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Talladega the Last Straw: The Madness Must End

Anyone who reads this site knows that I’ve always defended restrictor plate racing as being just that, racing. Real racing. I’ve defended it as a discipline, just as road racing is a discipline, and insisted that the Chase needs Talladega just as much as it needs a road course in it.

And even after Sunday’s joke of an event, one that saw my favorite driver involved in the most harrowing crash I’ve seen in a long time, I still hold those opinions. Prior to the carnage that marred the race’s final few laps, there was the three- and-four-wide racing that Talladega has become known for, there was the bump-drafting, there were 50 wrecks that somehow didn’t happen… and the world’s best stock car drivers made it happen. When disaster struck in the form of Ryan Newman‘s Chevrolet doing a front flip at 180 mph and landing on Kevin Harvick‘s nose, it wasn’t the product of some eye-of-the-storm pack that left no room for anyone… it happened in a near straight line. The circumstances that wrecked Newman could easily have happened on a restart at Fontana, Michigan or any other track out there where the cars have to spend a lap getting up to speed.

Sunday was not an indictment of restrictor-plate racing, though that’s what everyone and their mother will be writing tonight… because Sunday was nothing new. Seriously, everyone that tuned it knows that plate racing in packs does lead to big crashes. It does shuffle the field in a blender. It does allow drivers like David Stremme and Jamie McMurray to look like drivers deserving Cup rides.

What Sunday was, however, was a truly vivid example of just how bad things have gotten in NASCAR today. Sunday, at a track that stands as an everlasting memento of the, as Matt McLaughlin coined it, “megalomaniac” that is the France family, every single person from the fans in the front row to the drivers on the track to Frontstretch writers like myself watching at home had their collective faces rubbed in the mess they’ve sown. Stock car racing hit a low on Sunday afternoon, and everyone, from the drivers to the fans to NASCAR ought to be ashamed of themselves for having let things get this bad.

Shame on NASCAR for their insistence to over-regulate to absurdity the racing at Talladega. For their asinine yellow-line rule, created in the name of “safety” when all it’s done is allow for subjective enforcement to send Dale Earnhardt Jr. to victory lane in April of 2003, to rob Regan Smith of a race everyone but the record book knows he won last fall and to force Brad Keselowski to send Carl Edwards flying sky-high this spring just to do his job on the track.

Shame on NASCAR for their underhanded decision to announce a mere 60 minutes before the green flag that drivers would be penalized if they in their infinite wisdom decided that contact in the corners constituted an overly-aggressive “bump draft.” Imagine the fallout if the NFL announced 60 minutes before the Super Bowl that teams could not blitz the quarterback or would be penalized if a hit was deemed too hard by the booth crew upstairs. A Denny Hamlin tweet said it best post-race:

Shame on NASCAR for having their puppet, ISC, touting how Talladega was committed to safety while their rulebook has made racing at the track anything but safer for the drivers themselves. I can’t count how many times NASCAR, ISC and ESPN (another lapdog) spent the weekend raving about how they raised the frontstretch catchfence from 14 to 22 feet to improve safety.

Who the hell cares?! The near disaster in the spring didn’t occur because the fence was too short! Take a look at the pictures from the spring… the problem wasn’t the height, it was that Edwards’s car did damage to the supports themselves when it hit. Making it higher made for great PR, but in the grand scheme of things it did about jack diddly to make this racetrack safer, be it for fans, drivers, whoever.

Meanwhile, while NASCAR and ISC spent time and money putting up more chainlink and hiring medicine men to do war whoops on the start-finish line, they ignored what their very own drivers, and their best and brightest drivers at that, were saying. It’s ironic that Newman happened to be the driver who had the flip of the day on Sunday, because rewind back to the spring race, and guess what he said needed to be done?

That NASCAR needed to spend time and money, then, to figure out a way to keep cars from going airborne.

Yet, instead of working on the wing or finding a way to configure the restrictor plates to allow the cars more room to spread out, NASCAR decided to completely dismiss the comments of a particularly talented engineer and the smartest driver in the garage, instead opting to, surprise, shrink the plate further and make the packs the cars raced in tighter. That’s the way to improve things there, take even more control out of the drivers hands and make the packs tighter.

For crying out loud, does NASCAR not watch their own replays?

