The Frontstretch: No Daytona 500 For Earnhardt? NASCAR Plates Pushing Drivers To Edge by Thomas Bowles -- Monday October 8, 2012

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No Daytona 500 For Earnhardt? NASCAR Plates Pushing Drivers To Edge

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday October 8, 2012


“Wrecking like that is ridiculous. It’s blood-thirsty if that is what people want. I can’t believe that nobody is sensible enough to realize just how ridiculous that was. Everybody is just ‘ho hum’ no big deal… that is not alright. I don’t even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year, but I ain’t got much choice.”Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did not hesitate to criticize NASCAR’s plate racing package in the wake of another ugly late-race wreck at Talladega.

Let’s just all sit for a second and let that quote sink in. As the dust settled on another day of Talladega carnage, over $2 million in damaged race cars, an unknown amount of bruised egos and some sort of blind luck that no one got killed the sport’s most recognizable driver made a brazen statement. Here we have the man with the famous last name, whose father made an art out of mastering Talladega and Daytona – whose quest for the sport’s biggest race won millions of fans in the process — stating the competition there has become little more than (insert wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap word here). More importantly, Earnhardt came out and said that when it came to the sport’s Daytona 500, what’s supposed to be the pinnacle of racing competition in America based on this style of racing he’d rather stay home.

What would you think if Tom Brady of the NFL, or Peyton Manning said, “I don’t like the way the Super Bowl is being selected. I’d just rather stay home.” Wouldn’t there be an outcry from the league offices? Wouldn’t fans feel compelled to find out why – and to push for change if something was wrong? And wouldn’t there be a groundswell of support from peers, most lining up side-by-side with this leader going forward?

That ugly precipice of disaster is where NASCAR should be standing this Monday morning. Earnhardt, criticized through the years for not being vocal enough spoke his mind, and he spoke it properly after a last-lap finish that for those inside the sport could be considered little more than an embarrassment. I hope they realize it, because outside the sport it’s a bit of a running joke this Monday morning. Talladega Nights is supposed to be a comedy, making fun of our sport – yet the wrecks that movie showcased were exactly what came to pass on Sunday. Ricky Bobby, had he gotten out of his car on fire and ran to the finish line had a good shot of finishing in fourth place, that’s how many vehicles wound up sitting in a Talladega third-turn junkyard of disaster.

Restrictor plate racing, for all its boom-or-bust didn’t always used to be this way. Old packages and more leeway on the rules led to cars spreading out, in the early 1990s creating separation and smaller packs where you didn’t wind up in this kind of mess. No, it wasn’t tandem drafting, the last change designed to spread out the field (but creating some sort of weird, ‘will you go on a man-date with me?’ courting system in its wake to challenge for the victory.) No, the old school plate racing, which Jeff Gordon termed “fun” in his postrace press conference Sunday involved some ability for drivers to control their passing, setting up moves to the finish while running four-wide with the knowledge that hey, maybe 25 cars instead of everyone with an engine would be in the final grouping.

It was parity lite, the old form of plate competition where some underdogs came out of nowhere and a few favorites didn’t have enough horsepower to hang with the lead draft. But in this age of parity, where NASCAR puts the engineers in such a box that type of separation is impossible now when you put a plate on these motors. Heck, at intermediate tracks cars run up on each other and then take 50 laps to pass because their lap times close to within hundredths of a second. What happens when you take any sort of variable away – braking, horsepower, handling – and leave everyone running at the exact same speed?

The answer, of course is what we saw Sunday – no separation, except for pit road penalties. You get spectacular four-wide racing when things go right… but a 25-car disaster, costing owners millions in repairs and putting multiple driver lives in jeopardy when it all goes wrong. You get a record number of lead changes (54 was a season high on Sunday) but they’re a moot point because the driver out front immediately becomes a sitting duck.

There are some who, this Monday morning are criticizing those for saying this style of racing needs to be changed. “These are what the drivers sign up for,” they claim. “200 miles an hour, in close competition means wrecks happen.” They point to the drivers becoming fearful instead of brazen, the opposite of a Dale Earnhardt, Sr. mentality that may turn some fans off.

