What just happened?
The worst thing in the world is waiting.
Sure, I’ll admit to being a young, ADHD-diagnosed millennial who can’t stay off of his phone for five minutes. Hating to wait is a normal thing now for a lot of people, thanks to the wonderful gift of technology.
Since the death of Dale Earnhardt, there have been three times in NASCAR where the wait was completely unbearable. The first was the 2013 Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway that ended in Kyle Larson rolling into the catchfence.
Unlike the two other times, the concern wasn’t the driver in question. Rather, it was the fans. A stock car landing in a full grandstand would not only be a complete tragedy, but there’s a chance that NASCAR as a whole would never be the same or even end up going out of business over it. Thankfully,
The second was Austin Dillon’s wreck at Daytona in 2015.
The wait wasn’t very long on this one. A couple of minutes later, Dillon was out doing… whatever that was with his hands. But in those two minutes, it felt like two hours, part of it being that he was driving Earnhardt’s No. 3 while racing for a win at Daytona. And one thing that doesn’t get brought up about this wreck is that Denny Hamlin took one hell of a hit while on fire, it’s a miracle that Hamlin also came out of that wreck unharmed.
Then came this year’s rain-delayed Daytona 500.
The aftermath of Ryan Newman’s wreck was the longest two hours of my entire life, and probably for a lot of fans as well. I wasn’t around for Earnhardt’s death, but even in that situation and looking back in hindsight, it didn’t necessarily seem like Earnhardt had died in the immediate aftermath. To many fans, Earnhardt had walked away from much worse in the past. He even survived whatever that was at Darlington Speedway once. But one bad hit with the cars (and walls) as unsafe as they comparatively were was enough to end the life of one of the greatest to ever sit in a stock car.
Newman’s wreck, however, was much worse on the eyes. And while the wonderful gift of technology is a blessing, it can also be a problem in situations such as this when there’s nothing new that can be reported besides dumb speculation. There was really nothing that could have been done in those two hours besides the heart hoping for the best but the brain expecting the worst due to the social media silence. Then, just pure jubilation when NASCAR President Steve O’Donnell announced that Newman’s injuries were not life threatening.
It is an absolute miracle that Newman was playing with his kids in ICU just a couple of days after being hit in the air by a racecar going 200 mph. There’s really not much else that can be said about it that hasn’t already. It’s a rare good story in a world painted with negatives. NASCAR and, ironically, Newman both deserve medals when it comes to making these cars safe. Safety is the key to any professional sport, but it’s especially true with NASCAR. And while being a critic every now and then on NASCAR’s safety policies, even I will admit that this will always be a badge of honor for the sanctioning body. Well done so far, everybody.
So what now?
But let me be clear: the fact that Newman walked out of the hospital 40 hours after almost dying should not be mean everything is necessarily OK.
It’s fine to laud NASCAR for making safety improvements over the years, but it’s not fine to follow that up by going, “Well, what else can they do about that danger besides parking the cars?”
Motorsports, unlike many other sports, is a game where there’s a legitimate, not at all outside chance of ending up dead. And while the best way to prevent death in motorsports is to stop racing, at the same time there have been plenty of safety developments found in the medium that have been passed down to Joe Sixpack in his commercial vehicles. And at the end of the day, as long as there are multiple cars in the world, there are going to be people who want to race them. It’s human nature at this point.
There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for these cars to scoot around Daytona, Talladega Superspeedway or really any track going over 200 mph. The very first lesson driving instructors teach their students is that speed kills; the faster a car is going, the worst the impact/wreck. Maybe it’s time to apply that to NASCAR again.
Yes, the last few years of restrictor plate racing were awful, follow-the-leader fests where the leader could kill all momentum of the car behind them by blocking. But it was also significantly more safe than tandem racing or the current higher horsepower superspeedway rules package.
And if NASCAR is going to extend its no-locked bumpers rule to Cup now, that’s a stupid move. Any rule that mentally limits a race car driver while on the racetrack is dumb, and the rule itself has a history of either not being enforced or being enforced when it really wasn’t a problem. NASCAR should fix these cars to eliminate the tandems without limiting the drivers; think back to the early Gen-6 days of 2013 and 2014, when the cars just couldn’t lock bumpers the way they were designed. It would save everybody a lot of headaches these next few years.
Could a trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway change the mood?
Now that the sunny shores of Daytona Beach are behind until August, the bright lights of Las Vegas herald the start of NASCAR’s yearly western swing.
While Daytona has been the start of the season for every national series for many years now, many in the garage have long called the race afterward the true start of the season, one where the great equalizer of Daytona – the draft – is not nearly as overpoweringly strong.
Las Vegas has really begun to turn into one of the tougher spots on the calendar to end up in victory lane. It has traditionally had long green flag runs, but now that the pavement has begun to age, tire fall-off/wear has also begun to really become a factor in recent years.
While I still stand by my stance last week that Kyle Busch is always the best option when the unknown is a key factor, the Fords are going to be very strong this weekend. Five of the last eight Cup races in the Sin City have been won by the blue oval, all but one coming from the Team Penske stable. A lot of talk competition-wise has been on a bit of a feud forming between Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, but Ryan Blaney should also be able to put aside everything that’s happened this past week and be fast come Sunday.
Can the No. 10 compete in the Xfinity Series?
While a lot of eyes will be on Ross Chastain’s Cup efforts this weekend in relief of Newman, I’m actually more interested in his NASCAR Xfinity team.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Kaulig Racing did go wrong at Daytona. Chastain and teammate AJ Allmendinger had mechanical problems in qualifying and failed to make the show. Then, in the race, Chastain, five laps down in the RSS Racing-owned No. 38 Chevrolet that Kaulig rented out while teammate Justin Haley, was able to at least salvage a sixth-place finish for the weekend.
Now, Kaulig enters Las Vegas with more questions than answers. Is this team prepared yet to run two full-time cars at a competitive level while also fielding a part-time ride in the Cup Series and an additional part-time ride in NXS competition?
We’ve seen what Chastain can do in good equipment. See just how great he was last year for Niece Motorsports in Trucks and his sporadic races with Chip Ganassi Racing the last few years on top of that. But there’s also some equipment that nobody, not even Chastain, can quite make work, like the vast, vast majority of the Cup opportunities he’s been given. But this is a team, ultimately, that finished 12th in points last season with just one full-time Chevrolet. It’s far from guaranteed that Chastain is going to be in championship-level equipment in NXS, and Saturday’s race will be a good indicator of what to expect from the watermelon farmer this season.