Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reconfiguration is the best option NASCAR has for both Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.

As a NASCAR fan that has been watching and for the most part enjoying the sport (yes the sport does like most things in life have issues) for a good 17 years now, both Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are among the most exciting racing in the sport, but not the only excitement. I love short track racing like Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond, and yes Phoenix and New Hampshire are getting to be exciting races with this new COT cars in the Cup Series.

Restrictor plate racing in mind eyes is a heart-stopping, yet hard to watch at times type (or form) of racing in NASCAR. Let me state the obvious, I am not a huge restrictor plate racing fan but while I don’t hate this type of racing, for the most part, I don’t like it too much either. I would describe restrictor plate racing as a giant chess match and at the same time, a game of survival, you don’t win one of these races, you survival the races, you just came in first in the game of survival. (It’s like winning CBS’s reality show Survivor”, you outwit, outplayed, and outlast your competitors, of course in this day that could describe most racing at this level.)

The good news for some NASCAR fans including me are that restrictor plate racing is only run four times a year, and in those four times, there is always the fear of "The Big One" that is caused half the time by aggressive driving or just that one stupid move.

When it comes to restrictor plate racing, there is a good sized difference between Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Daytona is more of handling racetrack; drivers have a little bit more control, not much, but a little bit. The racing is better at Daytona as well. Both the Daytona 500 and the Firecracker 400 (I know the name has changed to the Coca Zero 400, but I like the Firecracker 400 better and the name fully describes the race) Normally I would rate the Daytona 500 in the top 5 best races of just about any given season including both the 2007 and 2008 season, but not in 2009, the race had its downfalls not of NASCAR’s making, it’s just a racing deal.

However when it comes to Talladega Superspeedway, that's a completely different story, at times it’s hard to watch a race both Series. There’s really no control and if you have read my blog before, while I have called one or two races in the past several years good, most of the time the headline has read "Demotion Derby at Talladega.... for NASCAR", its survival, period. That’s it, that’s not like watching a race at Richmond, Bristol, and Martinsville or even at Atlanta, but it is the art of restrictor plate racing.

After this past Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, NASCAR once again was put into a corner. The race was not only once again described as Demotion Derby, but was the same Talladega as it always is, some excitement and yet hard to watch at times, but this time, NASCAR, drivers, teams, owners, media and the fans got a huge realty check at just how dangerous not only racing is, but how dangerous restrictor plate racing is.

First, only 8 laps into the Aaron’s 499, “The Big One” struck several of the top contending drivers when in a tight pack up towards the front when Matt Kenseth got into Jeff Gordon touching off a chain reaction. Basically, if have tough packs, it’s rare to have a spinning car and not have it turned into a giant wreck and this collected not only Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick, but several other drivers including Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer with some done for the day.

I do have to say, hats off to first Michael Waltrip for an incredible safe when he got into his teammate #47, not the #47 doing and Waltrip slide down through the grass and down towards the start/finish line and didn’t hit the wall and second, Kurt Busch for making just about the same save, good piece of driving.

However, the end of the race was shaping up to be a two-driver battle between #39-Ryan Newman being bump drafted by #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., but out of nowhere going through the tri-oval and the white flag came out, #99-Carl Edwards in another two-car draft with #09-Brad Keselowski bump drafting him past Newman/Earnhardt Jr. to take the lead.

Carl Edwards slams into the catch fence on the last lap of last Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports)

But then the “nightmare” happened, going through the tri-oval, the #09 in second, tried to go to the high side to pass, but the #99 went to block, #09 went down (but stayed above the yellow line, yellow line was in effect) and stayed there, the #99 came down, the #09 was there, they touched and the #99 got air born, came down somewhat, but got nailed by the #39, launched sideways and into the outside catch fence with NASCAR fans on the other side, the catch fence did its job, holding the 3400ib stockcar in the track, but scattered debris into the stands where seven fans were injured, one with a broken jaw. (I hope everyone is ok, scary thing to watch)

The #09- Brad Keselowski slipped by to pickup his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, beating out his boss in the Nationwide Series and friend #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.. Carl Edwards would climb from a wrecked racecar and run across the finish line.

After the “nightmare” at the end of a very controversial Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, this has touched off reaction from the drivers, teams, owners, media and the fans not only at home, but who were at Talladega on Sunday calling for change, what should be down to create better safer racing for the drivers and the fans.

Two key pieces:
1. Even without the yellow line rule, this wreck most likely would have happened anyway, Brad Keselowski would have had to go into the grass and that would have touched off a whole different type of issues. The yellow line rule wasn’t at fault here, next.

2. Nor Brad Keselowski or Carl Edwards did another wrong, Brad had to stay above the yellow line and hold position, Carl was simply defending his position to get the victory, it was the last lap going through the tri-oval, the line was just car lengths away. So nor Brad or Carl was at fault.

No, this was NASCAR’s and the Talladega Superspeedway’s fault period, they created this, the drivers were just following the rules.

With that said, I’m not in pointing fingers and blame game business, I, as a NASCAR fan want this fixed, however I am not an expert on this and don’t claim to be, but I do have three suggestions.

1. NASCAR policing the racing by giving heavier penalties to drivers for blocking and aggressive driving isn’t the answer, you will still have the same danger, a lot of pissed off drivers and fans and the drivers will still do it anyway.

2. A temp solution to protect the fans and the people on pit road would be to move leave the original wall in the original spots and build new wall one lane further out with a 21 feet tall wall and a bigger overhang. This would give just a little bit more room between the racecars and the fans for safety and it would shorten up the grove at Talladega from turn 4 through the tri-oval and down to turn 1. At Daytona, it would be all the way around. At the same time, all racetracks should look at this as well and the inside wall too, flying debris can go anywhere from the grandstands to the infield.

For example: Last May at Lowe’s Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, Brian Vickers wrecked in turn 2, losing a tire and wheel which flow off and landed in the infield in a camper foldout, debris can go anywhere.

Keeping with walls, put a outside wall between the pit road and the racing surface, Talladega, Daytona, Atlanta, Charlotte just to name a few don’t have one, that’s safety both ways.

3. But the best and most suggested is for both Talladega Superspeedway and the Daytona International Speedway to reconfigure the racetracks by lowering the banking, variable banking leading up to 24 degrees. This option would slow the cars down by making them brake going into the turn 1 and turn 3, but I would suggest flat corners. Currently these cars are around 200 MPH, that’s way too fast.

On Sunday at the conclusion of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, everyone from NASCAR to the drivers, teams, owners, media and the fans got a reality check as to how dangerous not only racing is, but how dangerous restrictor plate racing is, we got lucky, this could have been worse, but both the car and the catch fence did its job, but at the same time more needs to be down. I know danger is a part of racing and I understand that, but how dangerous does it need to be? And remember, safety is a part of racing, just like excitement and danger is a part of racing, what’s next?