Fixing Talladega: Reverting Back To The Past?

Eric HobbsCorrespondent IApril 29, 2009

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 26:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Claritin Ford goes airborne as Ryan Newman, driver of the #34 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet hits the wall at the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

After Sunday's spectacular finish to the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, many are questioning the racing style and the safety measures taken to protect both fans and drivers. Carl Edwards, whose car hit Ryan Newman and flipped and spun into the fence separating fans from the track, said he thought nothing would change until someone was killed.

According to Dale Earnhardt Jr., the problem is not the speed of the cars, rather it is that so many cars are virtually on top of each other, meaning that one person's mistake will undoubtedly collect a large number of drivers.

The field of 43 cars is kept from separating by the air flow restrictor plates, which keep air from getting to the carburetor, limiting horsepower. This makes the draft vital to success, and thus, cars will be bunched together, often with 20 or more within a second of each other.

I believe the solution to this safety issue is to either use a much smaller plate or to eliminate it altogether.

In 1987, Bobby Allison blew a tire and was in an eerily similar wreck to the one Edwards was in on Sunday. Both were just before the finish line at Talladega, and both cars went airborne into the catchfence.

The Allison incident directly led to NASCAR creating the restrictor plate, hoping to prevent such scenes from happening again.

That plan has failed, and instead of solving the problem they were meant to solve, restrictor plates have now created problems, such as "the big one", a wreck that invariably occurs at some point during a race at a restrictor plate track (Daytona and Talladega) that wipes out many cars and often involves cars going airborne. 

If the plates were gone, the field of cars would be able to spread itself out, like at other tracks. Instead of a cut tire taking out 15 cars, it could be just the one. The big one would never happen again, and races would be more entertaining. As it is now we run the risk of what happened Sunday happening again.

Some argue that speeds would be too high without restrictor plates. Bill Elliott once qualified at Talladega with an average speed of just over 212 miles an hour, and Rusty Wallace ran a test session without a restrictor plate a few years ago and topped 230 miles an hour.

While those are mind-boggling speeds, I don't believe they make the sport any more dangerous than it currently is. After all, the high speed crashes with violent spins and flips are rarely the ones that cause injuries. In such wrecks, like Richard Petty's wild ride at Daytona in 1988, energy is dissipated as and the driver absorbs less of the impact.