The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: Making Sense Of The Talladega Mayhem by Matt Taliaferro -- Thursday April 30, 2009

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Fanning the Flames: Making Sense Of The Talladega Mayhem

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Thursday April 30, 2009


Talladega never leaves us with a lack of things to discuss, huh? Interesting stuff from you guys this week, so I’ll not waste your time with some cute opening. Here’s your link to reach me, and here is this week’s batch of questions:

Why is everyone complaining about the [Talladega] finish? The fence held! The drivers walked away! It worked like it was supposed to! Let them race and quit complaining!
— Kevin Hart

A: I’ll give you those points. Yes, the fence held and yes, everyone walked away, but we simply can’t have cars flying all over the place — especially into the catch fencing that separates the field of competition from thousands of spectators. It just can’t happen.

The catchfence held, but NASCAR needs to take a serious look at what could have happened if it didn’t.

NASCAR has an embarrassing track record in terms of being reactive on matters. It took the tragic death of the sport’s icon, even after three drivers perished the year prior, to get serious about on-track safety (SAFER barriers, closed-face helmets, head-and-neck restraints and ultimately, the development of the CoT). It took a driver admitting he was smacked out on heroin during a race to get the sanctioning body to mandate a hard-and-fast drug policy. What’s it going to take to ensure that fans aren’t killed when a car lifts over or goes through the catch fencing? If the history I just mentioned holds to form, I think we can figure it out pretty quickly.

But instead of just lashing out at NASCAR here, I’ll man up and offer my solutions on how Talladega and Daytona can be made safer for the fans. Simply take out the first 50 rows of seats. In conjunction with that, raise the catch fencing from 16 feet to 21, and extend the overhang from three feet to six. That’s what Lowe’s Motor Speedway did after a spectator was killed during an open wheel race at the track in 1999.

Some have suggested NASCAR go to a variable banking design at the plate tracks, but there’s no way ISC or NASCAR will ever knock down the banking — that type of racing is too much of a draw. It’s also unlikely they’d remove 50 rows of seating, because they make a lot of money from those choice spots … and it’s sad that the bottom line is what rules the day on this issue.

Look, last week’s race was exciting, it was dramatic, it had everything from the underdog to the last second pass to the carnage that was the result of good, hard racing — and I was jumping and yelling just the like rest of you. But the sanctioning body needs to take a serious look at what almost happened. It can’t just brush this off because next time we may not be so lucky and, just as it’s done so often in the past, NASCAR will have to react. The opportunity to be proactive will be gone — and the damage will have been done.

Matt, I was wondering why the media hasn’t made a big deal out of Hamlin and Vickers’ pass below the yellow line. They weren’t forced down there anymore than Regan Smith was last year, and they made no attempt to give the position back. As we all know, they took the win from Smith, and less then a year later they give a warning for the same infraction. How can NASCAR ever be taken seriously with poor decisions like this?
— Kari Couch

A: Excellent observation, Kari. I wondered the same thing. Even the guys in the booth said, almost off-handedly, that it looked as though a penalty would be coming for the Nos. 11 and 83. However, NASCAR — which has painted itself into a corner with issues like this one — was (once again) inconsistent in its 2007 “precedent.”

While all rules are subject to NASCAR’s interpretation, it seemed crystal clear to me that Tony Stewart forced Regan Smith below the yellow line last Fall at Talladega. (Why? Because Stewart admitted to it in Victory Lane, that’s why). In yet another head-shaker on Sunday, Vickers and Hamlin clearly and of their own accord went below the yellow line in the tri-oval to pass the slower car of Brad Keselowski (how ironic), failing to give their positions back. Yet, the two offenders were only issued warnings to not do so again.

So, NASCAR, what warrants a warning and what warrants an actual penalty? How can an organization that so badly wants to be the NFL completely ignore its own rulebook?

Kari, you ask how NASCAR can be taken seriously with poor decisions like this. Answer: It cannot.

