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.