Talladega a disaster waiting to happen
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Has racing become unsafe at Talladega Superspeedway? You bet your "rear bumper."
NASCAR and track officials dodged a bullet Sunday after "the big one" happened twice, and then a spectacular crash by Carl Edwards on the final lap led to enough scrap metal and battered race cars to fill up an Alabama junkyard.
On the final lap, Edwards held the lead with Brad Keselowski on his back bumper as they approached the finish line. Keselowski attempted to make a pass underneath, but Edwards blocked with the two drivers making contact.
While Keselowski drove on to his first career Sprint Cup Series victory, Edwards spun, hit third-place runner Ryan Newman and then flew into the wall and safety fence along the frontstretch.
Luckily, Edwards was not hurt as he exited his wrecked car and jogged to the finish line, acting as though he were Ricky Bobby in the 2006 Will Ferrell comedy "Talladega Nights,"
Seven race fans, however, sustained minor injuries after being struck by debris from Edwards' car. None of the injuries were life-threatening, but two women were airlifted to Birmingham hospitals. One suffered a possible broken jaw, while the other was treated for an undisclosed medical condition. The remaining spectators were treated and released from the track's medical center.
Carl Edwards held the lead until a spectacular crash on the final lap.
Even though Talladega provides many ooohs and aahs for the fans when the big one happens, most drivers aren't particularly thrilled with restrictor-plate racing at NASCAR's biggest track.
"Hopefully, (NASCAR) can do something somehow to change this style of racing," Edwards said. "I guess we'll do this until somebody gets killed, and then we'll change it, but that's the way it is."
Edwards' crash was eerily similar to Bobby Allison's horrifying wreck in the spring 1987 race at Talladega. Allison cut a tire and went airborne on the frontstretch. His car broke through the safety fence with debris flying into the grandstand. Several spectators were also injured in that incident.
Allison's wreck led NASCAR to mandate restrictor plates to reduce speeds for races at Daytona and Talladega. But restrictor-plate racing has led to big packs of cars running two, three and even four-wide, just inches apart from each other and moving at speeds over 200 m.p.h.
While this style of racing has produced many last-lap battles for the win over the years, Daytona and Talladega have also featured numerous pileups, involving as many as 30 drivers in a single incident.
"There has to be some element of danger into it," Keselowski said, "No different than a football player. Who doesn't love watching football players hit each other head on as fast as they can? I think that's how John Madden made his career, saying 'boom.' That's what the fans want."
But many drivers, like Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second to Keselowski, are calling for NASCAR to make changes at Talladega.
"You have to understand that, for years, we have had wrecks like this every time we come to Talladega ever since the (restrictor) plate got here and for years it was celebrated," Earnhardt Jr. said. "The media celebrated it, the network celebrated it calling it 'the big one,' just trying to attract attention and trying to bring people's attention to the race.
"There's a responsibility with the media and the networks and (NASCAR) itself to come to their senses a little bit and think about the situation."
Perhaps, three-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson described Talladega the best after he was one of several drivers involved in the second big one.
"Man, it sucks racing here," Johnson said.
Yeah, Jimmie. It may suck for you guys on the track at Talladega, but the fans love the racing there.
In order for everyone to be safe at Talladega, NASCAR does need to address the issue as quickly as possible.
NASCAR said safety is their number-one priority, and they are going to take whatever measures needed in order to ensure the races are as safe as possible for the drivers and spectators.
"I don't think it's limited to just the race cars," Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president for corporate communications, said. "I think the racetrack itself is a fast racetrack. It's a smooth racetrack, and it's certainly wide, wider than any other racetrack we race on.
"So from time to time we have to pave and do other things at the racetrack. Like we have made a lot of improvements in the catch fence from where we started out years ago after Bobby Allison's accident there, and we will continue to look at everything."
Hunter also said one of NASCAR's primary goals is to build a restraining fence that keeps the cars and debris out of the spectator areas.
Nonetheless, NASCAR has their homework cut out before they return to Talladega in November to ensure we don't see the same type of madness we witnessed this past weekend.