I’ve been going to NASCAR races since the mid ‘60s at Trenton International Speedway, and in my opinion DW’s idea of “All Bets Are Off” coming off Turn 4 with the white flag is dead-on. Let them use the whole straightaway and you’ll have less of a chance of flying cars. Also, increase the size of the roof flaps an inch or two. Thanks.
— Mike K.

A: Funny you should say that, Mike, because it had always been widely accepted among the drivers (even stated by Jimmie Johnson, no less) that on the final lap, with the checkers in the air, anything goes. Let me repeat that: The drivers thought that was the rule.

Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with you that an “anything goes” understanding when you can see checkers is the way to go. I don’t know about that lessening the chance of flying Fords, but I do believe that an understanding the drivers held fast to until last Fall’s infamous Talladega finish should be respected by the sanctioning body.

Why does NASCAR continue counting the [caution] laps when there are only 10 or so left. They should stop the cars and give the fans their money’s worth. NASCAR loves to take their money and not give them the full race laps. All cautions should not be counted as racing laps. Someday, someone will have the smarts to stop counting the caution laps and give the fans their full race laps.
— Roy Coghill

A: Well the way I see it, NASCAR does give the fans their money’s worth. In fact, the sanctioning body has seen fit to take a race into “overtime” if that’s what it takes for fans to see a green flag finish.

Caution laps are counted in the official race tally because when cars are running, whether at full speed or half, distance is being taken into account. The one and only deviation to this is during the aforementioned green-white-checker finishes.

Before I go, I’d be remiss if I did not send my condolences along to the family of David Poole. David did freelance work for me at Athlon Sports for our Racing annual in the past and never, ever failed to deliver the goods: a total pro. As many have said over the last few days, I didn’t always agree with his opinion, but I always sought it… and I damn well always respected it. Godspeed, David.

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04/30/2009 08:02 AM

No less an authority than Jimmie Johnson said it huh ? Wow , then that should settle the debate once and for all . Oh wait ! Jimmie Johnson isn’t an expert on anything Nascar .
No driver ever said , nor thought ( except Johnson apparently ) that anything goes on the last lap . And guess what . If any driver ever did think something that dumb , he should have remembered that it doesn’t make the slightest difference what a driver thinks , the Nascar rule book is the authority . And no where in the rule book does it say “ all bets are off “ on the last , or any other lap .
The yellow line rule was brought in to keep drivers from going into the grass to pass another car . As Cale and Donnie found out years ago , cars don’t drive very well in the grass at a superspeedway . The rule has probably prevented wrecks , but as in Sundays race , has probably caused some as well .

04/30/2009 08:32 AM

Don’t expect too many changes from NA$CAR concerning Daytona, & Talladaga. After all, NA$CAR owns them both, & Talladaga, particularly markets mayhem. As the almighty PAYING fans were hurt. They will give some lip service to changes but come the next race. It’ll be business as usual. I read somewhere that the most serious injuries came from speakers mounted on the fence. That’s something they need to improve on. This fence is designed to do a job. While doing that job, It’s subject to violent action. It should not be used as a mounting bracket. As to the lack of penalties for passing below the holy line. Please refer to my very favorite oxymoron………NA$CAR credibility!

Matt T. --
04/30/2009 09:33 AM

Marshall, you may want to do some research, bud. In the 2007 Truck race at Daytona, Johnny Benson passed below the yellow line coming to checkers. When asked why no penalty was assessed, NASCAR spokesman Owen Kearns said, “If you can see the checkered flag on the last lap, anything goes.”

Ramsey Poston backed him up when he said, “When the drivers can see the checkered flag, you can get all you can get.”

Those are direct quotes.

Another direct quote is from Regan Smith after last year’s Talladega race:

“I was always told that the rule is if you get forced down there, then you are the winner of the race and on the last lap, anything goes. That’s what I was going with.”

And if you don’t think that the 2006 Daytona 500, 2006 Talladega and three-time Cup champion isn’t an authority on these matters, then who exactly is?

