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Harris: Suggested Fixes Abound

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 2 2009
Mark Martin's car limps to the finish line after being involved in a late-race wreck at Talladega Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Mark Martin's car limps to the finish line after being involved in a late-race wreck at Talladega Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

It’s doubtful that any of the 43 drivers who competed in Sunday’s Amp Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway had much fun.

And, thanks to some rule tweaking by NASCAR, it took 490 miles of ho-hum before any of the usual wild Talladega antics woke up the fans in the stands and the folks catching a few Zs in front of their TVs.

The big Alabama oval, along with sister track Daytona International Speedway, has become a racing hybrid. Unlike the rest of NASCAR’s tracks, where the racing is unrestricted, horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates have been used at those two facilities for more than two decades to keep the cars under 200 mph in the interest of driver and fan safety.

After a crash in the spring race at Talladega nearly sent Carl Edwards flying into the grandstands and saw eight fans injured, including one with a broken jaw, NASCAR mandated a smaller carburetor restrictor plate designed to slow the cars down a little more.

If that wasn’t enough to tame things down, NASCAR president Mike Helton laid down the law, in Sunday’s pre-race drivers’ meeting, saying that bump drafting in the corners would result in an instant black flag.

That didn’t totally eliminate the banging and bumping, but it did slow things down enough that most of the way the usual big freight train-like rows of stock cars held their positions and just waited for the end of the 500-mile race.

After Ryan Newman wound up victimized in one of two late multi-car crashes, he appeared more upset about the lack of competition on the track than his wild upside-down ride that resulted in the caved-in roof of his Chevrolet having to be cut off to get him out.

“It’s just disappointing,’’ Newman said after walking out of the infield care center. “I wish NASCAR would do something. It was a boring race for the fans. That’s not something anybody wants to see, at least I hope not. If they do, go home because you don’t belong here. 

”It’s just a product of this racing and what NASCAR has put us into with this box and these restrictor plates with these types of cars. You know with the yellow line, no bump-drafting, no passing. Drivers used to be able to respect each other and race around each other. Richard Petty, David Pearson and Bobby Allison and all those guys have always done that. I guess they don’t think much of us anymore.”

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who wound up in the other late-race wreck, said the only way to make the racing more exciting at Talladega is to shorten the events from 500 miles.

“I mean, we know what we’re up against,’’ he said. “And why go out there and beat and bang and turn one another sideways in the first 100 or 200 miles? You want to make this a really exciting race for the whole race, make it 200 miles. That’s why the truck races and other races when they come here are so exciting.

“To me, our sport is about strategy, it’s about longevity, it’s about pacing yourself. I thought it was a great race. But, unfortunately, the rules that we have are going to play out. The cars suck up too much. And they need to change that for this race track or it’s just going to happen every single time.”

It’s also more than a little scary that no matter what NASCAR does to prevent it, cars keep flying at Talladega.

Besides Newman’s crazy ride, Sprint Cup contender Mark Martin flipped when he got caught up in “The Big One’’ with three laps left in the regulation Sunday. Martin also escaped injury.

“In the end there were some big accidents but, geez, we don’t need the cars getting upside down like this,’’ Newman said. “This is ridiculous. There is way more technology than that to help us out. Whether it is a speed issue, a roof flap issue, whatever.’’

It was Newman who complained about the airborne accidents after the spring race.

“It is ridiculous situation,’’ he said. “It is a shame that not more is getting done. I don’t know. I guess maybe I expect NASCAR to call me. I am the only guy out there with an engineering degree. I would like to have a little respect on my end.’’

Jimmie Johnson managed to avoid trouble and finish sixth, giving himself a huge edge on the rest of the Chase for the championship field as he goes after a record fourth straight title.

Johnson was just happy he escaped the seventh race of the 10-race Chase unscathed. He noted that the same questions come up after every race on Talladega’s 33-degree banking.

“The only way we avoid this, if anybody wants to avoid these big wrecks and this type of racing, is to eliminate the need for restrictor plates,’’ Johnson said. “That means get the tractors out and knock down the banking.’’

That, of course, is an unlikely prospect.

“At the end of the day, the restrictor plate is still here because it’s a good show for the fans,’’ Johnson said. “So, at some point when the fans dislike it, I guess we’ll make a change, and we won’t have this stuff. Until then, we’re a product of what the fans want to see.’’

But Sunday’s race probably didn’t please a lot of the fans, either.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 2 2009
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