The Frontstretch: Carl Edwards Wasn't Quite Right by Kurt Smith -- Friday May 1, 2009

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Carl Edwards Wasn't Quite Right

Kurt Smith · Friday May 1, 2009


Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby announced this week that there won’t be any changes in the plate racing, espousing the excitement of Daytona and Talladega just days after two drivers had near-death experiences.

Too many writers agree. Quite a few have said that Talladega was a great race and NASCAR shouldn’t do a thing to change it. Some have said that all of the safety precautions worked. Not quite—seven fans were injured. If that isn’t a wake up call, it damn well oughta be. If a car goes into the grandstand and kills 50 fans, NASCAR is over, my friends. There will not be another race. Believe it.

Doug Demmons at Insider Racing News strongly suggested that Dale Earnhardt, Sr., who died in a restrictor plate race, would kick someone’s ass for reconfiguring Talladega and getting rid of the plates. (Judging from the opinions of many Senior fans, if he were around today he’d be kicking so much ass that his foot would be too tired to step on the gas pedal.) I enjoy Doug’s work much of the time, but if he checked out the interviews on Youtube, he’d see what Earnhardt really thought about restrictor plate racing. To say he was not a fan of it is an understatement.

Darby also said, presumably with a straight face, that people play up the danger of wrecks at plate tracks as opposed to wrecks at Atlanta or Charlotte. So Daytona and Talladega are two of the most exciting tracks on the circuit because of the danger, but they aren’t any more dangerous than Atlanta or Charlotte. I’ll figure that one out and get back to you.

Nasty multicar accidents are a common occurence at Talladega and Daytona, but NASCAR has vowed they will not make any changes.

When Carl Edwards said “I guess we’ll race like this until someone gets killed and then we’ll change it”, he was right about everything up until the word “then”.

After Earnhardt’s death at Daytona, NASCAR immediately sprang into action, mandating the HANS device, installing SAFER barriers at racetracks, designing a completely new racecar, and completely and utterly ignoring the elephant in the room with the restrictor plate on his trunk.

Yes, what happened to Earnhardt could have happened anywhere. He was tapped, spun and was sent into the wall. How did he get tapped? He was blocking, as drivers do on the last lap of a race. Where does blocking take place the most, beyond a shadow of a doubt?

Think of all of the times you have seen a 15-car wreck at Atlanta. You probably couldn’t think of two specific incidents of something that happens at nearly every Daytona race. Now name all the drivers you can think of who have flipped or barrel rolled at Charlotte. At Talladega? Dale Earnhardt. Rusty Wallace. Elliott Sadler. Carl Edwards. Kyle Busch. Matt Kenseth. I can’t imagine why people would play that up.

And now we know that restrictor plates won’t save a car from testing the catch fences either—which, after Bobby Allison’s scary crash, was the reason for their implementation in the first place.

But what’s invariably a part of every pre-race show at Talladega? A segment on the Big One. A continuous highlight reel of hideous wrecks, in one of the most glaring examples of playing to people’s darkest instincts this side of the Faces of Death videos. For something that is routinely and comically declared as being absolutely necessary for safety, networks sure market the hell out of the danger.

Meanwhile, NASCAR twists itself into granny knots trying to somehow make plate racing safer. The last two Talladega finishes have now demonstrated that obeying a yellow-line rule is just as perilous as not obeying it. The rule results in drivers choosing between losing a win and risking sending a competitor airborne. Regan Smith should feel vindicated for having chosen the safer option. Brad Keselowski surely didn’t know what holding his ground could have meant. (Please do not try to tell me that two cars making contact going for a win was a fluke occurrence.)

Then there are the “aggressive driving” rules and the ridiculous attempts to police bump drafting. I’ll never forget Mike Helton’s driver meeting line: “While bump drafting is a no-no, a certain amount will be tolerated.” While most of us would wonder what in blazes that means, drivers probably understood perfectly: plate racing is a total crapshoot, and how much one can bump draft is not possible to define. Darby has suggested that they’re going to get tougher on bump drafting and blatant blocking now. Can you imagine being Mark Martin and hearing once again that you’re the problem at plate tracks, after you just finished 43rd by getting caught up in someone else’s multi-car wreck?

Besides all of this, with all due respect to Brad Keselowski and James Finch, restrictor plates create results that have nothing to do with the best drivers or the best teams scoring the best finishes. Take a look at some of the names in the top 15 last Sunday: Keselowski, Ambrose, Speed, Logano, Sorenson, Menard, Nemechek, Smith. These are not guys that have been tearing it up this season. Three of them haven’t made the field for every race this year. And here are some names in the bottom 15: Johnson, Gordon, Kahne, Harvick, Bowyer, Martin.