And for the record, Johnson’s quote was:

“Like wildfire, it went through the garage area [at Talladega last Fall]. Word was that on the last lap, when you could see the flagman, anything goes.”

04/30/2009 10:05 AM

Nice try Matt , but quoting two PR guys and a driver still doesn’t make it so . The PR guys don’t make or enforce the rules . Nor do the drivers . PERIOD . I’m surprised you didn’t know that .
Tell you what , get a legit quote from Darby , Helton , or France ( any France , Lesa , Brian , or Jim ) supporting your position and i’ll listen . Anyone other than the above doesn’t carry any weight on the subject .

04/30/2009 11:06 AM

Oh , and concerning Johnson being an expert , that quote pretty much puts his expert status to bed .
“it went through the garage area like wildfire” ???? I can hear an NBA player now , “ it went through the locker room like wildfire , everyone said out of bounds wasn’t going to be called in the last quarter , i was just going with that “ .

04/30/2009 12:46 PM

Remove the extra stuff on the fences. The major injury was not caused by the fence or the car, but a stupid PA speaker mounted on the “safety” fence…

Matt T. --
04/30/2009 01:27 PM

OK, I really don’t want to get dragged into this with someone who doesn’t have a firm grasp on how things are in the garage area or within the NASCAR hierarchy, but a couple of points, and I’ll leave it:

1. The yellow line rule was not made to keep drivers out of the grass, it was made to keep them from transitioning from the apron into the 33 degree banking, shooting up into traffic (a problem we experienced a few years back).

2. Ramsey Poston is the Director of Corporate Communications for NASCAR, not just some PR intern. I’ve been in the media center many a time. When he talks, it’s considered an edict from NASCAR (i.e, Helton, Darby or any France).

3. You continue to question Jimmie Johnson’s status as an expert. Again I ask: If the three-time defending series champion is not an expert, then who the hell is??

I can tell you’re not the type to give someone else the last word (despite the fact that your argument is flawed), so I expect you to rip off a few more illogical replies. I, however, have said my piece.

Thanks for reading!

04/30/2009 02:37 PM

I apologize Matt , i didn’t realise you meant THE Ramsey Poston . Thats entirely different . What he says goes where rules enforcement is concerned .
You will want to check on the origins of the yellow line rule though .
I can see that you are the insiders insider when it comes to the garage area and everything Nascar , but without us beginners , who would you have to pretend to talk down to .
Lastly , re-read my post . It clearly states that if Jimmy Johnson believes the “ wildfire “ through the garage area trumps the rulebook that Nascar goes to the trouble to print , then i’d say his expert credentials are suspect to say the least . I know of no sport where the rules are passed around by word of mouth like ‘wildfire “ . I doubt Jimmy can think of any sport like that either .

Bob Newhart
04/30/2009 03:08 PM

Hey Marshall, don’t feel bad, I thought he was talking about my dear friend, the late Tom Poston. I was like “That’s Absurd! Tom was a British Touring Car guy all the way!” In fact he couldn’t even stand NASCAR.

But then I reread it and realized it was THAT Tom Poston. The one that spells Tom “Ramsey”.

Boy was my face red!

Here’s the rub though; my favorite show is “Hell’s Kitchen”. You’d think I’d know better!

Live and learn, huh?

Kevin in SoCal
04/30/2009 04:05 PM

Sorry Marshal, I gotta agree with Matt. And if you go back and read the week after the Fall 2008 Talladega race, you’ll see quite a few more people agree with him too. Almost everyone thought what Regan Smith did was legal, and he should have won, based on the events at the end of the 2007 Daytona Truck race. And we all know NASCAR picks and chooses what it wants to enforce out of the rule book, and has more than once made up a rule on the spot to cover their asses. So to say there was no rule about this in the rule book is moot.

And as far as blocking goes, most of the time you can block once but if you block a second time you get turned into the fence as Carl Edwards did.


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Contact Matt Taliaferro

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Fanning the Flames: Of Daytona, Danica, Dale, and Duels
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