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Talladega: NASCAR needs to do something. But will it....and what should it do?

Talladega Superspeedway, in the heart of Sweet Home Alabama, is gorgeous in the fall....but NASCAR execs still haven't solved those problems on the track. So the drivers respond by simply running single-file? We need some answers. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Just the word conjures up such a vivid, ominous image.
   A very scary image.
   Flipping, flying cars.
   Imminent destruction, just an errant bump away.
  Tension? You talk about tension, strap into a NASCAR stocker for a Talladega race.
   Or just stand on pit road and watch these guys.
   Every race at Talladega is a Halloween all its own.
   No wonder NASCAR drivers opted Sunday to "Just ride."
   That appears to be the drivers' mantra now whenever they show up at Talladega Superspeedway.
   It was ironic, more than ironic perhaps, that Sunday's Talladega 500 marked the 40th anniversary of the opening of NASCAR's biggest superspeedway -- a contentious opening, with the creation of stock car racing's Professional Drivers Association (PDA), headed by Richard Petty no less, to protest racing conditions at Talladega Superspeedway.
   Back in 1969 the issue was tires. The track was designed to such then-perfection, in terms of banking and cornering, that a dramatically new tire design was needed. The then-current tires, designed for regular NASCAR tracks, blew out under the excessive conditions.
   Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach won the pole for that first race, in Dodge Charger Daytona -- at an amazing 199.466 mph. But the tires simply couldn't take it.
   So drivers, after some really contentious showdowns with NASCAR's Big Bill France, just loaded up their cars and drove off back to North Carolina, rather than race.
   It was an amazing sight. NASCAR haulers and drivers rolling out of the track...
   France Sr. cajoled enough 'Saturday' drivers to hang around and race in that first 500 (including Richard Childress, then unknown), won by Richard Brickhouse. But Brickhouse never won again, and was shunned by other drivers after that.
   Goodyear quickly came up with a new tire design, one that took that issue out of the equation.
   However, as we all saw again in Sunday's Talladega Amp 500, that 2.66-mile track, halfway between Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, on the grounds of an old WWII airfield, racing at Talladega is still controversial.
   Weird things have happened at Talladega so many times, that there is even a sense that it is 'haunted.' Track officials even played upon that legend days before Sunday's race by having an Indian medicine man perform a 'cleansing' ritual to scare away the bad spirits. Apparently that ceremony didn't quite work.
   So what the some 80,000 to 100,000 fans (at a facility which can handle 175,000 facility) saw was two hours of follow the leader racing, a la California Speedway.
    It was clear the drivers were not racing. They were even joking over the radio about it all.
   Then drivers did start going two-wide, even three-wide, but in lanes where they really didn't do much racing.
   It was a stunning display. It was shocking.
   And apparently this isn't the first time, or the second, that Cup drivers have staged something like this at Talladega....only the most obvious.
   The word goes out in the drivers' motorcoach lot: "Just ride."
   And after Sunday's race drivers were open in acknowledging their strategy.
   And they are right -- the big one is going to happen eventually, so why not at least try to hang on to some sanity for as long as possible before things get crazy.
  Here's video of Ryan Newman's crash: http://bit.ly/3KHCDR

