Monday, May 02, 2016

Talladega Criticism Remains Wrongheaded

Matt Kenseth's melee has helped set off more criticism of Talladega racing

By now we've all seen them.

Chris Buescher gets tumbled

Kevin Harvick's day ended on his side as Brad Keselowski seized his fourth win in the last sixteen Talladega races

The criticism of Talladega racing has renewed with these three melees, yet the criticism remains wrongheaded. We've seen pieces from Tom Jensen of FOX Sports and an especially moralistic phillipic from Dustin Long at the NBC Sports NASCAR page. "The clock is ticking on the human toll," Long sanctimoniously writes. "When is enough enough with this type of racing?"

Never, Dustin Long.

For one, Landon Cassill put Kevin Harvick in his place responding to Harvick blaming Cassill for the last-lap melee. "His reputation is pretty thin-skinned," Cassill said. And he's not only right, he's right about a lot of other "star" drivers.   The level of sanctimony and thin-skinned cowardice masquerading as attitude has long been an underreported problem with drivers like Harvick, the Busch brothers, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, etc.

The criticism of Talladega and restrictor plate/pack racing has lasted a long time and has always been grossly flawed because its premise is wrong.   Daytona and Talladega are NOT the tracks to be scared of -  it's the OTHER tracks that are ostensibly "less" dangerous but which have been the ones with the worst wrecks.   People like to cite Dale Earnhardt's death as spurring a safety revolution - ignoring that Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper, and Blaise Alexander were also killed in that ugly 2000-2001 period and were killed on NON-pack race tracks.

People also forget serious injuries to Sterling Marlin, who suffered a very serious neck injury at Kansas in 2002, or Jerry Nadeau, badly injured in 2003 at Richmond.   The incidence of bad wrecks on non-plate tracks more than makes nonsense of the criticism of Daytona/Talladega racing and other pack/superdraft racing such as in Indycars.

When people cite that 33 to 35 cars in the 40-car field at Talladega were involved in crashes, they ignore that 21 of them not only finished on the lead lap but were in shooting distance of the win.   Indeed the funniest image of the weekend is the banged-up Austin Dillon Chevy that finished third all taped up, which begs the question of why spend so much money on aero when the draft is the ultimate equalizer.

Not that there shouldn't be changes - NASCAR needs to change these Generation Six racecars so the "beachball" aero impediment effect noted by Jamie McMurray and others during the weekend is eliminated and the drivers can push-draft more effectively and more often - perhaps with a larger spoiler; it also needs to take away the no-push-drafting rule in the Xfinity and Truck Series (and so does ARCA); the Aric Almirola-Brendan Gaughn penalty Saturday showed anew the futility of NASCAR's animus against push-drafting; NASCAR's yellow-line out-of-bounds rule has served no purpose and needs to change - being able to pass below the yellow line can only make it safer as opposed to sardine-canning the field with artificial limits on room to race; NASCAR also needs to start talking to drivers about holding their line better.

The ARCA drivers at Talladega put on a terrific battle for the lead and showed noticeably more lane discipline than the NASCAR guys

The image that stands out from the weekend is the twin image of the ARCA General Tire 200 and also Joey Logano swerving Elliott Sadler and thus getting blasted on the final half-mile of the Sparks 300.  Blocking has become more of an issue in recent years with passing so much harder now than several years ago.   That the ARCA drivers showed more discipline than the NASCAR guys should say something.

NASCAR achieved a strikingly perfect balance of tandem-drafting and conventional pack-racing in 2012's Daytona Shootout and it showed how sidedrafting became really effective again.  It was the kind of balance that makes great racing

NASCAR and drivers also need to address a completely overlooked angle - the fact they're breaking 200 MPH in these races again.  People wonder why the roof flaps didn't work in this Talladega race - that they're at or over 200 when 194 was long ago established as the cut-off point for the roof flaps to work - and perhaps 191 is the more true cut-off point there.   Stock cars simply don't need 200 MPH speeds and we're seeing that again the last couple of seasons.

With Kansas coming up, the hypocrisy of the Talladega criticism warrants one more look.   If Kansas sees racing akin to what happened at Talladega - and in the Truck races in 2013 and 2014 the racing was such that Dave Moody compared it to Talladega racing - I suspect a lot of people would be awed by it - as they should be if the racing does increase in competitiveness to Talladega level.

And remember when Bristol was a demolition derby, and now people criticize it because now there's actual room to race?

Talladega is racing at its most competitive - period.

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