NASCAR's Old Problem with a New Name

Michael OleszekAnalyst IApril 29, 2009

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 26:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Pedigree Toyota, leads a group of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

NASCAR racing at the series' two biggest tracks have come along way since their inception in 1959 and 1969, respectively.

Daytona and Talladega combine each year to make up just four of the 36 races that make up the NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule.

However, each visit to these tracks cause owners, drivers, crew chiefs, and fans to either go crazy with excitement or dread the inevitable.

The inevitable being "The Big One," a devastating wreck that can consume a few cars or the majority of the field.

"The Big One" has become increasingly commonplace at these two tracks since the requirement of restrictor plates, which NASCAR mandated after Bobby Allison had a nasty wreck during the spring 1987 race at Talladega.

The wreck, which was referenced during Sunday's race telecast, is considered by many to be one of the worst wrecks in NASCAR history.

Depending on which version of the story you consider to be true, Bobby Allison's tire either had a blowout or was cut on a piece of engine debris from his own car. There have been other accounts of the wreck that say someone threw a beer can on the track, and that caused the wreck.

Either way, the wreck happened—and the result was a number of injured spectators and the catch fence sustained a good amount of damage.

Sound familiar?

The wreck was also one of the contributing factors to Bobby Allison's retirement, along with a near fatal wreck later that year at Pocono.

The restrictor plates that NASCAR mandated at both Daytona and Talladega, and one time at Loudon, are nothing more than a temporary fix to a permanent problem.

The plates do what they are designed to do: restrict.

They restrict the airflow intake into the engines of the cars, which significantly robs the cars of horsepower.

This practice, especially at Talladega, bunches the field into one huge pack, which combined with the multiple lanes of racing and a gradual decline in the actual racing skills by the influx of newer drivers, and you get a perfect storm of wrecks waiting to happen.

What happened to Carl Edwards on Sunday was nothing short of spectacular in wrecking terms, but in all reality, it wasn't that bad.

He walked away from it.

There have been wrecks at Talladega since the inception of restrictor plates that have been much worse.

Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Elliot Sadler, Bobby Labonte, Rick Mast, Mark Martin, and Johnny Sauter all had wrecks at the track that put Carl Edwards to shame.

Now, however; with the pack mentality that prevails in plate racing, and the games of follow the leader that occur during a race, any advantage that can be taken usually is.

Blocking is just one of these advantages, and it also causes a good amount of the wrecks at these two tracks.

So, to counter blocking, drivers would race below the yellow line in order to improve their position.

This was all well and good...until NASCAR instituted the "yellow line rule" in 2001.

The rule states that drivers are not prohibited from dropping below the line to avoid another car, but they cannot drop below the yellow line to improve their position.

Because of this rule, drivers use the line as a wall to block faster cars behind them.

Then you're faced with the ultimate catch 22: Drive below the yellow line and run the risk of receiving a penalty, get sent back to the end of the longest line, and basically forfeit a win much like Regan Smith did last year.

Or, stand your ground like Brad Keselowski did, cause someone to wreck, and win the race.

Then, what you're ultimately left with is a trail of debris, torn up racecars, pissed off drivers and fans, unlikely winners, and occasionally injured spectators and drivers; if not worse.

But, with all that being said, how much safer do you want to make it for the drivers and fans?

Every safety measure that the drivers already have is due to prior incidents, which later mandated them:

SAFER barriers, HANS devices, full-face helmets, fireproof suits, throttle kill switches, seat belt harnesses, 'Earnhardt' bars, window nets, Lexan windows, roof flaps on the cars, restrictor plates, and the Car of Tommorow ALL came to be because of wrecks, injuries, and even deaths that occurred either in a race or testing.

That unfortunately, is the collateral damage that NASCAR faces in order to make the sport safer for it's competitors.

But, what the drivers and fans often fail to remember is that these drivers are willing to pilot a 3,800 pound machine around at speeds close to 200 miles per hour for close to four hours.

This is their job.

They don't have to do this for a living. They choose to. Any one of the drivers who gets into a stock car can get out at any time they want. 

Drivers run the risk of being involved in a wreck every week, and when a NASCAR fan puts down their hard earned money to purchase a ticket, they run the risk of possible injury as well.

No fan going to a race wants to be hurt by flying debris, but it happens.

That is the risk the fans take when they sit down in a large metal and concrete structure filled with 43 racing machines. 

When people go to any sporting event, you run the same risk as you would crossing the street.

Make sure to look both ways.  


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