Plate race results are almost always some kind of bizarro world perversion of what fans would expect. The only real skill required from a driver in a plate race is to avoid causing a wreck, which granted is considerable. But driver ability and a great racecar mean little results-wise at a place where not only can a driver easily get taken out through a minuscule amount of bad luck, but can also go from 3rd to 30th in the last two laps just by getting shuffled out of a draft. I’m not sure how that is great racing.

And Talladega is a part of the championship battle. In just 10 races, being 3rd or 30th in one of them can easily be the difference.

So what’s the solution, as so many demand to know? Here are several. Lower the banking. Change the configuration of the track so drivers are not going into turns as fast. Mandate a smaller engine at bigger tracks. Build stronger and higher catch fences. In short, just about anything other than a rule mandating that a whole field of racecars containing fragile humans must race inches from each other for 500 miles. Whatever solution anyone suggests, there has to be something better than restrictor plates. If absolutely nothing else, take Talladega out of the Chase, so drivers and teams can win or lose championships based on the merits of their efforts and not by “losing the draft” or being victimized by a “blatant” block.

But we have now heard it from the horse’s mouth that it isn’t the lack of an alternative that causes NASCAR to put drivers in a 190 MPH death trap. John Darby confirmed this week that the risk being taken by the insanity of plate racing is worth it to NASCAR and the networks for the spectacle and for the ratings and attendance. Whoa, that fan got her jaw broken! They’re airlifting people to the hospital! The 99 car landed on the 39’s windshield! What a finish!

To paraphrase Carl Edwards, we’ll race like this until someone gets killed, and then we’ll keep on doing it. A top ranking representative of NASCAR officially announced that they weren’t even going to consider giving up the excitement of Talladega just two days after one car went airborne and landed on another, and then bent the catchfence and injured seven fans.

I hope their priorities are different from how that sounds.

Kurt’s Shorts Special Edition – David Poole R.I.P.

I read David Poole’s columns fairly often and disagreed with what he said plenty. More than anything else, I couldn’t understand his affection for the Chase. But there wasn’t any disputing that Poole was no apologist for NASCAR. Nor was he a writer who took every opportunity to gratuitously bash Brian France to increase hits and comments for his blog.

Poole’s columns were thoughtful, insightful, and always an entertaining read. He brought a perfect mix of thought and emotion to his work, a balance that is very difficult for a writer to strike. He got angry like most all of us do, but he made sure he was telling us the truth, too.

Poole had as much access as any writer, probably more than most, and didn’t abuse it or kowtow to it. If a driver acted like an ass, Poole would say so. That’s harder to do than people think. It’s very easy to get sucked into the privilege of hanging out in the garage and not wanting to risk giving that up.

I will always remember that Poole’s last column and blog entry were diatribes about how the racing at Talladega is unacceptable. For the first time I can remember, I 100% agreed with him, as you can see from reading Happy Hour today. And many, many other fans did not. He didn’t care.

I wish I could agree with him again in another five years. Rest in peace David.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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05/01/2009 07:26 AM

I would like to thank you for such a brilliant summation of the Talladega fiasco and NA$CRAP’S subsequent response to same!

For years I (we?) have been taken to task for my (our) continuing rhetoric about how NA$CRAP is no longer “racing”, and how NA$CRAP is being run by King Brian & his associates, err, I mean STOOGES!

Heaven forbid that anyone gets killed now at a race, because with all the publicity of how vulnerable the spectators are, the lawyers will be lined up to pick NA$CRAP’S pocket! And deservedly so.

Oh, and I wonder how the teenager feels having to undergo painfull jaw reconstruction because she spent a day at the race track?

And yes, David Poole was one of a kind! I sent him several comments via e-mail, he answered each and every one!

We miss you David!

05/01/2009 07:48 AM

And come to think about it, isn’t the very same type of ARROGANCE that NA$CRAP is displaying these days, i.e., ignore common sense, ignore the fan base, provide a poor product (on the track), etc., the very same type of ARROGANCE the “BIG 3” has shown in the past, the very same arrogance that now has driven CHRYSLER into bankruptcy?

And GM to the very brink of bankruptcy?

At least in FORD“S case, the “light” finally went on and they started doing things to really “satisfy their customer base”?

But then again, these supposed intelligent CEO’S never seem to learn as long as they are making their money!

In this case, King Brian!

This man is one sick puppy!

