Talladega Superspeedway is a favorite among NASCAR’s viewers, but it has fewer fans amongst the garage area. For fabricators, it means even longer hours in the shop. For drivers, it means a gamble, roll of the dice chance of winning the race or winding up with a heap of scrap metal to be loaded back onto the hauler.
For Ryan Newman, it’s been more of the latter. Eight DNFs in 28 races — including last Sunday’s unbearably long event — is a good indication as to why.
To add insult to injury, when Newman goes out, he goes out with a bang. The Alabama sky has become a familiar sight to him, as well as the undercarriages of his competitor’s cars. Let’s just say “‘Dega” doesn’t exactly agree with Newman’s racing preferences.
This past Sunday at the plate track was no different for Newman. After a nearly four hour rain delay and already one “Big One”, Newman was probably ready to go home. However, NASCAR decided to wait out the weather, dry the track, and finish the race.
This decision would prove to be to Newman’s detriment, as well as a myriad of other drivers. After Stenhouse attempted to take it four wide with just four laps remaining, battling with the 36 car of JJ Yeley, a huge pileup occurred behind him. Yeley spun down the track, hooked Kurt Busch’s right rear, and Busch began a tumble that would end up on top of Newman’s windshield. While all drivers involved walked (or drove) away just fine, Newman was understandably angry at the exit of the infield care center.
And it wasn’t at any driver.
“They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls, but they can’t get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the racetrack, and that’s pretty disappointing,” Newman said. “I wanted to make sure I get that point across, and y’all can figure out who ‘they’ is.”
If you haven’t caught on yet, “they” is obviously NASCAR.
One can’t help but wonder — with as penalty happy as NASCAR has been this year — if Newman can’t be expecting a fine for “actions detrimental to stock car racing” later on in the week. NASCAR doesn’t take too well to criticism, and definitely not when it’s directed at the on-track product. Newman is no stranger to fines, and NASCAR is no stranger to his restrictor plate racing rants, but the driver took a direct shot at the sanctioning body. That can’t go over well, can it?
The problem I have with Newman’s comments, though, is that NASCAR can change all of the aerodynamics they want but they can’t mess with physics. The roof flaps can’t help a car hooking the right rear and, at the right speeds at the right angles, that car is going to go over. There is just no way around that. It’d be one thing if Newman had flown through the apron and flipped over then; however, NASCAR can’t stop these cars from hitting each other. Not without severely limiting the on-track product, anyway, and they were already on thin ice with fans from a substandard Daytona 500.
That’s not to say that Newman’s rant is completely unfounded. Yes, NASCAR has poured thousands, if not millions, into research for the cars alone to make the cars safer. That’s not to mention things like SAFER barriers, HANS devices, and other innovations made in recent years. They should be commended for that.
However, when it comes to driver safety, there is never room to stop improving, and keeping these cars grounded at restrictor plate tracks has been a challenge for NASCAR. Like I said, sometimes you can’t play with physics, but you would think that this incident would stop happening every single time they race at Daytona or Talladega.
It’s no less heart stopping every time it happens. You don’t get used to it. And watching the same replay over, and over, and over again doesn’t make it any less gut wrenching. I still cringe when I watch Carl Edwards’ crash into the catchfence at Talladega in 2009 and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it.
There is part of me that wonders, though, if there is a small part of NASCAR or the racetracks that revels in the eyes that crashes like that bring to the sport. It doesn’t matter how much of an underdog story Front Row Motorsports’ 1-2 finish was. That’s not going to resonate with the casual or reluctant observer. They don’t know the difference between Front Row Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports aside from the obligatory sports metaphor. That really isn’t going to matter to them as much as it does to me and you.
What will get them to sit up and watch is a massive, heart-stopping wreck in which a car is tossing end over end on the backstretch. They may not know who is in the car or where they are in the points. But they do know that it was an incredible crash and it brings their eyes to the TV quicker than any underdog story does.
I don’t think NASCAR likes to see crashes, but I can’t help but think there is a small amount of satisfaction when a wreck like that has thousands of views on YouTube and is being played over and over on SportsCenter. The general public is insatiable and they will watch and analyze that sort of thing all day.
It’s not just free publicity, too. NASCAR and the tracks will use it in their own commercials, as promos and as a reason to watch.
In other words, are they really in a hurry to stop it? If they can have amazing crashes without injured drivers, isn’t that a win-win for them? Publicity from the networks, even with a few irate drivers spewing their displeasure. It seems like a great thing for their exposure.
Again, let me be clear. I’m not saying that NASCAR wants to see wrecks, but it’s a little surprising that they almost never express any genuine concern for the airborne cars. They usually just offer a line “we’ll take a look at it” and go from there.
In short, I don’t agree with Newman’s harshness. It’s not like NASCAR hasn’t shown a dedication to safety in the past and I’m sure it’s always on their agenda. But Newman has a point that NASCAR has seemed to nail down all aspects of these dangerous crashes aside from all four tires in the air. Of course, if Newman is fined over the week, I’m sure we’ll be given an answer as to how serious NASCAR really thinks this problem is.
Until then, I hope you enjoyed the 24 hours of Talladega. It’s amazing how much damage a little rain can do, huh?
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