Monday, May 06, 2013

"Big Ones" Have Nothing To Do With Rules

There is a misconception afoot that rules adjustments by NASCAR can reduce the number and severity of multi-car crashes at Daytona and Talladega.

Over the years, there have been literally dozens of big wrecks on NASCAR’s largest ovals. And after every crash, at least one driver climbs from the steaming remains of his battered racer and excoriates the sanctioning body for not legislating such incidents into extinction.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 was contested under a Sprint Cup Series rules package that made two-car “tandem drafting” difficult, if not impossible. With pack racing in effect, the race featured a pair of “Big Ones,” and lots of torn up race cars.
Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event, however, ran under a completely different rulebook that made nose-to-tail, two car drafts the order of the day. Despite tandem drafting from start to finish, the Aaron’s 312 also featured a major, multi-car crash and numerous demolished cars.
Apparently, it’s not about the rules.
Talladega Superspeedway hosted its first race in 1969, and since then, dozens of chassis styles, aerodynamic packages and rules tweaks have been utilized. None have succeeded in eliminating multi-car crashes.
In this year’s Daytona 500, drivers spent most of the day riding safely in single-file formation, saving their equipment (and themselves) for a late-race, winner take all Dash for Cash. There were no major wrecks in the race’s first 400 miles, despite a chassis and aero package identical to the one used yesterday at Talladega. The only difference between February’s Daytona 500 and yesterday’s Aaron’s 499 was the attitude of the men behind the wheel.
At Talladega, the day’s first “Big One” was triggered when Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne touched bumpers in the first turn. Kahne’s Chevrolet clobbered the outside SAFER barrier before spinning into oncoming traffic and touching off a wild melee that left the apron littered with battered machinery.
Driver error, pure and simple.
The day’s second incident occurred when Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., attempted to race four-wide on the Talladega backstretch and ran out of room. He bounced off the outside wall and collected JJ Yeley, triggering a second multi-machine grind that sidelined a number of entries and left multiple drivers steaming.
Ryan Newman, who has had horrible luck at Talladega over the years, once again found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. His Haas Automation Chevrolet served as an impromptu catcher’s mitt for Kurt Busch’s flipping Furniture Row Racing Chevy. Busch landed squarely on Newman’s hood at 190 mph, destroying both machines and unleashing an understandably emotional post-crash outburst from the Stewart Haas Racing driver.
“They can build safer racecars, they can build safer walls, but they can't get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the racetrack,” said Newman, with steam rolling from both his race car and his ears. “That's pretty disappointing.
“You all can figure out who 'they' is,” he said. “That's no way to end a race. That's just poor judgment in restarting the race, poor judgment…running in the dark and running in the rain.”
Stenhouse, however, said the damp track and looming dusk played little role in his decision to attempt the four-wide move.
“I felt like if I could get to the outside, I had a lot of cars that were going to come with me,” he explained. “(I) just didn’t end up having quite enough room after we got about to (Yeley’s) door.” The Roush Fenway Racing rookie said the wreck was an inevitable product of racing inches apart at 195 mph, adding, “That’s Talladega for you. That’s drafting, that’s superspeedways. Sometimes it just happens that way.”
“Obviously it was really big and you never want to see that,” he said. “You definitely don’t want to be the one to start it.”
Stenhouse was not alone in defending NASCAR’s decision to restartthe race. Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 142 laps before finishing seventh, said the track “was plenty dry enough. It was fairly dark (but) we could see what was going on. I’m not sure how good the spotters could see (but) it was safe.”
“It had to be a tough call for NASCAR, but we could see well enough,” agreed third-place finisher Carl Edwards. “The one thing NASCAR did was gave us time to change our visors (after the rain delay). I put on a clear visor -- I think a lot of people did – so we were all prepared for less light.
“(It’s) just insane,” said Edwards. “As it gets closer to the end of the race, it just gets crazy.”
And despite misguided cries for ineffectual rule changes, that simple fact appears unlikely to change.


  1. The bottom line remains the crashes are the drivers' fault. Period. This race produced the most amazing finish in years. Hopefully Daytona in July and Talladega in October will be as competitive start to finish as the Aarons 312 was; this Talladega certainly showed that same competitive potential.

  2. You know, sitting in a seat at the track or in my Barcolounger at home, I really can't tell if they're racing at 200 mph or 160. Speed is relative. At any one time, all I can see is that the 18 is maybe faster than the 99 or the 24. And watching single file racing for countless hours hoping for a reck doesn't do it for me either. That being said, if NASCAR wants to give the fans a better racing experience at Daytona and Talladega, why don't they design a car with less power and aero dependency and more handling, putting the race back in the drivers hands, eliminating pack and tandem racing?

    1. If the racing is not "in the hands of the drivers," who were those guys with the helmets last weekend? Every single one of them seemed to be in full and complete control of their cars, making split-second decisions about where to go, how hard to charge and when to take chances. Only when they make bad decisions and crash do we suddenly want NASCAR to legislate a slower, number car that will be easy to drive, thereby eliminating crashes.

  3. Great racing by great drivers. Unfortunately we had 2 big ones, but the finish and the racing we had was the best part of the day. Congradulations to Front Row Racing for the 1-2 finish, and their first ever Sprint Cup win! I don't want NASCAR to change a thing, it is fine the way it is!

  4. Robert G.8:13 PM

    Would somewhat disagree. If I have understood correctly, NASCAR has made changes to discourage tandem drafting. And that has made the cars a bit squirrely if tapped incorrectly from behind.
    So I would propose that the rules may have played a part in the Kyle Bush crash.
    But I will agree that rules can not prevent all crashes from happening.

  5. Anonymous8:53 PM

    How many wrecks did we have when there were the tandem packs?

  6. When you have cars that close together running that fast, wrecks are going to happen. These are the absolute best damn drivers on the planet. They're also the most aggressive drivers on the planet. Every single driver on that track wants to win and at Talladega, every single driver has the chance to win. If you want to see a race that doesn't have a "big one" go exchange the drivers for Sebastian Vettle and the F1 guys that can't pass each other and don't really care to anyway.

    This is NASCAR. This is the place where the drivers want to win and the sanctioning body lets them try.

  7. Anonymous3:00 PM

    Best RP Race in a while ...Maybe went to dark ..(same as night before) ...I Thought it was ok & @ 190+mph ...Their gonna have issues ...But I'd be a little uptight running in that pack when vision is impaired...Changes the dynamic...Good Call Nascar (don't say that often) ..Now off to a real track ..Darlington..(night race+springtime) Nascar must hate this track..Earner