05/01/2009 08:13 AM

Amen, Kurt. I have ALWAYS hated restrictor plate racing. Like you said, it isn’t just the scary wrecks, the results also leave everyone scratching their head too. Well done.

05/01/2009 09:00 AM

AMEN! to Kurt and Douglas!!

05/01/2009 09:41 AM

Earnhardt was NOT tapped. He spun himself out trying to block Marlin, to make sure that his friend or his son won. Both were in his cars.

05/01/2009 10:10 AM

Al this crap about restrictor plate racing this week was mainly because of one idiot (Edwards) pulling a stupid move, then making himself look like a bigger jerk than he already is by going on a couple of television shows to talk about how brainless and stupid he is and why he has no business being in racing at the Cup level! But then again, look at the jerk he’s driving for! Do us all a favour Carl, get out of Cup, Nationwide, and NASCAR in general and go home to your mommy and wife! NASCAR doesn’t need a boneheaded moron like you in any of their racing series! Leave Cup to the real professionals like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Junior, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart, drivers who deserve to be where they are!

05/01/2009 10:13 AM

Don’t like the 99 driver but what he said is true if some one is killed that will be the end of Nascar as we know it all they care about like you say is $$$$$ nothing else

05/01/2009 10:52 AM

Travis, I don’t mean any disrespect, but you are the first person that I have heard say that Dale Earnhardt was not tapped by Sterling Marlin. I watched the video several times on Youtube and while it’s close, it still looks to me as though there is contact between the 3 and the 40. Wikipedia’s article on the subject says so as well.

Even if you’re ultimately right though, I don’t think it detracts from the central point. The chance of contact between cars at a plate race is constant.

05/01/2009 11:00 AM

Mike you think Dale Jr. got to cup racing because he is a better driver then Edwards? You need to check some stats on that, because they prove you wrong. What an idiot LOL!!

05/01/2009 11:09 AM

If you look at the winners of every plate race to date, the sheer majority ARE the best of the best. Only a tiny few “lucky” racers in there.

So Talledega and Daytona must require skill to win.

Yeah, luck is a little more of a part, but its just not “all luck”.

I look at it this way. Its just a different type of race. There are only 4 per year. Its just variety.

If every race were Talledega, NASCAR would completely suck.

I like the race. Its fun. 2 per year at Talledega is just enough.

Doug Scholl
05/01/2009 11:15 AM

And I quote: espousing the excitement of Daytona and Talladega just days after two drivers had near-death experiences.

Which two drivers had “near death expierences”? I didn’t know that Ernie Irvan was at the track. Where was Jerry Nadeu, I didn’t hear his name in the line up’s.

Carl Edwards, after doing a piroete and two rolls got out of his car and JOGGED 100 yards (A football field) to the start finish line waving off track responders and Nascar officals. Matt Kenseth who I assume is your second driver did several barrel rolls (where the roof flaps never had an opperunity to open) got out of the car sprinted away from the burning carbeurator and started peeling off his gloves helmet and hans device.

If there was someone to be excited about in sunday race it was Clint Boywer who had his foot completly to the floorpan at the bottom of the track just getting grazed by a spinning #71 sending the #33 Cheerio’s car full speed into the outside wall at an eerily duplicate angle that we lost Dale Earnhardt at Daytona. But not a peep from Annoucers or columnist this week about the similar turn that Bowyer took. And Bowyer not only took the head on hit but his crew managed to get the car in a suitable condition to make minimum speed and continue his DNF streak.

If you want to talk to people about near death expierences then go down and volunteer at your local VA hospital! If you want to grandize to make your point pick different adjectives.

As you state there are several issues at hand with the high banks of Talladega. There is no one answer. You and I have opinions but no say. It’s the people who call 1801 W.International Speedway Blvd.
Daytona Beach, FL 32114

Home. It’s ISC and NASCAR ( who just so happen to be the same entity) who bill themselves as “A Motorsports Entertainment Company”. Any it doesn’t get any simpler than an entertaining product sells the most tickets.

05/01/2009 11:49 AM

Travis – Any one who has watch Dale drive knows it was more like he was trying to save his own position. If he would not have tried to block he himself would have been freight trained way back and we all know that. The front 2 had already pulled away. Dale always drove for himself not to help others. After all 3rd place would have been the 2nd loser. He would have raced both his son and friend tooth and nail to get to that checkered line if he could have gotten up there. He was not a father or friend when it came to racing for the checkered. Dale most likely was hoping to get in front of Marlin so Marlin could push him forward for the best lead he could at least get 3rd.