Look, I’m not saying race car driving isn’t without some sort of risk. But it’s one thing to race in the Indy 500, go for the win on the last lap and then crash side-by-side at 200 miles an hour. That’s the risk you sign up to take, the one you’re expected to. But when you get put in a box, as these drivers do where your very fate is out of your hands – leaving any type of skill on the sidelines as you’re placed on some sort of sickening Russian Roulette wheel – I don’t think anyone should be signed up for that. It’s to the point now where people are intentionally running slow, at less than race pace (like Denny Hamlin did Sunday) to not only protect their positions in the points but their lives.

That’s a problem. As Clint Bowyer said, the way these plate races are now there’s no reason for them to even go 500 miles. With minimal engine failures, no separation and the “run in the back, really slow until the end” strategy employed by some the first 450 miles are really run just for show. You can accomplish everything NASCAR is offering through Talladega and Daytona in a pair of 50-mile sprints.

That’s right; the Daytona 500, once the toughest trophy to win in all of motorsports is reduced to a roulette wheel and a 20-lap dash to the finish. So people can “ooo” and “ahh” about the spectacular four-wide racing all they want this Monday. In the end, do you really want your marquis race (or races) reduced to that?

I’ll save the best thing Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said, hidden in his heat of the moment comments for last.

“I mean it’s good for the here and now and it will get people talking today,” he said of Sunday’s finish. “But for the long run that is not going to help the sport the way that race ended and the way the racing is. It’s not going to be productive for years to come.”

Five minutes of heart-pounding action does not a nine-month, or even nine-year NASCAR fan make. If that’s the best racing left this series has to offer, and no one’s willing to find solutions, well… this sport may be in more serious trouble than anyone thought.

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Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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10/08/2012 12:33 PM

They should bulldoze all the plate tracks and race at Fontana every week. That way it would be impossible for anyone to ever get injured in a wreck.

Sherri T
10/08/2012 12:40 PM

I love racing, but that’s not racing the way it ought to be. As a Gordon fan it was good to see Jeff get through the mess, but my heart was in my throat until I heard that everyone was okay.

I don’t know what changes need to be made, but that finish was just ridiculous! I don’t blame drivers for being upset about having to go through that, any one or more of them could have been dead after that mess. Then everyone would be talking more strongly about “fixing” things at Talladega, but why wait until a death to make the change?

10/08/2012 12:59 PM

Dale Jr. is a hypocrite. He was one of the drivers screaming the loudest to bring back pack racing. He just upset because he doesn’t have the huge advantage anymore at plate races he had in the early 2000s with DEI. Plate racing is a part of NASCAR, its the form of racing that makes NASCAR different from every other major racing series. Personally, I love it. It’s chess at 200 mph.

We need to remember we got big pack racing after everyone complained in 2000 that there was not enough passing. Plate racing will always be a moving target, and there is no way they will ever stop running Daytona and Talladega.

Steve Cosentino
10/08/2012 02:06 PM

What I still can’t figure out is why was the yellow out in the first place? Jaimie Mac was spun but hit nobody else yet the flag throws? It didn’t earlier when the 17 and 16 spun. I guess NASCAR wanted another fake finish. Well they got it. And lost more credibility.

Randy Tadlock
10/08/2012 03:06 PM

just go to a 305 CI engine, same block, and stop all the nonsense. the power would be low enough that it would not pull the powertrain. no restrictor plate.

