The Frontstretch: Finding A Fine Line Between Single-File And Total Freakout Mode by Summer Bedgood -- Monday October 21, 2013

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Finding A Fine Line Between Single-File And Total Freakout Mode

Summer Bedgood · Monday October 21, 2013


I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love restrictor plate racing. I think it provides some of the best, most exciting competition on the NASCAR schedule and I think you’ll be hard-pressed to actually argue that fact. There is a reason some of the closest, most nail-biting finishes historically have come at those tracks. I will always feel they deserve their place on the schedule.

This horrifying Truck Series wreck, on the final lap marred a fantastic finish where Johnny Sauter emerged on top.

Where I acknowledge that restrictor plate racing has a downside, though, is the terror factor. Very rarely do we make it through an entire race at Talladega and Daytona without some death-defying crash that leaves all of us holding our breaths, causing some of the more emotional fans to weep in angst. Family and friends of the drivers hate it, and for good reason. “Airborne” is a term the drivers have become familiar with here; it’s never a pretty sight.

Here is the hard reality attached to that fear, an argument I’ve made before. It is going to be forever impossible to have ultra-exciting racing that is also completely safe. Quick; name the most exciting race you’ve ever watched. I don’t care what it is, just let it come to your mind. Now, tell me that the racing that day was also totally, completely safe with no danger of a terrible wreck at all.

You can’t. Oh, I’m sure some of you smart alecks will mention certain speeds, SAFER barriers, the lack of the draft … but you just won’t come up with any exciting track or race that doesn’t carry a hint of danger with it. Side-by-side, close quarters competition generates crashes, and that’s what ultimately leads to the highlight reel-worthy wrecks.

I’m not ignorant, though. I know restrictor plate tracks have a much higher scare factor than others and showcase some of the worst wrecks in NASCAR history. Even I find myself holding my breath until my cheeks are purple, on the final lap because I just don’t want anyone to get hurt.

So when Austin Dillon went up and over Casey Mears’ car, on the final lap yesterday I did the same thing as everyone else. I gasped. My hand flew over my mouth. A couple of expletives may or may not have escaped my lips. It scared the crap out of me and I was glad when Dillon exited the car virtually unscathed.

It was the same thing on Saturday. Miguel Paludo’s flip, on the final lap in the Truck Series race generated the same reaction, and that particular wreck seemed to take a particularly brutal toll on the drivers involved. Justin Lofton, luckily was the only one injured from the incident, a fractured thumb which won’t prevent him from driving in his next scheduled NASCAR event at Texas.

I don’t know how much more the sanctioning body can do, and I don’t want to suggest that they aren’t trying. I’m sure that keeping the drivers on all four tires in one race is a definite goal for them. But plenty of viewers would like to see a balance between some of the great racing that Talladega and Daytona provides without freaking all of them out. Fans enjoy the draft, the three-wide racing, the exciting finishes, and I personally understand while covering the sport that this type of racing will always generate vicious wrecks. But if it’s possible to keep the cars on the ground, while adding more protection to some of the inside walls, I think it would allow more enjoyment of that white-knuckle excitement… instead of leaving everyone a nervous wreck for the wrong reasons.

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10/21/2013 12:35 PM

Summer, How do you propose to keep a car from flying up in the air when butt smacked by another car going 190? The 14 car went partially around, all of the roof flaps and fins did their job properly in keeping the car from getting airborne in the initial phase of the accident. The only reason the car went airborne is really out of NASCAR’s control.
Same with the 99 flying into the fence a few years ago. The car was actually coming back down to the racing surface before the 39 plowed into it sending it higher into the catch fence and thus having it be way more dangerous than if the 39 does not hit the 99. The 99 still likely hits the fencing but much closer to the wall and at a lower angle thus minimizing the damage to the fencing and so on.

10/21/2013 01:04 PM

Brian, one might argue that cars running nose to tail because they can’t get away from each other is the problem and that’s all on Nascar. When someone spins, there is absolutely no reaction time, and the speeds they run just adds to the chances that something bad is going to happen.

Summer, the best Nascar race I remember was Kurt Busch/Ricky Craven at Darlington. You know. The one with the photo finish that Craven won. Not once was i worried about a car getting airborne or a driver getting hurt, so there very much is a way that races can be exciting without the increased danger.

I bet if you took a poll of the drivers in the garage, most would be fine with taking the plate tracks off the schedule. I haven’t heard any driver say they look forward to these races. I’m not sure you can really blame them.

JD in NC
10/21/2013 02:05 PM

Steve, I totally agree. The 2003 Craven/Kurt Busch finish at Darlington was the best ever. I will go watch the video of the ending every few months. For any new fans who’ve never seen the clip go look it up. It was fantastic.

10/21/2013 03:41 PM

Well said, Steve. Loved that finish at Darlington – it’s what NASCAR SHOULD be striving for instead of races that produce so many laps of follow the leader.
As far as RP tracks go, so many people seem to love the pack racing and while it is certainly an amazing spectacle, the upset stomach and fear that I feel for the drivers, just outweighs the “fun” factor for me.

I hate seeing cars get airborne and flip around and then just waiting to see who comes out in a wrecked race car.

NASCAR deliberately put the big packs back into play because so many fans didn’t like the tandem racing, but although I don’t know what the answer is, there still needs to be a better one. At the end of the race yesterday, no one wanted to get out of line to race and I can’t blame them.

Paul from Myrlte..
10/21/2013 05:23 PM

Just a thought..does someone keep track of how many cars went airborne in a year? I’d think that between 95-99, where the plates were used but the compression ratio was unlimited. There were packs, but if your car wasn’t good enough (see DW in 1999, etc), you got lapped.

10/21/2013 08:27 PM

Richie Evans driving to the checkers along the wall at Martinsville. Here’s a link

JD in NC
10/21/2013 11:16 PM

DoninAjax – Great nomination. I remember seeing that photo many many years ago (maybe in Stock Car Racing Magazine).

Here is another nomination. Bobby Allison and Richard Petty turning the end of a 1972 North Wilkesboro race into a two man demolition derby. See:

10/22/2013 01:17 PM

DoninAjax- I was at that race, but I cant remember the year. Some time after that Richie lost his life at Martinsville when his throttle stuck.

Some of the best racing that I have seen, was at Martinsville when they ran the Modified and Late Model Sportsman as a double hitter.