Look at the two big flips of the last two races, those of Edwards in the spring and Newman on Sunday. The roof flaps did their jobs both times. So why are these cars getting airborne? It’s simple really, when cars get out of shape in these packs they get hit by cars passing by. That impact negates what the roof flaps are doing, and sends the cars airborne. Edwards went airborne because he got drilled by Newman’s car. Newman on Sunday got airborne not because of his contact with Marcos Ambrose, but because after spinning Harvick had nowhere to go but smack into Newman’s car.

Take the packs away, or at least loosen them up, and those roof flaps might actually do what they’re supposed to do. Either way, NASCAR’s unilaterally made decision to tighten the packs up and threaten its drivers as a way to improve safety backfired royally on Sunday… and demonstrated, as Newman said so eloquently in his post-race remarks, that they don’t seem to care much for the drivers anymore these days.

Shame on NASCAR indeed.

And while I applaud drivers such as Newman, Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin for speaking up bluntly following Sunday’s travesty, shame on the drivers too for allowing the France family and NASCAR to get away with this crap. Seriously, why the hell did no one put their foot down in the drivers’ meeting and say ‘Look, this bump drafting rule stuff is ridiculous, I’m not racing to the tune of the script up in the tower?’

Newman was correct in noting that things seem to have changed since the strike of Talladega 1969, where NASCAR was forced to make changes such after seeing its stars deck it’s leadership to the floor literally, pack up and leave the world’s most expensive racetrack and reduce Talladega’s inaugural race to a used car lot running at high speeds. NASCAR certainly does seem to be taking its drivers and teams for granted now in much the same way Bill France Sr. did when he told LeeRoy Yarbrough to go home if he was scared.

Things have also changed, however, in that no one was there to deal Mike Helton a blow to the head when he delivered the message Sunday morning that NASCAR was going to decide what was and wasn’t acceptable driving in the corners. It’s one thing for drivers to deliver snippy soundbites post-race that don’t go according to script, or to run single file for hundreds of miles (though drivers did that in plate races even before Sunday)… but it’s another to stand up and do something about it.

Because the power to change things in NASCAR is largely in the drivers’ hands. Race fans turn out in droves and spend tons of money because of their loyalty to manufacturers and drivers… not loyalty to NASCAR’s governing body. If the drivers want change, they can and will get change… but that requires growing a backbone, speaking up and acting out when things get ridiculous.

Talladega’s current configuration with the plates, the new cars, etc. is ridiculous enough. Having the rules changed an hour before the race should have easily been a tipping point.

Shame on the drivers out there for not having the backbone that Yarbrough, Petty and all the others that struck so they didn’t have to did. Shame on them for being good little lapdogs.

And yes, shame on me and every other race fan that’s complained, written, voiced displeasure about the direction of the sport, cracked a snide joke about Brian France but in reality hasn’t done a damned thing to force the sanctioning body to start listening to what the competitors and fans that are its lifeblood are saying. Because love or hate Talladega, well over 100,000 of us still showed up and packed the front grandstand and infield. Millions of us still tuned in Sunday to watch the race, knowing full well we probably weren’t going to like what we saw.

And we all poured millions of dollars more into the coffers of the idiots that have managed to take a truly great sport and reduce it to what was seen today.

Several seasons ago, after being involved in a wreck at Talladega, Martin remarked that “only the fans can do something” about the racing product being put on. And he’s right, it is up to we the fans. We’re the ones that make the sport conducive to sponsors becoming the “official underwater basket weaver of NASCAR.” We’re the ones that make the sport profitable enough for the France family to hire lawyers to cover up DUI and cocaine problems that the family seems to always find itself in. And we’re the ones that ultimately need to speak with our wallets and our remotes.

We need to tune into and sell out the short tracks, the Darlingtons, the venues that we all speak up for but then never seem to show up at. We need to stop responding positively to ads celebrating and mystifying the big wrecks of the sport, no matter how spine-chilling they may be. We need to step up and support our drivers when they do say that something with the sport is broke, and that may mean actually cutting our spending and our viewership when they head to Talladega, Fontana or some other crappy racing configuration.

Fact is, we need to wake up and realize that this is “your, my, our NASCAR,” and our NASCAR ain’t so pretty right now.

Shame on us for letting it get this far.

Shame on the drivers and teams for not having the balls of those before them to just say no, and instead do exactly what Big Brother Brian and his cronies insisted on Sunday.

