After Sunday’s race at Talladega saw 35 of 40 cars involved in on-track incidents, does NASCAR need to reevaluate restrictor plate racing with the current rules?
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: This kind of hand-wringing happens every few years when there is a big wreck. They’ve been launching them into the air since 1973, and had just as many big wrecks in the 1980s with cars going well over 200 mph, with half of the safety equipment and integrity that we do today. The last time we had this kind of fretting about Talladega wrecks was in 2004 and 2005, when literally over half of the field got wiped out going into turn 1. That’s not to say I am downplaying the danger or belittling the complaints; what was going on Sunday was ridiculous, and part of it has to do with the safety and durability of the Gen 6 cars. It used to be if you wrinkled a fender on a speedway car, that’s it, you’re done, you’re going to be fighting to hang onto the draft all day. Austin Dillon got turned into the backstretch wall head on – and then got caught up in a multi-car wreck in turn 2 – and was still fighting for the win, eventually coming home third. These cars don’t break, and when everybody gets in a wreck, everybody is on the same level playing field.
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: Absolutely it is time for a change. The same basic package has been in place since 2013. With the minds that are in the garage, they have figured out all of the major advantages that can be gleaned. As a result, the cars are more equal than ever on plate tracks and the result is cars piled on top of each other and, ultimately, cars piled on top of each other. They need to make a change that allows cars to run from the back to the front without bumping and pushing.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Yes, it’s time for some changes. I can’t stand watching a plate race and noting who’s doing well only to know with 99 percent certainty that a big wreck is going to wipe out a bunch of cars that were simply in the wrong place when it goes down. I can’t imagine it feels good to be a fan of a particular driver knowing that statistically there’s a better chance they’ll be in a wreck than not being in one. It was a little more fun to watch in the early 2000s when the last place a driver wanted to be taking the white flag was in the lead. Now, it’s too hard to get two or three lines that can move up at will to challenge the leader and make blocking lap after lap a huge risk. Between the anticipation of the wrecks and the inability to pass the leader at the end, it’s the least entertaining racing we see all year.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I don’t like it when people who know little about the particulars of my job tell me how I should do my job, yet we hear this kind of talk after every restrictor plate race. The drivers understand the dangers and the uncertainties of racing at Daytona and Talladega, and there’s no reason why they should enjoy having front row seats to such carnage, but does that mean NASCAR Nation must hold its collective breath until Brian & Co. makes a change to the rules? If drivers are truly upset with the nature of plate racing, their nine-member coffee klatch/not-a-union should approach NASCAR and find other ways to effectively reduce speeds on superspeedways. NASCAR isn’t complaining; notice how much media coverage Sunday’s race received and how Brad Keselowski‘s win was an afterthought.
Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: I think a lot of Sunday’s craziness had to do with the threat of rain. It is no fun to see cars get upside down, but I don’t think we can draw a lot of conclusions from Sunday’s race alone. All together, the Gen 6 car’s restrictor plate package has come a long way, and we saw a good race this past weekend.
Some teams, fans and drivers have expressed concern about lapped cars getting the way of leaders or causing cautions that change the complexion of the race. Should NASCAR consider parking any car that falls more than 10 laps down in any race to keep them from influencing the outcome of the race?
Neff: I don’t know if they should drop them solely for being 10 laps down. My view is that they need to park cars that are involved in an incident which takes them to the garage or results in significant damage and they end up 10 laps down; no car has ever come back from five laps down in the Lucky Dog system. By the time you are 10 laps down, you should be statistically eliminated from the possibility of finishing in the top 25. The caveat to this is that the point system needs to be changed as well where positions 25-40 all receive the same number of points. Giving the teams zero incentive to roll a wreck back onto the track makes it more logical to keep the car in the garage.