Joe W.
05/01/2009 12:54 PM

Good read Kurt. I agree with you on completely. However, some of you commentors need to check your facts. Travis, Dale Sr. was tapped. Have you not seen the video? Mike, once again I am going to take you to task on Edwards. He is a very good driver. You should do us a favor by not commenting anymore. How about that!? Do you really think Kyle Busch would just let someone pass him on the last lap? You bet your last dollar he would block like crazy to win. I just do not understand why Carl is the “bad guy” for blocking this time but Dale Jr. was the “bad guy” for being blocked at Daytona. Someone care to enlighten me on that one.

Kevin in SoCal
05/01/2009 02:04 PM

You think NASCAR will stop racing because a fan gets killed? What about when multiple people were killed at Charlotte a few years ago during an IRL race. They’re still around, and stronger than ever.

05/01/2009 05:12 PM

Plate racing is NOT racing. Period.

It’s a total crap-shoot of who wins or loses.

05/01/2009 05:12 PM

I see on another website (NASCAR.COM) that NASCAR summoned the Jerk in the hat and his stupid driver to Daytona and told them both to shut their stupid mouths or they will be kicked out of NASCAR! I now take back everything I ever said about Brian France and Mike Helton not knowing what they’re doing! I hope they kick all those clowns from Roush out of NASCAR and do it soon!!

05/01/2009 06:52 PM

And I quote: espousing the excitement of Daytona and Talladega just days after two drivers had near-death experiences.

Doug Scholl, you are very right. I’m sick of the over hyped baloney too.

05/01/2009 07:26 PM

Travis you have got to be the dumbest thing that we call a human being on this planet, please just go away

05/01/2009 09:15 PM

While we may disagree with some of the finer points of Kurt’s article, I believe most of us agree that the situations that, that type of racing, puts the drivers in. Those make or break situations. The result of their wanting to win at the checkered flag is what makes them the racers that they are. While the inherent racing at 190mph is dangerous enough, it doesn’t need to be added to by having another 15-20 additional 3 thousand 500 hundred pound projectiles slam into them. Least of which those projectiles scattering their debris into the stands and injuring ANY FAN. Just to satisfy the non-beat reporters of the press or the execs at the networks. This archaic thought harkins back to the bloodlust of the Roman coliseum with the Christians and the lions. Pathetic excuse to not modify the racetrack.

As for Blake Bobbitt, I believe she now has a “lifetime pass” to any NASCAR race that she would like to attend for the rest of her life. No disclaimer in the world would sway my opinion, if I was on a jury, of NASCAR’s continued ignorance to this situation. When the 43 experts behind the wheel say something needs changing.

Let’s hope Carl Edwards won’t be prophetic on this.

05/01/2009 10:22 PM

Guys, like it or not, Travis is 100% right. I was a HUGE Dale Sr fan – deeply admired his determination and rise from humble beginnings. However, he clearly made an error in judgment and turned down on Marlin. It appears he thought he was barely clear and was looking for that push to secure 3rd. I have no doubt that error in judgment was because he was watching and thinking about the front two, which yes he would have passed them if he could have, but nonetheless he was not tapped by Marlin. Watch the video – with no bias, forget who is in the car, and tell me which car drove into which. Sr clearly turned down onto Marlin’s nose and paid the ultimate price. It was one of the saddest days I remember and I still think of him all the time and he still inspires me. But make no mistake, he was not wrecked by Marlin. He was wrecked by a bad judgment call. Unbelievably tragic, but Travis is right. That’s the story. Watch the videos, watch the lines the cars traveled and be unbiased. You won’t like what you see.

05/02/2009 01:12 AM

Earnhardt was hit, as he had been many times before, by none other than Sterlin Marlin. It happened at Talladega more than once, and it happened at Daytona in 2001. YOu can watch the film clip all you want to, I doubt most of you were even fans of racing at the time, but Marlin was hit, Junior got the crowd off his back the next week. But that doesn’t have one thing to do with Carl Edwards last Sunday. Carl came down to try to push Brad below the yellow and he paid the price. End of story.

05/02/2009 10:15 AM

Bob…..I can only say that NA$CRAP is not ignorant. Ignorance is not knowing any better. Stupidity is knowing but still doing the same thing. In this case NA$CRAP is STUPID! Like Ole DW said years ago, take away alot of the downforce, put 500 cfm carbs on ‘em & let ‘em go racing. Mark Martin has said many times that if plate racing was all they did, he’s find another job. Plate racing is a contradiction in terms. Plain & simple, plate racing is an accident looking for a place to happen.

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