And shame on NASCAR, for reducing stock car racing to what we saw on Sunday.

Shame on all of us who call racing our passion, our home.

About the author

Senior Commentator at Frontstretch

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate. Here till I get canceled.

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30 thoughts on “Talladega the Last Straw: The Madness Must End”

  1. Well-written Bryan. Sadly, the drivers and fans can complain all they want about the perils and boring nature of restrictor plate racing, but until they stop showing up to Daytona and Talladega, nothing will change until someone gets killed. Like what Jimmie Johnson says, take a bulldozer and level the banking of these tracks so we won’t need the plates to slow the cars down.

    One thing though, Newman’s car went airbone solely because when he got turned backward at high speeds, a rush of air flowed under the car and lifted it up. Harvick did nothing to launch him. The only way to keep this particular case from happening is to slow the cars down even more to a speed where the flaps can actually work.

  2. Everybody misses the point. Flattening the track and taking away the plates is not going to slow the cars down. Look at Atlanta and Texas. Fast, fast, fast. You have to change the aero of the car.

  3. Lowering the banking is definitely not the solution, if for no other reason than the racing would become boring and sad like all the other cookie cutters, and Fontana.

    They either need to run a couple of large aerodynamic devices (huge wing, wicker board) to drag the cars down, or they need to mandate an engine package SPECIFICALLY for Daytona and Talladega, that uses, say, 300 cubic inches with a much smaller bore, or a choked-off set of heads, or a milder camshaft–anything that will reduce horsepower without it all going through four equal-sized tiny little holes. The argument that that would “cost too much” is absurd, because all the teams already have a “restrictor plate engine program.”

  4. “NASCAR certainly does seem to be taking its drivers and teams for granted”
    Actually you can add “and fans” to that sentence to make it more correct.

    Actually I thought the drivers were staging a form of revolt when they spent a third of the race driving single file in a parade like formation.

  5. Overall, a very nice column and summation of PLATE RACING, among other items of interest.

    However, your (quote)
    “Prior to the carnage that marred the race’s final few laps, there was the three-and-four-wide racing that Talladega has become known for, there was the bump-drafting, there were 50 wrecks that somehow didn’t happen…and the world’s best stock car drivers made it happen.”

    Three (3) rows wide, ten
    (10) cars deep, side by side, SIMPLY IS NOT RACING!

    Have you blown a gasket?

    You tuck in behind someone, anyone that your stuck with, 5+ cars in front of you, 5+ cars behind you, can’t move left because of the “yellow line”, can’t move right, either because your in the middle, or the outside line, so all you do is tool aroud in the very big pack!


    And your finishing position is 110% LUCK!

    And you call that “racing”?

    I don’t, never will!

    Ahh for the good old days when 6 or 8 drivers would form the “CONGA LINE”, and weave their way un-impeded down the straightaway at Dega!

    A pack of 40 cars, side by side, nose to tail simply is HANG ON! It is NOT RACING!

    And just how mnay times at Dega does the “winner” get out if his car and ask?

    I WON? yeh, that’s racing when the winner is even suprised!

  6. I think all of us are thinking the same thing, Bryan. That was not only one of my favorites in that wheels-up mess, it was a friend of mine.

    ISC is not going to redesign the track, and I don’t think NASCAR is going to admit that the CoT is a stupid idea. The safety advantages of that car can easily be adapted to a more raceable concept.

    My suggestion? Take Robert Yates’ advice and lower the displacement limit. 305? I don’t know, I’m not that smart mechanically. Sure, it’s going to cost the teams, but it seems like anything NASCAR does has that effect. Ask any car owner whose car has ended up being parted out after Sunday.

  7. I would like to add to most of the above comments (I do on occasion comment to columns)…but I get discouraged. Mr. Keith..being in the media..and closer then most of us to the “inner realm” of NASCAR…can you tell us out here..does NASCAR listen to the fans at all? (We pretty much can see they don’t listen to the drivers!) I know..they “give us” little tweaks they deem will make us “just thrilled to pieces”…i.e. wave around, lucky dog, earlier starting times, double file restarts..things that in all reality don’t mean a hill of beans..but they don’t seem to put an ear out and HEAR what the fans really want…BETTER racing..more consistancy in their rulings, races calls and tolerances… a shorter season….and end or at least a change to this silly CHASE (why don’t we just have a 43 car 10 race that’s all there is to the season Championship). I know we hear Helton preach the “right words”…well words he thinks we want to hear..but seriously…it’s a big business..NASCAR…they are in it to make money…I get that…and like most corporations..they put out a product..people buy the product..the corporation gets giddy and goes crazy and usually cheapens up and messes up their product..we quit buying..and they go under…It looks to me this is the way it’s heading…SO…do they listen? or is this just a big sandbagging effort by NASCAR to get the last drop out of us fans and cut and run?

