Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Should the Talladega Cup Race Be Postponed?

Should the NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway be postponed?

Kurt Busch was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms after a crash at Pocono Raceway in July. It’s been two months and there is no timetable for his return.

Alex Bowman had a hard crash at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday (Sept. 25), and it was announced today that Bowman will be sidelined with concussion-like symptoms for this Sunday’s (Oct. 2) race at Talladega Superspeedway.

The scariest part is that Bowman’s crash looks tame compared to some crashes that NASCAR has seen throughout the years. But with drivers taking the brunt of the impact in rear-end hits with the Next Gen car, it was a hard enough hit to cause injury.

Kevin Harvick also had a similar crash later in the race in which his car backed into the outside wall after losing a tire. Harvick was not diagnosed with a concussion, but he tweeted that he was still hurting the day after.

With the Gen 4, Car of Tomorrow and Gen 6 cars, a rear end impact would have destroyed the back of the car. That is expected to happen, as the crumpling sheet metal dissipates the energy of the impact.

But with the Next Gen car, only the hardest of hits have caused the car to significantly crumple. Otherwise, the car remains too rigid. And when the car isn’t absorbing the impact, the driver does. It’s why numerous drivers this season have said that impacts with the Next Gen car have been among the hardest in their careers.

Harvick’s crash likely would have resulted in terminal damage with the previous generations of cars. But the car was practically undamaged after the hit, and he finished on the lead lap in 19th after getting the free pass on a later caution. Bowman’s damage took slightly longer to repair, but he ended the day just five laps off the pace. And because the No. 48 team repaired the car before the DVP expired, Bowman never had a check at the infield care center after a collision. Knowing now that Bowman has concussion-like symptoms, it is concerning that he was able to run the final 238 laps after such an impact.

With another driver sidelined, it makes one wonder about the validity of running this weekend’s race at Talladega. It is one of the fastest tracks on the schedule and the cars race in a giant pack. Superspeedways have turned into crash-fests in the past, and in all likelihood, the chances of it happening again on Sunday are high. And based on what we’ve seen with Busch and Bowman, a driver getting rear-ended in a Big One can be dangerous.

Yes, there is always a risk in driving a racecar. But there is absolutely no excuse to be going backward in driver safety. Whether it’s making substantial changes to the Next Gen car or using the Xfinity Series car until issues can be resolved, significant needs to happen before 2023.

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: NASCAR Can't Let Stellar Safety Innovation Stop Now

There is precedent for a sanctioning body to cancel a race out of safety concerns. In 2001, CART was set to make its debut at Texas. During practice and qualifying, however, the cars were reaching speeds of over 230 mph, a speed that caused drivers to feel dizzy both in and out of the car. It was calculated that the drivers risked losing consciousness due to excessive g-forces from the speed, and with no viable way to slow the cars down, the race was canceled two hours before it was supposed to begin on April 29, 2001.

There are monetary forces involved to make sure that the race runs, and drivers in the playoffs would take a huge hit in the championship if they decided to withdraw. That said, the drivers are the ones driving the cars. If they feel uncomfortable racing this weekend, they should have every right to sit this one out.

Whether teams would go home or hire someone else in this hypothetical scenario is unknown, but replacement drivers wouldn’t be a new development. In the inaugural race at Talladega in 1969, the majority of the field chose not to compete due to concerns about blown tires and the track surface. The race went ahead with a roster of relatively unknown replacement drivers.

Drivers this year have been vocal about the impacts and problems with the car, and if these problems are not addressed going forward, it would not be a surprise for drivers to take a bigger stand.

Does the NASCAR competition department need an overhaul?

Between hard crashes, tire failures and questionable officiating calls, Texas was a race to forget.

Greg Stucker from Goodyear was brought into the Texas Motor Speedway media center toward the end of the race to discuss the tire failures, while Scott Miller, the svp of competition at NASCAR, was brought in to address the tire failures and the decision to not penalize William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution.

Miller said NASCAR didn’t see the source of Hamlin’s spin because it was focused on Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash; by the time it had discovered it, the race was back under green.

Byron was ultimately handed a 25-point penalty and $50,000 fine after the race, but the situation still feels strange. Likewise, Gragson received no in-race penalty for the Big One at Road America after intentionally crashing Sage Karam. There was a swift criticism of the crash, however, and Gragson was hit was a 30-point deduction later in the week.

In the NTT IndyCar Series and Formula 1, there are stewards that review contact and incidents for any violations. If the stewards discover a violation, it is announced during the race, regardless of whether or not the race is under caution. If NASCAR doesn’t see the contact or doesn’t have a definitive answer on what to call before the race resumes, there should be no need to hold judgment until the race is over.

After all, other incidents can be reviewed under green. If a driver jumps the restart, they are black flagged and ordered down pit lane if they are found guilty of a violation.

As for race control, it’s the third significant controversy that it has been involved in for the Cup Series this season. There was criticism for the premature caution right as Ryan Blaney was about to cross the finish line, and there was further criticism when Blaney was not given time to resecure his window net after he thought the race was over. At Daytona, rain was in the area and the race stayed green to where more than half of the field was taken out in a popup rain shower.