  The first of the two big ones came on lap 185 of the scheduled 188-lapper,  when Ryan Newman got tagged from behind, while running in that big bunch.
   The second one came on the final restart minutes later.
    And this race comes after last fall's controversial finish (when NASCAR took the 'win' away from Ragan Smith and gave it to Tony Stewart) and after that wild flipping crash by Carl Edwards, that injured fans when Edwards' car ripped into the fencing.
    It would seem now that NASCAR needs to come up with a new aerodynamic package, probably a new engine package, perhaps a whole new approach to Talladega.
    Maybe a major test at that track before next year's spring 500.
    It's clear that what NASCAR has done so far hasn't been enough.
   And it's not good enough for the sport's bosses to say 'Just shut up and race.'
    There are several ways to look at all this:
    One, some drivers complain about 'the box' that NASCAR's plate rules have put them in, racing in such tight packs, with engines choked down from 900 horsepower to maybe 430 horsepower.
   Two, other drivers point out that maybe it's the drivers themselves that are causing the wrecks, that there is a brake pedal as well as accelerator.
    NASCAR has tried to manage an impossible situation, it seems. This huge track was designed in the 1960s, as a 'super' Daytona. But NASCAR isn't racing 1960s cars any more.
   The track simply is too fast for the cars.
   Then drivers threw in the bump-draft -- an unexpected spinoff from the new car-of-tomorrow bumpers, which were designed, front-and-rear, to match up flush, so a trailing driver couldn't drive the nose of his car under the rear bumper of another car and lift his rear wheels off the ground.
   With the bump-draft -- and now the push-draft, where one driver will simply tuck his front bumper right next to the leading driver's rear bumper and literally push the two around the track -- things got even more hairy.
   To make things worse, NASCAR officials suddenly changed some of the rules just two hours before the start of the race, promising heavy penalties for drivers doing too much bump-draft or push-drafting in the wrong place.
   The drivers' meeting was downright contentious, with drivers clearly uncertain about what NASCAR really wanted, or what NASCAR officials might really do.
   So the drivers simply rode around for some two hours, before finally getting down to something like racing in the final 100 miles.
   And even that didn't prevent two frightening crashes.
   So will NASCAR and the France family, which owns the track, do anything to change the dynamics before the Sprint Cup tour returns to Talladega next season?
   If so, what should they do?
   One thing to keep in mind -- the fans. And there were way, way too many empty seats Sunday. And when TV ratings come out.....
   NASCAR execs can ignore drivers' complaints, but NASCAR can't ignore the fans. And just a glance at some of the internet comments about this event -- and most were sizzling in anger at the single-file parade -- seems to show a fan revolt.
   The bottom line seems to be that the status quo -- the same old rules, tweaked here and there -- doesn't work.
   NASCAR and its teams -- maybe with driver-engineer Ryan Newman and car owner-engineer Jack Roush leading the way -- need to make a serious effort at changing the Talladega dynamic.
   Obviously just raising the fences and going with even smaller restrictor plates, and trying to rein in bump-draft, didn't work Sunday.
   The drivers, and the fans who didn't show up, showed their displeasure with the current package.
    But NASCAR didn't seem to hear any of the complaints after last fall's Smith-Stewart controversy...or respond adequately to the complaints after the spring crash either.
    In fact, despite open, repeated pleas from Newman for NASCAR to try to do something about these flipping, flying cars at Talladega -- after Edwards' car slammed down on his windshield in April, NASCAR officials didn't do enough, according to Newman, who may well be lucky just to be alive today, considering the roof rollbars on his car were actually touching his helmet as he sat upside down after that dramatic crash.
    We should just be glad Newman's car didn't catch on fire during the five minutes or so it took for safety crews to extract him.
    The late David Poole, in his last column, ironically at Talladega in the spring, made a plea for NASCAR to do something:
    "All I want is for someone to tell me what's acceptable. We apparently established Sunday that seven fans being injured – one spent the night in a hospital with a broken jaw – is OK.
    "It seems we've decided we can live with that much damage being done to the sport's customers for 'good racing.'
   "How many people have to be listed in 'guarded' or 'critical' condition before we say that's too much? Is it lead changes? If we have fewer than five fans hurt for every lead change, is that acceptable?
    "Does somebody have to die before we've decided we don't have control?"
    Poole was right to raise the issue. But how will NASCAR respond?



Instead of restrictor plate

Instead of restrictor plate racin' for Daytona and Talladega, why don't they just build a "specific" engine just for those four races? Is it cost? Right, when the mega bucks teams of Hendrick, Gibbs, Penske, Childress, Roush and Manufacturers input have enough re$ource$ and people to do it. The racing would probably look like a Michigan race, but the drivers may be able to handle the car and race better.

That's what I've been saying:

That's what I've been saying: build a smaller engine for those four races. Reduce the horsepower and take off the plates. So long as you keep them under 190 they will be fine. Note to NASCAR: this will require some testing and simulation at YOUR expense. The fans want to see a good race, not a bunched up field of lemmings. With no plates, the cars will actually spread out a little bit so that the slightest wobble doesn't cause a 10-20 car wreck.

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NASCAR had 270 CID V6s in BGN

NASCAR had 270 CID V6s in BGN and they needed restrictor plates all the same as 358 CID V8s. NASCAR in the early 1990s also tested a 300 CID V8 and it caused no reduction in speed.

