What Happened at Talladega Was Simply Not Racing

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by Ryan Isley

When they talk about Talladega Superspeedway being a game changer or the wild card in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, they couldn’t have had a more perfect scenario of that than what happened this past Sunday.

When the yellow flag dropped with just a handful of laps left in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 as Jamie McMurray spun after being tapped by Kevin Harvick, it set up for a green-white-checker finish that everyone expected to be pure chaos. How right they were.

By now, you have probably already seen the video of the wreck that happened on the white flag lap in which Tony Stewart (who took full blame) started a 25-car pile-up and shook up the finishing order of the race and changed what could have been in the points standings.

Somehow, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon were able to escape undamaged and finished 1-2.  Other drivers weren’t so lucky and got caught up in the carnage that resulted when the wreck happened in front of row after row of cars who were running four-wide.

Even though Gordon was able to avoid the wreck, he said afterwards that things have changed at Talladega in the past few years as NASCAR has tried to make the racing more competitive.

“I remember when coming to Talladega was fun.  I really do. And I haven’t experienced that in a long, long time. I don’t like coming here. I don’t like the type of racing that I have to do.”

The kind of racing that has become Talladega is less of preparation, skill and strategy and more of just luck and survival. While some fans enjoy watching the new racing at Talladega because it makes for more wrecks – like the one we saw Sunday – Jeff Gluck of SBNation.com wrote that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said he now doesn’t like coming to the track that was one called Dale-adega because of his success at the superspeedway.

“If this is what we did every week, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’ll just put it to you like that. If this is how we raced every week, I’d find another job. I don’t even want to go to Daytona and Talladega next year, but I ain’t got much choice.”

While Gordon said that if he was a fan, he would have enjoyed that finish, Earnhardt, Jr. went on to say that he just can’t understand how fans can be so “bloodthirsty” in wanting to see the big wrecks that happen at Talladega and Daytona.

“I can’t believe nobody is sensible enough to realize just how ridiculous that was. That is ridiculous that all those cars were tore up. And everybody is just, ‘Ho hum, no big deal.’ That’s not alright.”

While Earnhardt, Jr. eventually backpedalled on those comments, his original thoughts were dead on.

Unfortunately for Gordon and Earnhardt, Jr. – and the other drivers that expressed concern after the race – NASCAR is going to do whatever NASCAR wants to do, whether the drivers like it or not. NASCAR could care less if the drivers are worried about the races at the superspeedways being not real racing or even dangerous as long as the fans are still coming to the track and watching the races on television.

But I for one would like to see NASCAR do something to change the racing at the superspeedways so that they aren’t going four-wide, five and six deep for an entire lap. While some fans were getting excited because they knew a big wreck was a probability, I was holding my breath just hoping that nothing too serious resulted in the upcoming accident that we all knew was coming.

NASCAR got lucky this time that nobody was seriously  injured, even as Stewarts car was on its’ side up against other cars going down the track and the number of cars that were involved. Next time, they might not be so lucky. It is one thing to improve the safety measures such as the SAFER barriers and Hans devices and building the cars to a higher standard of safety, but at the end of the day there are still cars going in excess of 200 mph with 42 other cars around them at times.

Besides safety issues, this just isn’t racing at Talladega anymore.  Denny Hamlin admitted to just sitting back in the pack trying to avoid the big wreck all day and just racing for a decent finish as to not ruin his chances at the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. So now because of NASCAR’s insistence of the cars all being uniform, you have drivers who are not even racing to win.

I can’t – and won’t – blame Hamlin for his decision. In fact, I am surprised that other drivers haven’t employed this strategy and I fully expect more of them to do so next year in the fall race if there aren’t any changes made to the way racing is done at Talladega and Daytona.

Now it is up to NASCAR to decide if there will be changes for the superspeedways come 2013. While they have planned changes to the 2013 car, they may need to look even deeper to find ways to change the racing at Daytona and Talladega before more drivers decide to go the route that Hamlin did this past weekend and take away all of the competitive racing.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryan@morethanafan.net