10/08/2012 03:08 PM

We complain about the way it is now, we’ll complain when/if they change it. It’s never good enough. Does anyone want to see a race finish like that? No. But people also don’t want to see a guy run away with the race. The only way to “fix” NASCAR and make everyone happy is to not run at a track over 1.5 miles. And only run 2-3 1.5 milers a year. Every week run at Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Iowa. I wouldn’t complain. But, someone would…

10/08/2012 03:16 PM

I feel bad for Stewart. He will be the brunt of jokes and probably the next “commercial” for plate races. Stewart is a great
driver…perhaps one of the
most talented drivers ever in
many many forms of racing.
He made a decision based
upon adrenaline…and it cost
alot of teams big $$$. But the
sad part to me is I think it will
NASCAR alot more then the
carnage we saw left out on the track. Stewart did nothing the other 25+ cars behind him
weren’t doing…if you watch a
replay and focus behind Stewart there are cars bobbing, weaving, blocking, and squirting through holes a snake couldn’t wriggle through. At this moment all eyes are on “Stewarts mistake”… I hope the focus is put where it should be…on NASCAR and fans who applaud this form of carnage. Do I think NASCAR was upset with the finish of the race?? Not on your life! They got an ending few will ever forget…and it didn’t cost them a dime! Yet.

10/08/2012 03:25 PM

See the truck race? They don’t run plates and it’s still pack racing. Only real difference is the trucks have throttle response so they can tag the brakes and not lose the lead pack.

10/08/2012 03:40 PM

Jr has it right this time, he was right. I have to agree that in some ways he comes off as a hypocrite because he was one of the complainers about the other rule changes NASCAR made. He also made fun of a lot of people who didn’t like the crazy bump drafting that went on in the corners at full throttle.

I don’t like plate races because they are as you said more blind luck and a crapshoot than skill. NASCAR has turned the entire sport into the IROC series and then wonders why the fans aren’t avidly spending their money the way they used to do. Doh! It’s simple, as Gordon pointed out, “its not fun anymore”, not for the drivers, not for the fans. Most races I don’t need to watch the entire race, the last 10 or whatever gimmick NASCAR will throw in to get an “exciting” finish to make people forget that the majority of the laps were a waste of fuel and time. GWC was, and is, a stupid idea – at any track, let alone the RP tracks.

10/08/2012 03:42 PM

tony stuart was the one to really get mad an mouthed off, about drivers blocking him! does anyone else remember ,the fit he threw, about that? he said he was tired of being blocked an he was giving everyone, a warning, if they blocked him ,he was going to plow right into them,an what does he do,of all places ,at the race,sunday,hedid the thing he was so mad about!! talking about ,being stupid, he should be made to pay for all those cars to be fixed.and sit out a race!

Jeff Meyer - FS Staff
10/08/2012 05:18 PM

Leave the engines the way they are but take off the plates. Just because you CAN go into the corner at 220+ without plates doesn’t mean you SHOULD!
With no plates the drivers will find their limits (and the car’s) and we will have ‘racing’ again.

Really getting sick of going over this same old crap 4 times a year, year after year after year after year after…

10/08/2012 05:23 PM

How about that?

Tony Stewart blocking? Causes the big wreck.

Can you imagine if that had been Kyle?

Where’s the media hatred of what Stewart did?

Hello, Amy Henderson?

10/08/2012 06:11 PM

Jack, Stewart owned up to it. Kyle never would. Plus Stewart is a 3 time champ. He screwed up. Nothing more.

Honestly, its going to take the sports biggest names (Stewart, Gordon, Jr, Jimmie) to tell Nascar, we aren’t showing up to the plate races anymore. Do you think Nascar would pull the old “You need Nascar more than Nascar needs you” on those guys?

And for the poster who said Nascar loves this ending? Your darn right they do. Which is why they keep going to these tracks. The fans that love the crashes got everything they wanted yesterday. I hope they enjoyed it because the rest of the season will bore the hell out of them.

10/08/2012 08:56 PM

These drivers need to talk about this type of racing and the added dangers no matter if the win or lose. Most of them say very little if they win and bitch and moan when they get caught up in big one.

10/08/2012 09:18 PM

Plate racing used to be good. Nascar needs to tend to the administrative operation of Nascar and quit trying to design cars, they know nothing about. They will kill someone sooner or later if they don’t let them race like they used to.

Andy D
10/09/2012 07:59 AM

do you really want your marquis race reduced to that?

a nobleman ranking next below a duke and above an earl or count

celebrated or pre-eminent

I do not want my racing reduced to a bunch of pooftah noblemen prancing about in powdered wigs.


Contact Tom Bowles

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