by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.November 2, 2009 1:16 pm UTC No Comments
So it goes every time the Sprint Cup Series visits the Alabama track, where upside down stock cars and a boring first 180 laps or so are about as inevitable as death and taxes.
Yesterday, both Ryan Newman and Mark Martin found themselves a little closer to the pavement than they would have liked over the course of the last few laps. Newman’s flipping Chevrolet actually landed on the hood of Kevin Harvick‘s car, nearly putting his rear wing through Harvick’s windshield. Martin’s car was overturned by a spinning Martin Truex Jr. after the third controversial tri-oval finish in as many races.
At least there was some excitement at the end, though. For the majority of the race, cars ran in single file; before the race, Mike Helton warned drivers against bump drafting in the turns, threatening penalties against those who were too aggressive. Since nobody wanted to cross the line and find out how harsh NASCAR’s penalty would be, the cars ran as if in a parade for much of the race.
Everybody remembers Carl Edwards‘ car taking off into the catchfence earlier this year, when Brad Keselowski turned him to win Talladega’s spring race. That incident caused NASCAR to crack down even further on the drivers, adding to the old “out of bounds” restriction – no passing below the yellow line. Ironically, bump drafting in the tri-oval, where most of the problems at Talladega take place, is still fair game.
The restrictions have turned off drivers like Newman, who feels that the drivers should be able to police themselves on the track.
“The more rules, the more NASCAR is telling us how to drive the race cars, the less we can race and the less we can put on a show for the fans. They have created a lot of boredom because we couldn’t race. It is survival,” he complained after the race.
“Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, all those guys, they respected each other.”
The real cause of the problems that NASCAR currently has at Talladega dates back to the finish in October of last year. In that race, Regan Smith made an out-of-bounds pass of Tony Stewart in the tri-oval for what he and his team felt was the victory.
Smith cited NASCAR’s previous comments that any driver who was forced below the yellow line made an out-of-bounds pass, the pass would stand. Smith felt that Stewart forced him below the yellow line, and instead of deliberately wrecking the two-time champion, he made a clean pass.
NASCAR’s response was to dump him to 18th in the finishing order.
So when Keselowski found himself in Smith’s position this spring, he learned from the precedent that NASCAR had set, and dumped Edwards. The result, one of the scariest wrecks that the new car has ever seen, injured eight fans. NASCAR’s response was to further exacerbate the problem by giving the drivers even less control of the race, forcing them to be patient until the very end, at which point accidents happen.
The least that NASCAR can do to remedy the problem, if not removing all of their restrictions altogether and letting the drivers monitor themselves, is to change their rules about the tri-oval. The accidents are always caused by bumping and running out of room in the tri-oval in the final laps. NASCAR should be cracking down on bump drafting on the tri-oval at the end of the race, while allowing passes on the apron.
This forces separation between cars in the problem area of the track, while also freeing up another lane for those drivers who get forced down. It makes a whole lot more sense than risking more major tri-oval accidents at the end of the race, and putting more drivers in danger.
Then again, NASCAR hasn’t made a lot of sense with most of their decisions at Talladega in the past year or so, have they? I hate to say that I saw this coming when Smith’s win was disallowed last year, but the sanctioning body has made it clear that under the current rules, drivers will not be penalized for wrecking others to win.
As long as that mindset is around, there will be major wrecks at Talladega. And I don’t care how safe the car is, or that none of the drivers have gotten hurt (yet) – they shouldn’t be happening in the first place.