NASCAR trying to avoid disaster
Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 31, 2009
TALLADEGA, Ala. ó Michael Waltrip pulled up to the back of Jimmie Johnson’s car, settled in on his bumper and shoved him all the way around Talladega Superspeedway as the two drivers worked on a strategy for NASCAR’s fastest race track.
“We got hooked up and started flying,” said Johnson.
Only problem? NASCAR doesn’t want to see such aggressive drafting anymore, and when Waltrip didn’t heed a warning to back off a bit, he was yanked out of the final practice session leading into today’s race.
It was NASCAR’s way of sending a message to the drivers: They can police themselves or NASCAR will do it for them.
It’s all part of a concerted effort to avoid a repeat of the spectacular last-lap accidents that marred the last two restrictor plate races this season. Carl Edwards went airborne into the Talladega safety fence on the final lap of April’s race, and Kyle Busch sailed hard into an outside wall at Daytona in July.
In Edwards’ accident, the frontstretch fence bowed, but held, and flying debris injured seven fans in the grandstands. After crossing the finish line on foot, Edwards issued a dire warning about the racing conditions.
“We’ll race like this until we kill somebody,” Edwards said, “then (NASCAR) will change it.”
NASCAR listened, and precautions have been taken headed into Sunday’s race.
Track operator International Speedway Corp. has raised the fencing to 22 feet from 14 feet, and NASCAR reduced the size of the holes in the restrictor-plates. The smaller holes are intended to cut anywhere from 12 to 15 horsepower and slow the cars just a tick.
Whether that’s enough to eliminate “The Big One” ó the massive accidents that these races are generally remembered for ó remains to be seen.
“I don’t want to go flipping across the finish line,” Dale Earnhardt Jr., a five-time Talladega winner, recently said. “The measures of raising the fences are good, but cars go through them fences, parts go through them. And it seems like the smaller the plate gets, the more we wreck, in my opinion.”