Kyle Larson Nationwide Crash a Reminder That Blocking Is a Danger to All

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2013

The end result of blocking. Is it really worth it?
The end result of blocking. Is it really worth it?Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The horrific wreck that occurred at the end of Saturday's Nationwide Series race was one of the worst that NASCAR has ever seen.

Numerous fans were injured, several seriously, when a shower of debris from the wrecked car of young driver Kyle Larson, who was involved in a massive multi-car crash, flew up into the grandstands.

The motor of Larson's car pierced the steel cables of the catchfence and wound up on the walkway just steps from the front row of seating.

Other shrapnel-like debris went sailing upward over several succeeding rows.

But the most frightening part of the wreck was a tire from Larson's car that somehow flew up and over the catchfence, appearing to hit a number of fans several rows back like a wayward bowling ball.

One can only speculate how fast the projectile was traveling when it reached the seating area, and anyone unfortunate to be in its path likely took a serious blow.

The wreck began when Regan Smith, who was battling Tony Stewart for the win on the last lap of the race, attempted to block defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski from passing him.

Keselowski had nowhere to go and slammed into the rear of Smith's car, triggering the massive wreck and the chaos that ensued. Larson's car sustained the brunt of the wreck, being torn apart in thirds.

The front end wound up in the wall, the catchfence and the walkway at the head of the seating area. The rear end disintegrated, with one of the back tires coming loose and taking flight over the catchfence.

The middle part of the car remained intact, leaving Larson uninjured—but with no front or back end left.

Smith was trying to protect his turf and attempted to block Keselowski from getting past. That's what racers do when they're on the final lap, and the checkered flag is just a few hundred feet away.

Sadly, this isn't the first time this kind of wreck and resulting aftereffects have occurred. One need only look back to April 27, 2009, when Carl Edwards' car became airborne during a Sprint Cup at Talladega.

Edwards' car plowed into the catchfence, but fortunately, it did not disintegrate nearly as much as Larson's did Saturday. The catchfence did its job by keeping Edwards' car from getting into the stands, but still, some wayward debris from the wreck did fly into the seating area, resulting in a number of injuries.

Interestingly, the driver who catapulted Edwards' car in that episode was also Keselowski, who after spinning Edwards after he attempted to "block" Keselowski, went on to win the race.

In 1999, during an Indy Racing League event at the-then Lowe's Motor Speedway (now Charlotte Motor Speedway), another high-speed wreck resulted in the tragic deaths of three fans, with a wayward tire that flew up into the stands being a significant contributing factor.

Again, it was because one driver was trying to, using racing parlance, "throw a block" on another driver.

I understand race car drivers. I know they want to win at all costs. They're willing to do whatever they have to do to keep the other guy from getting past.

But when something like what happened Saturday or at 'Dega four years ago or Indy over a dozen years ago occurs, when do we start thinking that blocking is something that needs to be seriously addressed by NASCAR?

I've long advocated such and have drawn some harsh criticism from several fans. They use the argument that blocking is part of racing and that fans understand the risks that they run by buying tickets and sitting close to the action.

I get that argument. I may not necessarily agree with it, but I respect those fans' opinions.

Let me ask a question: What do Saturday's wreck, the Talladega fiasco in 2009 and last fall's 24-car wreck in the Sprint Cup race at Talladega all have in common?

They were caused by blocking.

In an irony of sorts, Stewart, who ultimately won Saturday's Nationwide race, his seventh win in nine starts, triggered the huge pileup at Talladega last fall because he didn't want Michael Waltrip and Casey Mears to get past him.

So Stewart came down on Waltrip's car in an attempt to "block" him. But in so doing, Waltrip was like Keselowski Saturday; he had nowhere to go and piled into the back of Stewart's car, causing a wreck that looked spectacular, but was also the result of a bonehead move.

We can't blame Larson for what happened Saturday. He was simply caught up in a wreck where he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can't necessarily blame Keselowski, either, because he had nowhere to go when Smith tried to stop his forward progress.

So by default, the blame falls upon Smith as the individual who caused Saturday's wreck. He was trying to "protect" his position by blocking Keselowski, but in the process, triggered a wreck that hurt a lot of innocent people, some seriously.

And for what?

Was Smith that greedy that he couldn't let Keselowski go by? Was Keselowski so greedy that even with Smith attempting to block him, he kept his pedal to the floor, pushing Smith sideways into the outside retaining wall, causing mayhem as a result?

"I tried to throw a block," Smith admitted. "I knew Brad was going to make a move. It's Daytona. You have to go for it. We were coming to the checkered flag. You want to win. I don't know how you can play it any differently, other than conceding to second place, and I wasn't going to do that."

Try telling that to the reported 15 victims and their families. Going for a win was more important than finishing second. Throwing complete caution and disregard for the chance of winning a trophy and a cash prize is worth more than human life and safety.

Have we not learned lessons from Edwards' wreck in 2009? To its credit, NASCAR made significant improvements to the catchfence at 'Dega to further reduce risk to the fans.

But when you boil things down to the bottom line, blocking was the culprit, just like Saturday. Is winning one race, even if it's at the fabled Daytona International Speedway, so important that common sense gets thrown out the window?

Again, to its credit, NASCAR did phenomenal work in improving the safety of racing for drivers after the tragic loss at Daytona on Feb. 18, 2001, when the sport lost its biggest star, Dale Earnhardt, in a last-lap wreck.

But even with all the improvements, the fact remains that Earnhardt also died while attempting to block the rest of the field from catching the front-runners, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who raced for Earnhardt's team (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) at the time.

It's a matter of simple physics: pull in front of someone, and if they're unable—or unwilling, as in Keselowski's case—to jump on the brakes to avoid a wreck, you're ultimately going to wind up with disastrous results.

We've seen this happen too many times. It's time NASCAR looks at the so-called art of blocking and realize it's neither art nor pretty. It's what more than a dozen innocent fans experienced firsthand Saturday.

Blocking has hurt a lot of people—and even claimed the sport's biggest star. Isn't that enough?

I'd rather see intentional and blatant blocking outlawed than to see another disgusting example of what the need to win at all costs can ultimately produce.

We were having such a great buildup during Speedweeks—Danica Patrick earning the pole, the new Sprint Cup car and so much more. There was an air of anticipation that we haven't seen in NASCAR in several years. And then to have what happened Saturday. It created a black eye the sport did not need.

And a lot of folks got hurt by something the sport doesn't need, either.

(Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski)


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