Henderson: I agree with Mike that a change in the points system would be needed, and I think that’s a terrible idea. Who wants to be told they’re getting the same pay at work as someone who wasn’t as productive? I wouldn’t be against the same points for say 26th-30th, 31st-35th and 36th-40 or something, but no way should 25th be worth as little as 40th. And if a team starts a race, they deserve the opportunity to finish it for the team’s personal pride and for their fans. Listen to the fans when a popular driver comes back on track after an extended stay in the garage—they cheer for him and want to see him on track, even if they know he’s not going to make up all those laps and win. That said, if a team gets back on track and causes an issue because the car isn’t raceable, it should be penalized, because that’s a safety issue. So, if it can keep up the speed, let the driver race, but if he or she drops debris or the damage otherwise causes a caution or damage to another car, slap the team with a penalty to ensure it truly fixes the car before getting back on track.
Howell: NASCAR was built on also-rans. Think back to the good ol’ days when every car from about eighth place back was running multiple laps behind. We’ve always had dominant teams in NASCAR, which means there’s always been a need for backmarkers. Lapped cars add an air of challenge to the frontrunners, and we know how they can affect the outcome of races. Kevin Harvick likely would not have won at Atlanta in 2001 if it weren’t for Brett Bodine blocking Jeff Gordon’s line coming off the final turn on the final lap. Bodine was about four laps down at that point, and he pretty much kept Gordon from taking the win from Harvick that afternoon. You can’t have leaders without followers.
Dustin Albino, Contributor: Absolutely not. That will kill sponsorship on teams and could ultimately lead to the downfall of racing. Racecar drivers are racers, period. Whether they are 10 laps down or 100 laps down they are going to do the best they can even if they are driving a piece of junk.
Pugliese: No, that’s part of the attrition of racing, and has determined championships in the past. With regards to Sunday, Carl Edwards had no business being out there after winning two races in a row. Completely unnecessary and foolish given what can happen there, as hard as he and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. both collected the wall when he blew a right front tire, as a result of the crash damage he sustained.
After a mix of tracks to open the season, May features two night races on intermediate tracks as well as the non-points All-Star event. Can the sport maintain positive momentum in the coming month given the schedule?
Gable: Although the racing has been generally good this year, ratings are still down, so any positive momentum would have to be coming from the quality of racing itself. The All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 are unique events that usually generate some kind of excitement, but with the 100th Indy 500 quickly approaching, NASCAR could be fighting a losing battle.
Albino: Since there are so many 1.5-mile racetracks, I wish they were more spread out. There are a bunch in the month of May and then five in the Chase. However, this year’s racing on mile-and-a-half tracks has been really good, and I think both races will be improved from last year. Regardless of what the All-Star Race format is, if you get out in front the leader is gone. It’s not a long enough event to play catchup and have a long run.
Neff: As has been the case all season, it all depends on the tires. Goodyear has been bringing tires to the track that wear out, and it has resulted in better racing. If they can keep having success with their tire selections then the momentum can continue. With that said, the racing would be much better in the daytime. We saw it at Richmond: daytime racing is simply better.
Henderson: I’m more concerned with them being night races on newer pavement than anything. The best races this year on intermediates have been the exact opposite: afternoon contests on old asphalt. Tires will be key, but don’t expect another Atlanta or Auto Club. I’m glad we’ve got Dover in there to add some flavor.
The Truck Series returns after a five-week hiatus this weekend. What storyline(s) are you keeping your eye on at Kansas?
Gable: Who is going to emerge as a championship contender? This is the point of the season where we begin to figure out who the drivers to beat on a weekly basis are. Right now, Parker Kligerman is the only driver with more than two top 10s. Who is going to step up and challenge him? Who will be the next series regular to win? And will the dreaded caution clock cause any more crashes?
Pugliese: How far up do the Cup guys lap the regulars? That’s about it.
Neff: How many drivers forgot how to drive after taking over a month off? Most ridiculous schedule in racing.
Howell: It’s great to see the trucks back in action this weekend! They seem to be having a strong season thus far with the kind of racing we haven’t seen in quite some time. The return of Clint Bowyer should be a big story to follow, especially if he runs well and challenges up front. It’ll be fun to watch what happens when Bowyer goes up against the youngsters.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.