  8. And don’t forget NASACAR’s stated desire to limit costs. How about eliminating the need for owners to develop separate plate racing engines. Eliminate the plates and change the racetracks as needed for safety.

  9. We need to get back to a day where finishes like Craven/Busch are used in TV spots and NOT Sadler going airborne in the 38.

  10. Bryan. I’ve taken care of my part of the bargain. I’ve quit watching and attending races on tv. Unless things change I won’t be back. Good article.

  11. Just this two cents worth…

    The roof flaps work everytime. Since they started using them yrs ago on the OLD car, they have probably kept more cars down on the track than gravity itself, however….and this is what I saw….

    As soon as Newman spun backwards, the flaps deployed but yet the the rear of the car went (perfectly) straight up and over! The reason? Brian’s Wing! Oh sure, it provides great downforce when on the rear of the car and the car is going forward, but lead that wing into the wind the opposite direction at 190 mph and what do you think its going to do???? At least with the old ‘spoiler’, you didn’t have air rushing UNDER it creating a low pressure (thus lift) above it! Next time your driving your car, stick your hand out the window at speed and tilt the leading edge of your hand down toward the front tires…..your hand is forced down and back. Now tilt the leading edge up toward the sky…where does your hand go now? Yep…up and away! The Roof flaps are simply overpowered by the lift that Brian’s wing provides at the back of the car! It is called a “Wing” after all…..

    Thus ends our rocket science class for today!

  12. NASCAR can’t hear the fans of NASCAR over the sound of snorting over a mirror at the France household. They can sell off or quit NASCAR and be happy with their billions of $$$. I did yardwork for the 1st 3/4’s of the race knowing that i’d be wasting my time with the 1st 3/4’s parade racing. Go back to spoilers, hack them down to 1/2 the size of the old cars, remove the restrictor plates, maybe drop CID to 305’s and let them race. A tiny spoiler will make ’em have to lift in the corners and i’d bet you’d see the “slingshot” come back.

  13. Dale Jr has repeatedly spoken up about things wrong about Nascar. The media prints it ad nauseum but doesn’t take a stance on it. One driver can’t make a difference, and most of the drivers don’t have the guts to take a stand on anything.

  14. Want to know how to kill a sport? Hire NASCAR to run it!
    After the “greatest race ever run at Talledaga” thats according to Spencer, Wallace and the rest of NASCARS shills speaking prior to the race.
    Mark Martin said it best “only the fans can do something”. This is my last race of the year!
    NASCAR has succeded in ruining my favorite sport, I guess its now off to football. A sport that wont at the last minute tell the players how to play the game. Unless of course Brian France gets involved!

    Good article, keep up the good work.

  15. To get away from the boring parts of the race all they need to do is award points for leading forcing the drivers to want to lead all the time. No point in hanging back to get a good finish when a guy that leads all day can crash out and gain more points cause he was leading.

  16. Hey Lunar Tunes, your “two cents worth”, regarding the rear wing, is really a MILLION $$$$
    statement, SPOT ON my friend, SPOT ON!

    Lift is lift! As proven yet again in the POS!

    And Ginger! Please remember NA$CRAP’S threat to ALL drivers about being negative? (MIS last year, spring race).

    So most drivers will obey, never knowing who and when NA$CRAP will penalize them for speaking out!

    Jr. may get away with it once or twice, but say a Robby Gordon would be banned by NA$CRAP!

    But maybe we will hear more now that Dega has run and we all have seen the results!

    But, betcha that NA$CRAP wimp Mark Martin will not speak out! Even though it totally slammed the door on ANY potential of a chumpionship for him!

  17. AND! While I am on my “soapbox”, let me bring to your collective attentions the following:

    I watched a fair bit of the truck race Saturday, just to keep abreast (like that term for some reason) of things!

    Among other things, they had the audacity to state during the race, “NA$CRAP only counts actual lead changes at the start/finish line”!!