There are no 20-car wrecks anymore - they were due to the combination of drivers refusing the check up when something happened and the lack of run-off lanes. The "big ones" they have today are due mostly to drivers not checking up when something happens.

drivers and owners should

drivers and owners should boycott these races. from my chair its not worth my time watch anymore!!!!! nascar is joke. its all about jj!! jamie mcmurry should have more air time but you guys cant do that its about jj!! please rember there are 42 others out racing on sunday!! thanks jeff

Sadly...I don't think they

Sadly...I don't think they will respond...oh they may put out a "press release" here or there...and state they are hearing the fans, drivers, media, sponsors and track owners. BUT...each release they give will ALWAYS end with "Nascar has taken a look at the situation and feels we have done what's in the BEST INTEREST (a favorite KISS OFF phrase they add to each press release) of the drivers and the fans. (i.e.: We pocketed the money for THAT race..so shut up..quit your belly aching..on to the next race.) I am hopeful what we saw Sunday DID have something to do with the drivers deciding to "just ride". It would mean even more if we would see that same thing the next three races...(hey JJ is a shoe in..so what the heck..what is NASCAR going to do?? Fire them all? Fine them all? Tell the fans to leave the track? ) If solidarity is what is needed to get NASCAR to change ALOT of their hard headed made for themselves rules..then solidarity has to come from the fans and drivers. I would think the owners and sponsors would sit up and take notice and at that point all eyes would turn to the powers that be...NASCAR.

The only thing that will get

The only thing that will get NA$CAR to listen is for the stands to be empty. By this I mean 90% of the fans don't showup for a race. Don't buy the tickets, NO ONE. Make it a planned effort. Pick a race and then BOYCOT.

NASCAR will do nothing. They

NASCAR will do nothing. They don't listen to the fans - except for the "doublefile restarts, shootout style" to create excitement because there isn't enough side by side racing or passing for the lead.

Ryan was lucky at both races - he could have been hurt badly when Edwards car landed on his front end. If it had been the windshield, it would have been really ugly. And so was Kevin Harvick (catching Ryan's car this time and perhaps softening the first impact to could also have killed Ryan). Mark Martin hates racing at this track and wound up upside down.

I've read some comments about how to fix the stupid wing so that the car wouldn't get airborne when it turns backward at high speed. Apparently this has been proposed to NASCAR, but they aren't listening. It was Roush who came up with the roof flap concept.

Between the ugly car, the poor to non-existent racing on the track, the chase that is run over and over on the same tracks and won by the same team for 4 years running, the lousy TV coverage and NASCAR attempting to manipulate races and threatening the media for actually daring to say what the fans have been saying for several years. well, I'm tired of it and bored with the sport in general. I don't have a reason to watch. And next year will be more of the same -- they will points race from Daytona on, the TV broadcast people will try and convince the fans that this is exciting and who's in or out of the chase beginning at Daytona and I don't care that much any more. Unfortunately I've already renewed some of my tickets for next year. The thing is that I may wind up deciding that it is more economical to simply toss my ticket than spend the money to see a race that isn't worth watching. Fox has a big advantage -- it's winter in the East when they start and there's not a lot to do outside when the weather is bad. Although after last year's fiasco with cartoon characters invading the broadcast, I may just find something. Why should I watch?

Newman wasn't lucky - the car

Newman wasn't lucky - the car held up as these cars always have. Harvick was not lucky - the car held up as it always does.

The wing is not why the cars are flying and the roof flaps have been a failure since Day One. It's still an issue of speed - they're still hitting 200 in trap speeds.

Better recheck the G-readings, because the smaller tracks have shown far more brutality in impacts.

"Mark Martin hates racing at this track." Ultimately his opinion is not relevant here.

"But how will NASCAR

"But how will NASCAR respond?" Most likely in the same way they always do. Just read the comments that Robin Pemberton has made since the race on Sunday. He and the rest of Nascar must think the fans are deaf, dumb, and blind. With the stupid comments he has made since the race at Talladega I can't believe he or probably anyone else from Nascar even watched the race. I am sure they did not watch the race that I saw on TV. From where Robin came from he should be embarrassed to show his face in the garage. Now we have Nascar not only telling us fans what "great" racing we are seeing (and we know we are not), they are telling some of the best drivers in the world how to drive. I think we all need to turn off our TV's until we hear that real racing is back and the COT is dead.

An absolute cure for

An absolute cure for Talledega would be to take the two race dates, give one of them to Darlington, and the other to Kentucky or Rockingham. For forty years NASCAR has been looking for a witch's brew at "Dega", and it just doesn't exist. Talledega has seen controversy ever since the gates opened for the very first practice session in 1969.
At Darlington, Rockingham or Kentucky there would be real racing. I have been a NASCAR fan ever since the very first NASCAR sanctioned race at Little Rock Rd. and Wilkinson Blvd. in Charlotte NC. The race at Talledega was a slap in the face to the fans that paid money to watch a race. "IT AIN'T RACIN". It's gimmickry.
The only thing they haven't tried, that I know of, is putting a sealed governor on the engines, set at say 185mph. Then they could just lay a brick on the eccelerator and ride around in a line. But then the racing fan could get the same effect by going to the nearest rail road track and watching the train go by. The Talledega race was a train going by.

