into somebody accidentally. But you can prevent some head injuries with helmets. I'm going to talk to my guys about it."
"We've had close calls for a long time," said Jimmy Makar, Bobby Labonte's crew chief. "Pit road is a dangerous place. It always has been. We've done some things over the year to make it safer -- speed limits, limiting the number of people out there and when they can go out there. But when they are down on their knees around the other side of that car, changing tires and working on it, they're sitting ducks."
NASCAR instituted pit road speed limits after Mike Ritch, a crewman for Bill Elliott, was killed at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990 when Rudd hit Elliott's stopped car. The speed limit Sunday was 45 mph.
Rudd, who finished the race with two crewmen from Robert Yates Racing teammate Dale Jarrett and one from Richard Childress Racing's No. 31 car filling in, said, "After the accident on pit road, our heart just wasn't in it."
His Pontiac led six times for a race-high 72 of the 267 laps on the 1½-mile oval but wound up 19th after fading from fourth following the last pit stop by the leaders.
Stewart, who was suffering from a bad cold, had nothing to say following the race.
Crew chief Greg Zipadelli said, "Tony drove a great race. He had been really sick all weekend. It's just a shame because we should have had a win here and, if not, at least a good top two or three finish."
Seven Dodges, including Elliott's, finished ahead of Stewart and Zipadelli said the Intrepids had an advantage on new tires.
"When you get a short run like that, it's like qualifying," he said. "Then, we got a set of tires from Goodyear that were made back six months ago, I guess, and that hurt us at the end. I guess it just wasn't our day."
Stewart finished just ahead of Rudd and now trails the latter by just 59 points in their battle for second in the season standings. Sterling Marlin, who finished fifth on Sunday, is 74 points behind Stewart.
He started out the year with a victory in the Daytona 500, a race tragically marred by the death of his friend and new boss, Dale Earnhardt. Since then, his only other finishes better than 18th have been a 13th in Las Vegas and a second-place run in the July race in Daytona Beach.
"We did everything we could do to finish second," Waltrip said. "I was real disappointed when they said 'Go' on the last restart and Casey and Bill and Jeff (Green) were able to get so far out ahead of me.
"I knew I had the best car, but when I saw them get that far ahead, I knew my chances of winning were pretty much done."
Waltrip did pass Atwood on the last lap to grab second, finishing about eight car-lengths behind Elliott.
"A track like this is about aerodynamics and downforce," the Chevrolet driver said. "You don't have any banking to grip your car, so you need your body to help you all you can. We have nice bodies. This is a big deal for me to run second."
Right in the Kisser
ESPN.com's Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this story.
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