    Throughout this year, and last year, NA$CRAP has made statements, and published statements like “why that was a heck of a race, we saw 785 lead changes during the race”!


    Since when has ANY of their events been 785 laps long, with a NEW LEADER ON EACH LAP?

    Now you know another reason I call myself “THE TURNIP”!

    Because that’s how NA$CRAP treats us!

  18. Limiting horsepower won’t solve Talladega.

    The whole reason for all the wrecks is the cars run in packs, and they run in packs because they run faster that way. Yet, at any other track except Daytona and Talladega, running in packs is detrimental to speed, because the car in front usually runs away. But not in plate racing, because everyone is wide-open-throttle all the way around the track. There’s no braking, and no lifting. You’re going as fast as the available horsepower allows, but forming a drafting “train” will always be faster than running solo.

    Reduce the horsepower, and you just get slower trains, in the same huge packs. Unless the speeds are cut down to below 150MPH, you’ll still have flips, and with packs you’ll never get away from the multi-car big ones.

    The alternative I’ve heard is reduce the banking and make the drivers have to brake and slow down for the turns, but that just creates a 2.66 mile Fontana clone.

    So here’s my solution, which no one would follow:

    Change the gear rule to set the rear gears so that redline=190MPH. Then make rev limiters illegal, and remove the plates.

    That means that the drivers would HAVE to lift, because the engine would have more available HP than it could handle. The driver would have to be mindful of the tach. Since the track is so steeply banked, there’s little “skill” needed as even the worst handling car can turn a 200MPH lap, but having a driver know how far to push the RPMs without ventilating the engine block is a whole other skill.

  19. Cars have been flipping at T-Dega for 20 years, why all the whining now? I didn’t hear all this when Rusty flipped in the early 90s or when Sadler flipped in 2 consecutive races in the 38 car. Could be that we are living in a fantasy of complete safety. We have become so soft that we cannot tolerate any thought of injury. That place of safety doesn’t exist so go home, put your helmets, knee pads, elbow pads and goggles on your kids so they can go out and play and stop crying if life and sports are a little dangerous. Go watch tennis or something.

  20. Glenn…

    I have accepted that racing is a dangerous sport since I first started watching it. What I won’t accept is the designing of tracks, equipment, and rules that increase the chances of serious injury or death unnecessarily.

  21. Nascar? I am telling you people, we need something else. Why in the world B. Smith does not start another raceing league I don’t know. He is the only one with the guts and money to fight NASCAR. Don’t you just love it when they send that big ol yes boy of theirs Robin Pemberton out to talk for them. He is JOKE. He is so programed

  22. i was there at the race boring boring boring me myself I pay good money to watch a good race i’m tired of hearing about all the changes needed nothing is needed except for nascar to stay out of the drivers business, period i have seen some of the best races at that track and some of the worst wrecks the cars are built to protect these drivers do away with the wing go to the spoiler u and everyone else needs to leave this track alone the drivers need to shut up and race they make plenty of money and they no from day 1 what they have signed up for nascar needs to stay out of the racin on all tracks especially DEGA

  23. Fans hate the wrecks caused by bump-drafting in the turns that take out their favorite driver. But when NASCAR tells the drivers not to bump in the corners, fans and drivers get upset that NASCAR is putting too tight a leash on the racing. So which do you want, people? No rules and more crashes, or more rules and less crashes?

    And the drivers have been racing in a single line at Talledega for the last 2 or 3 years now. Its just something they started doing to keep from wrecking each other, I suppose.

  24. Maybe we should look at the European touring car concept. The racing in much more entertaining and the car actually looks and is mechanically similar to the street version.

  25. It is definitely true that cars have been tumbling at alarming rates at Daytona and Talladega ever since they opened. Unfortunately, apart from tearing the banking down big time (like to 12 degrees), there is no good solution at all. No matter how the cars slow down, they would need to be going over 210 mph in order to have to lift in the corners, and even if the slowdown method is not a restrictor plate, the cars would still be in huge packs.

    And taking off the plates? Won’t work either. Cars hitting 240 mph on the straightaways would become missiles whenever an accident happens, and there is still no guarantee the packs would be broken.

  26. Talladega is a dinosaur. the track was designed to race actual stock cars on. Real race cars are too fast on a track like this. It is time to stop racing at Daytona and Talladega. these racetracks are remnants of a much simpler past.

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