Talladega is not safe, but it sure is exciting.
This, of course, can be said about auto racing in general and it is amplified in NASCAR races at Talladega and Daytona, the two tracks where cars are equipped with restrictor plates.
Sunday's excitement came on the final lap and it was right with the leaders. Check it out:
Matt Kenseth cruised in front of the mangling metal and took the win. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries.
And while Tony Stewart most definitely started the wreck, it was not his fault. Stewart slid down to block a hard charging Michael Waltrip, and he just couldn't get there in time, but Stewart was just going for the win. It's a move that would have been attempted by most, if not all, drivers.
This wreck is more fairly attributed to the nature of restrictor plate races. These guys run around the track tightly bunched all day with no margin for error. When you add the intensity of the dropping checkered flag, and the drivers push for the win, there are going to be wrecks. With everyone in a big pack, the wrecks are going to take out a lot of drivers.
Understandably, this can be a nerve-wracking reality for drivers to deal with. In the blink of an eye, they can see their hard work for the day or even for the year disappear in a puff of smoke, and they hope that there are no injuries serious enough to make caring about such things seem trivial.
There is almost always at least one driver with something negative to say about restrictor plates after one of those races. This time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the most vocal.
Sports Illustrated's Dustin Long passed along this exchange between Earnhardt and the media following the race:
"If this is what we did every week" [Earnhardt told reporters] "I wouldn't be doing it."
I know it sucks for you guys but for the fans it's awesome to watch,'' a reporter said.
"Really? It's not safe,'' Earnhardt said. "Wrecking like that is ridiculous. It's bloodthirsty if that's what people want.
It is easy to understand Earnhardt's perspective. He was just in a giant crash while travelling 200 mph, and he was just told it's "awesome to watch." And it is. I don't mean the crash, but the racing that caused it.
These guys are running three wide most of the day, and they have to bump, push and fight for every position on the track. It sets up an atmosphere that is as exciting as racing can offer.
NASCAR needs races like this. The cars run so smooth now, with the points system rewarding consistency, that the non-restrictor plate races often feature long stretches without without any restarts. This leads to cars getting spread, and racing devolving to just driving.
Tightly packed races with exciting restarts, like Daytona and Talladega, are what NASCAR needs to keep their sport relevant.
And while there are obvious concerns about driver safety, the entire reason the plates were introduced in the first place was to improve driver safety by keeping the speeds down.
It is going to take more than negative comments from drivers for NASCAR to rethink their restrictor plate races.
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