Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Atrocity that was Talladega, and the Last Great Danger in Stock Cars

I was so pumped for Talladega. This track is one of the coolest tracks in NASCAR, and I get excited for both its races every season. I could always count on seeing some of the weirdest and wackiest stuff happen here.

At least, that was until yesterday.

You see, at Talladega, especially in the era of the COT, the drivers don’t just count on drafting, but bump-drafting. With the COT, the bumpers line up well enough to allow drivers to do this with relative ease (at least, easier than the old cars).

The coolest thing we saw with the bump-draft was the two-car breakaways – when two cars would be literally touching bumper-to-bumper, and the aerodynamics allowed them to fly 10 miles-per-hour faster than the other cars.

But, not any more.

In the driver’s meeting, NASCAR warned the drivers that bump-drafting would not be tolerated in the corners (to make the breakaway effective, the cars needed to be hooked up for at least half a lap).

In their defense, it was for safety – if the bumping was done wrong, it could cause a multi-car pileup. But that’s all I’ll give them.

What you saw on Sunday were drivers running scared – not scared of the track, not scared of the speed, not scared of being in the “big one,” but scared of doing something wrong by NASCAR.

This took away one of the biggest tools for the driver at this track, and changed the strategy for many of them. It took away what was an element of unpredictability and left drivers wondering what they were going to do.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. commented, “it’s like the NFL going from tackle football to two-hand touch.”

Watching the ABC broadcast, one could hear the disgust in the drivers’ voices, as well as those of the broadcasters.

Fans on NASCAR’s Facebook page were outraged: “NASCAR has ruined their best race,” “Something happen, anything happen…” “The FOOD channel is more exciting than this race” were only some of the comments.

To this, NASCAR issued a plea to its facebook fans to try and explain themselves, “Everyone could use a push at Talladega, but the wrong push can result in all-out chaos.”

Pardon me, but isn’t that how Talladega has always been anyway?

The drivers were so scared of getting penalized by NASCAR that they were unwilling to actually race. Instead, they were content to ride around single file most of the day, because it was the safest thing to do – not from a performance or competition standpoint, but because they didn’t want to break the new rule.

I’ve never been one to bash NASCAR, but look…

This is racing. Sometimes cars crash, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The driver’s don’t want to crash, and will prevent it to the best of their ability. But, when it comes down to it, the only way not to crash is not to race, which is pretty much what we saw.

And, I’m not so certain all these rules didn’t cause more dangerous racing. Ryan Newman didn’t seem to think so either.

Newman, who was involved in a wreck that sent him airborne, after telling the fans they should all “just go home,” listed the sides of the box NASCAR has the drivers in:

• The restrictor plate
• The car
• The yellow line
• The no-bump-drafting rule

These drivers are professionals, but were being treated like kindergarteners (remember, some of them have been racing since they were in kindergarten). They know how to not crash; NASCAR doesn’t need to explain it to them. But, they lost their ability to do what they needed to do to win.

Once again, I don’t like to bash NASCAR – it is, and always will be, my favorite sport. This weekend was, however, the first time I have been absolutely livid with a decision by the sanctioning body. Too bad the drivers can’t book them for Section 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) of the NASCAR rule book.

These drivers are professionals. Just let them do what they need to do.

Other NASCAR Notes

After watching Ryan Newman’s wild flip, and the subsequent extrication process, I came to the conclusion that getting out of the car is the last great danger in stock car racing.

A stock car is not like an Indy car where the driver can just hop out – there is a lot of stuff in the cockpit, and the window is very small. On top of that, the drivers have to twist themselves like a contortionist just to be able to get to and from their seat.

When Newman crashed, he said the roll cage came down on top of his helmet, and the car was upside down.

Can you imagine if the car was on fire?

It takes easily 20 seconds to get out of the car when it’s right side up and undamaged. If Newman’s car had erupted in flames while the roll cage was bent and the car was upside down at the furthest point between two safety vehicles…

It appears getting out of the car is the last great danger in stock car racing.


Also, the Nationwide COT looks waaay cool, especially the Mustang and the Challenger. Check them out here (

I can’t wait to see cars that actually look like their namesake again. Way to go Dodge and Ford. It will be interesting to see the results of the test at Talladega this week.

-David Dubczak

1 comment:

  1. The sad news is that, while testing the Nationwide COT, they aren't letting the crews try their hand at improveing them. We're still going end up with the half-baked potato that the Cup car is.