Frightening crashes that include multiple cars getting airborne. Hold-your-breath racing featuring a pack of cars just inches apart running 200 mph that makes you appreciate the fortitude of those behind the wheel. A garage with parts and pieces strewn throughout because of the inevitable and unavoidable accidents that occur.
In every facet Sunday personified a NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway.
And that’s a problem.
At what point does NASCAR need to reevaluate the insanity that unfolds four times a year when it tackles Talladega and Daytona International Speedway, the two tracks where drivers are required to compete using restrictor-plates that keep speeds in check, but also creates the mayhem that gives races the feeling of gladiators fighting inside the Colosseum?
Sunday’s Geico 500 may very well be that watershed moment.
Thirty-five of 40 cars in the field were involved in a crash of some sort. Chris Buescher and Matt Kenseth each flipped, Kevin Harvick nearly did the same, and Danica Patrick slammed into a wall with such force she couldn’t remember a time she experienced a harder hit and appeared shaken afterward.
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The only thing absent Sunday was a car flying into the fencing along the frontstretch, another all too familiar site recently at Daytona and Talladega.
In the conundrum of sport vs. entertainment, there’s no debate which side of the spectrum restrictor-plate racing falls. A predominant number, if not the majority, of drivers loathe the style of racing Talladega and Daytona represent. Often they’re helpless victims when trouble breaks out round them, not possessing the means to escape, which has been that way since NASCAR introduced the horsepower-limiting in 1987 after Bobby Allison’s car virtually launched itself into Talladega’s frontstretch grandstand because of high speeds and a lack of downforce to keep it on the track.
Yet fans regularly circle Daytona and Talladega as among the most anticipated races on the schedule.
“I’m a capitalist,” said Brad Keselowski, Sunday’s winner. “There’s still people paying to sit in the stands, sponsors still on the cars, drivers still willing to get in them. Sounds self‑policing and enough interest to keep going, so we’ll keep going.”
Thus, the madness continues with cars crashing, flipping and drivers thankful just to escape unscathed — if their lucky. Which Austin Dillon was when he walked away from a crash that saw his car soar into the catchfence last July at Daytona. Busch wasn’t as fortunate when a multi-car incident resulted in him crashing into a concrete wall not protected by a SAFER barrier during a 2015 Daytona Xfinity Series race, breaking his right leg and left foot.
“I hate it,” Busch said. “I’d much rather sit at home.”
Said Buescher: “I am pretty sick and tired of speedway racing at this point.”
Already inherently dangerous, racing doesn’t need to be made more so by artificially means where drivers must comprise their well-being because of NASCAR’s inability to satisfactorily address the issue.
“We all have to do it — I don’t know how many really love it,” Dillon said. “But I know our moms and wives and girlfriends, they don’t like it because they got to watch their loved ones put themselves in situations they don’t like.”
Lowering the banking? Removing restrictor-plates altogether? Neither is likely.
But something, anything, needs to be done.
Perhaps the answer comes via the Sprint Cup Drivers Council, a committee of nine that regularly meets with NASCAR executives, to find a way to keep cars on the ground and competitors — and spectators — safe? Or maybe the Race Team Alliance, which comprises all of the sport’s top owners, becomes sick of footing the bill for cars that are doomed for demolishment and forces NASCAR’s hand to brainstorm a solution?
All that matters is that the absurdity stops. And soon. Before someone isn’t able to walk away like Buescher, Kenseth and Patrick did Sunday.