After NASCAR driver Ryan Newman was released from the medical centre at Talladega Superspeedway, he was set upon by the normal flock of microphone clutching journalists and race reporters.
However, the interview he gave was far from the normal NASCAR diatribe, but it was still sadly familiar to any fan who has watched racing at either of NASCAR’s restrictor plate tracks.
“[The crash] is a product of this racing and what NASCAR’s put us into with this box with these restrictor plates, with these types of cars, with the yellow line, with the no bump drafting, no passing. Drivers used to be able to respect each other and race around each other,” he said. “I guess [NASCAR] don’t think much of us anymore.”
Most of Newman’s anger during the interview was aimed at the sanctioning body itself for implanting rule that banned the normal bump-drafting in the corners, or as Dale Earnhardt Jr. put it, “it’s like the NFL changing from tackle to two hand touch football.”
And even before you think of how that rule change affected the racing, it is plain to see the way NASCAR put it into action was, and still is, moronic.
The announcement, made at the Sunday drivers’ meeting by NASCAR president Mike Helton, came on the morning of the race.
After all the practice sessions had been run, after the car had qualified with their race set-up (Talladega being an impound race).
NASCAR is known for its knee-jerk rulings and having a rule book that often appears to be written in the sand at low tide, but Talladega took their goal post moving to new levels.
They actually moved the goal posts while everyone was playing.
Denny Hamlin openly admitted that his car was set-up to run what he called the “two car hook up,” the tactic which dominated the race at track earlier in the year.
Then you have to question the motivation.
What made NASCAR ban bump-drafting in the corners? There was no big crash in practice, the only big crash in the Truck Series race was caused by bumping on the back straight. The headline-grabbing crash in the Spring race was caused by Brad Keselowski obeying the yellow line rule, and both big crashes yesterday were started on the straights.
In fact, Newman’s accident may have been caused by NASCAR’s bump-drafting rule.
The TV pictures (and crucial audio) before the crash were on board with Mark Martin, who was drafting in the top lane some half dozen car ahead of Newman. And, as he enters the corner, you hear Martin lift to keep off the rear of Brad Keselowski’s car. On the face of it, Martin lifted because of NASCAR’s bump-drafting, a lift that rippled back down the pack until Tony Stewart backed off, just enough to get tapped by Newman, who had lifted enough to get tagged by Marcos Ambrose.
Even before the crash, fans were critical of the single file racing that the race fell into several times. Personally, I feel that was inevitable. With the new bump-drafting rules, and the smaller restrictor plate, the drivers were bound to spend some time finding out exactly what they could do.
They did the exact same thing the first time the COT chassis was used at Talladega, plus you cannot expect drivers to spend 500 miles walking the tightrope of three and four wide racing, especially when 12 of them are racing for the title.
Now, let’s address Newman’s assertion that NASCAR don’t trust the drivers. Firstly, I believe restrictor plates (or anyway of slowing the cars down) are the best way of racing at the giant Superspeedways.
Otherwise, the speeds the cars would be travelling would be incredibly dangerous. The lap record speed at Talladega is 212mph. With the advances in technology and the expertise of the teams, the speeds possible now would make any crash, even a single car one, a potential tragedy.
Remember, it was Bobby Allison’s single car crash in 1987 that is credited with bringing the advent of restrictor plates. As trustworthy as teams and drivers may be the one area where they cannot be trusted is to limit their own speed, they need to have it limited for them.
NASCAR felt that even with the plates speeds were still too high, and further decreased the horsepower of the engines for Sunday’s race.
What they didn’t need to do was ban bump-drafting.
If, as we are always being told (no matter how wrongly), the 43 best drivers in the world race in NASCAR, then they should, like Newman says, be trusted to race safely.
The COT chassis gave drivers front and rear bumpers that are the same height—perfect for bump drafting. The car is also very safe. That element was once more give a fine advert on Sunday as two drivers survived rolls.
However, perhaps the worst indictment of NASCAR’s rule was that now, nearly 15 hours after the end of the race, exactly no penalties have been levied.
I may not have perfect 20/20 vision, but I’m sure I saw some bump-drafting in the corners, and even if I didn’t, I certainly didn’t see daylight between cars, and all the public heard (or were told) was near endless and general warnings from NASCAR.
That makes it a hollow threat, and as any parenting book will tell you, a hollow threat is an easy way to lose respect.