DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) - NASCAR is evaluating whether to install an energy-absorbing soft wall where Jeff Gordon hit at Richmond International Raceway.
Gordon had the wind knocked out of him in the accident last Saturday. His car hit driver-side on an interior wall that did not have a SAFER barrier, and the four-time champion said he expects that to be reviewed.
``And he should,'' NASCAR president Mike Helton said at Darlington Raceway. ``It's not because Jeff says there should be (a SAFER barrier) there that we need to look at it. We know that there's an area that's uncovered where a bad hit occurred, and that's what we're looking at.''
NASCAR does not release the G-force spike that is registered in a crash, but Gordon was confident his was high enough for NASCAR to recommend that a SAFER barrier be installed along that portion of the inside backstretch wall.
``I know we exceeded the threshold,'' Gordon said. ``At the time when I hit the wall I wasn't even thinking about it. I knew it was a hard hit. I got in the medical center and my head hurt a little bit and other than that, I was feeling pretty good. I was walking out of the medical center and I happened to see a TV and caught a glance at what happened, and I was shocked.
``I couldn't believe there wasn't a SAFER barrier there, then I realized why it hurt so much.''
Gordon said he received text messages from other drivers thanking him for bringing attention to the lack of SAFER barrier. But Gordon, who has been prone to hit areas at tracks that don't have the soft wall, doesn't want to be the crash dummy anymore.
``I seem to find those places on tracks,'' he said. ``I think there are areas that are still out there, for some reason, that still need to be covered.
Gordon praised Richmond officials for being proactive on safety in the past, and track president Doug Fritz said a SAFER barrier would be installed if NASCAR and its consultants at the University of Nebraska recommends that area be upgraded.
``Obviously, safety is our number one priority, we have a great track record,'' Fritz said. ``If the University of Nebraska recommends we put SAFER barriers anywhere, we will install them. I don't know how long it will take to analyze, but if we get the recommendation, we will do it as quick as we possibly can. That's our standard operating procedure.''
PEARSON'S MEMORIES: No one was better at Darlington Raceway than soon to be Hall-of-Famer David Pearson. And even if a Sprint Cup driver eclipses Pearson's record 10 victories here, he says it won't be the same.
Darlington is nothing like it was when Pearson and his contemporaries toured it twice a year.
``I've seen every race since they changed it,'' Pearson said Saturday. ``It ain't hardly nothing like it used to be.''
Back in the days of the ``Silver Fox,'' Darlington was practically a one-lane country road where no one dared pass in the corners. The surface chewed up tires and if you tried to move around your competitor, you likely wound up in with a Darlington stripe.
``You'd knock them slam through the wall,'' Pearson said.
Pearson was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in October. He won 105 Sprint Cup races, second on the career list behind to Richard Petty. He will be inducted in ceremonies on May 23 along with drivers Bobby Allison, Lee Petty and Ned Jarrett, and famed car owner Bud Moore.
Pearson says adjustments to the 1.366-mile oval through the years have given drivers a chance to run two-wide at times and smoothly pass with the danger of ending up wrecked. Pearson said he and other competitors relied on speed and patience to stay out of the wall and headed toward the checkered flag.
Did he ever try and pass in Darlington's misshapen corners?
``There ain't no way,'' he said. ``It made no sense.''
DRIVER RANTS: Kurt Busch took a lot of heat after unloading on his Penske race team for an uncompetitive car at Richmond International Raceway last week.
What's it like getting cussed out by your driver?
Not fun but deserved, said Nick O'Dell, the front-tire changer for Kyle Busch's No. 18 Toyota.
``We've gotten a lot of grief and stuff from different parts of the media on how Kyle's real tough on his pit crew,'' O'Dell said Saturday. ``The only time he's ever said stuff to us is when we deserved it.''
O'Dell said Busch and other drivers realize that crew members already criticize themselves when the team falls short of expectations. ``If the driver adds to that, you just kind of brush it off,'' said O'Dell, who
O'Dell and other pit crew personnel spoke in advance of the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge, a competition among the guys in the pits that takes place in Charlotte, N.C., on May 19. The event takes place two days before NASCAR's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
O'Dell says criticism is part of the job and makes teams work harder to succeed. At Richmond last week, Busch's team lost position out of the pits behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and O'Dell said everyone supporting the No. 18 was angered by that.
``As far as Kyle Busch goes and being on his pit crew, he's been an angel for about two-and-a-half years,'' O'Dell said.
LUGNUTS: How much of a Darlington master is Jeff Gordon? The seven-time winner here has an incredible 18 top 5 finishes in 30 starts entering Saturday. ... Georgia football coach Mark Richt and men's basketball coach Mark Fox attended the Southern 500. ... Mothers were front and center, as always, at the Southern 500. A group of moms at the track gave the command, ``Sons, start your engines!'' to begin the race and several drivers talked of having Sunday free to spend with mom. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s plans? ``We're just going to hang out together out by the pool and drink a couple beers I guess,'' he said.
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.

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