Darlington, Kentucky, and

Darlington, Kentucky, and Rockingham are NOT - repeat, NOT - real racing. At those places handling gets in the way of passing. At Talladega nothing beyond the cowardice of drivers gets in the way of passing. Real racing is open throttle, lead changes (despite the cowardice of drivers on three seperate occasions, there were still 58 lead changes among 25 drivers), and the draft.

Say what? Talladega, as it

Say what? Talladega, as it currently is, is REAL racing? Give me a break. Restricting the engines so the slowpokes can keep up, and that's REAL racing? You sound like NASCAR. They would be happy if the field came across the line 43 wide. Putting drivers in a situation where they have the least control of the outcome of any other track on the circuit is not REAL racing. If they can figure out a way to reduce the horsepower at these tracks and get rid of the plates, then you'll see real racing again. Until then, racing at Talladega and Daytona is garbage.

Yes it is, Fireball. The

Yes it is, Fireball. The drivers have far more control here than they do elsewhere because here they're not held back by aeropush, handling in general, or anything else - here they can take the lead by passing the entire field. Restricting the engines is necessary because the sport does not need unrestricted engines; it makes the racing fundamentally better. Real racing is not about horsepower; it is about sidedrafting.

LMAO. So everybody holding

LMAO. So everybody holding it to the floor with little control on who is going to push them to the front is REAL racing? That's laughable. Real racing is a guy willing to stick it in a corner harder than anyone else to make a clean pass, or not letting off the gas when most driver's should/would lose control and maintaining their position without losing control. All these guys have tons of courage to sit in these machines, but the tracks that prove who the best are happen to be the tracks that best test the driver's willingness to let off less than the rest of his competitors. At Daytona and Talladega, nobody let's off the gas and the winner is usually determined by who's pushing you from behind rather than you getting it done on your own. Talladega and Daytona create an IROC situation because of the rules in place. That may be exactly what NASCAR wants, but the fans and the drivers are tired of it. Get rid of the restricted motors so that some separation can be gained. The only way to do that is to reduce the displacement and/or the compression ratio at these two tracks so some REAL racing can take place.

fireballroberts - 1 - "Little

fireballroberts -

1 - "Little control on who is going to push them to front" means......what? That it's not just about two cars - that multiple cars are actually fighting for the win? And that is somehow bad?

2 - Throttle control racing is not racing. What you are describing in your "a guy willing to stick it in a corner harder than anyone else" diatribe is a myth. Racing was never about throttle control; it was about the draft - "The draft doesn't take effect (at Charlotte) like it does Talladega or Daytona, but it helps, it definately helps," noted Donnie Allison way back in 1977. When the draft disappeared, the passing went with it, and it shows everywhere else the sport races; you only had outbraking at places like Pocono when the draft kicked in.

3 - At Daytona and Talladega the winner is determined by who outfights the field; Jamie McMurray won because he sidedrafted the hell out of the field and beat them. "Who's pushing you from behind rather than you getting it done on your own" is a myth because it goes on the false premise of "passing with horsepower" when in reality the history of the sport has always been about passing with the draft. It is reflected in the fact that there isn't another type of track in the sport now where there is any incidence of passing - Texas saw just 13 lead changes; if the whole "getting it done on your own" premise had any credibility then Texas would have seen 58 lead changes just as Talladega did.

4 - "The fans and drivers are tired of it." The drivers have no credibility and the fans vote with their ratings and go to the plate races (live and on TV) more than they do any other race.

5 - Seperation is not racing. Real racing is open throttle, lead changes, drafting in all of its variations (sidedrafting, pushdrafting, etc.), and nothing getting in the way of passing.

Open throttle is racing, fireball.

Have you all lost your mind

Have you all lost your mind to thank that nascar would or will do anything about Dega? you're wrong. nascar wants that drama. Dega is a right out wide-open track. always has been and will be, so no matter how much you moan and groan Dega will always stay the same. I lost respect for the drivers in the race sunday. for those of us who paid good money to go there regardless of the situation they should of got out there and put on a show, not run in a circle because they were pissy with nascar. and nascar needs to keep its nose out of the racing; enforce the rules of the car, not the drivers. and shame on the drivers for not having no backbone. I am and still will be a proud Nascar fan regardless of how this sport acts.

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