It hasn’t been a good year for race control, and it’s the second controversy with rain after the three leaders crashed in the rain at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last year. If these problems continue in 2023, it’s time to explore changes.

How good are the odds of Noah Gragson winning a fifth straight NASCAR Xfinity Series race?

With a dominant win at Texas Motor Speedway, Noah Gragson tied Sam Ard with four-straight wins in the Xfinity Series. He went undefeated during the month of September as his last loss came at Daytona on Aug. 26, when he led nearly half the race but crashed out during the second overtime.

With Gragson locked into the Round of 8 after his wins at Texas, he can focus all of his attention on winning for the fifth consecutive time.

It’s certainly doable. While no one in the Modern Era has won five consecutive Cup races, Ron Hornaday Jr. won five straight NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races en route to the championship in 2009.

That said, it’s an unlucky break for Gragson that the fifth win in question will have to come at Talladega. With a huge pack of cars, drafting and the potential to be caught up in a crash at any time, it is never a guarantee that the fastest car makes it to victory lane.

However, Gragson has established himself as one of the best plate racers in 2022. After all, he visited victory lane at Talladega in April after holding off the field in overtime. He also showed muscle at Daytona, as he finished third in February and had the aforementioned August race where he dominated before crashing toward the end.

Gragson won’t be without competition, however, as Austin Hill won at Daytona in February and Atlanta Motor Speedway in July. He led the most laps at Talladega in the spring before crashing out and was the leader for the final restart at Daytona in August before running out of fuel. Kaulig Racing had established itself as the dominant superspeedway program in years past, and while they haven’t visited victory lane on them this season, they can’t be counted out either.

For Gragson, he needs to focus on keeping his car in one piece to prepare for the final 10 laps. From there on, he needs to battle the front of the field and hope that he’s in the lead when the checkered flag waves. As Richard Petty once said, “all you can do is put yourself in a position to win and let circumstances dictate the outcome.”

See also
Jeffrey Earnhardt Reflects on RCR Talladega Race, Feels at Home at Sam Hunt

Will the Truck winner at Talladega lead more than one lap?

Yes, this is a serious question.

In the last four Truck races at Talladega, the winner has led only the final lap. Timothy Peters was the first of the one-lap-led winners in 2018, while Spencer Boyd, Raphael Lessard and Tate Fogleman have kept the streak alive for the last three years. For Boyd, Lessard and Fogleman, the Talladega triumphs all represent their first — and only — Truck win. For Peters, Talladega 2018 is to date the final win of his series career.

It’s not a surprise that the Truck races at Talladega have traditionally ended in chaos or a surprise winner. In the last 14 Truck races at the track, the driver that led the most laps has only gone on to win three times. In 10 of the 14, the winner led 10 laps or less.

But what is a surprise is how the chaotic endings have been amped up to 11. The last four Truck races at Talladega either went to overtime or had a crash on the final lap. The 2021 race had both.

In 2018 and 2020, the driver that took the white flag was swept up in a crash before they made it to the finish line. In 2019, the initial winner (Johnny Sauter) was penalized for forcing a driver below the yellow line and relegated to the tail end of the lead lap. In 2021, John Hunter Nemechek was the leader through the trioval before the eventual winner in Fogleman spun him out.

Will the streak end in 2022? The odds say yes. Having the winner lead one lap for four straight years is such a statistical outlier that having it happen for a fifth straight would be absurd.

But Talladega doesn’t care about what the odds say, as calamity can strike at any moment. If Saturday’s (Oct. 1) race has a clean finish, the winner will likely be a driver that was out front for much of the day. But if the race features several late-race crashes, a one-lap-led winner may very well happen again.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf joined Frontstretch in September 2021. He is a staff writer and the Friday news writer. Stephen also pens the weekly “4 Burning Questions” column and contributes to “Friday Faceoff” and “2-Headed Monster.” A Texas native, Stephen started following NASCAR at age 9.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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burns

nascar wont change until someone gets killed.maybe this weekend

John D Hickson

“If you’re not a race driver, stay the hell home. Don’t come here and grumble about going too fast. Get the hell out of the race car if you’ve got feathers on your legs or butt. Put a kerosene rag around your ankles so the ants won’t climb up and eat that candy ass.”
― Dale Earnhardt

Echo

I don’t think anyone is afraid of the speed, it’s the lack of safety they are concerned with for good reasons. Why should any of them die just because idiots got the car wrong and will never admit any wrong they do. That’s the problem if you have been watching.

TCinAZ

Everyone with basic fabrication skills and experience in racing knew this chassis was too rigid! Been saying this since testing began.

Kurt Smith

I’m in favor of removing Talladega, Daytona, and Atlanta from the schedule completely. Pack racing always sucks.

Jeremy

Why would anyone cancel the biggest, fastest, hardest-crashing demolition derby in the world just because the cars are unsafe? Add in the wildcard – one entitled Grand-Daddy’s money driver in the field who becomes completely unhinged and goes full psycho-mode when any competitor slightly touches his precious car and you have the recipe for some great action and hard hits for the marketing highlight reel! What could possibly go wrong?

Dale EarnHog

Thankfully, it just went off without a hitch.

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