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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Making Sense of the Talladega Mayhem

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.

Q: 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 catchfencing that separates the field of competition from thousands of spectators. It just can’t happen.

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 catchfencing? 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 catchfencing 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.

Q: Matt, I was wondering why the media hasn’t made a big deal out of Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers‘s 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 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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-checkered 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.