Roger Diez column: NASCAR needs to focus on safety
For the Nevada Appeal
Well, it happened again; catch fence destroyed, fans injured, driver lucky to escape alive. Restrictor plate racing is loved by the fans, hated by the drivers, and costs teams time and money to repair the inevitable damage. For those of you who are new to the sport, the restrictor plate was NASCAR’s method of slowing the cars down after Bobby Allison’s car sailed into the catch fence at Talladega in 1987. Bill Elliott had set a qualifying speed of more than 212 miles per hour for that race, and NASCAR deemed the speeds too high and too dangerous. Well, we are now back over 200 mph at Daytona and Talladega, and here we are again. It’s not as if there weren’t warnings; Carl Edwards had a similar accident in 2009, and Kyle Larson put his Nationwide car into the fence at Daytona two years ago, leaving his engine, a wheel, and chunks of debris in the grandstand. At least Austin Dillon’s engine landed on the race track when it came loose Sunday.
Dillon opined the speeds have become too high at the restrictor plate tracks. Other drivers made similar or harsher comments including Ryan Newman, who was fined $50,000 five years ago for complaining about the dangers of restrictor plate racing.
A.J. Allmendinger tweeted, “I don’t know how many cars we need to keep sending into the grandstands before we fix this.”
But speed is just one of the problems. The other is pack racing, which is a byproduct of reduced power. So how to solve one without worsening the other? NASCAR has a whole research team dedicated to safety, and it’s a whole lot smarter than I am.
Said NASCAR CEO Brian France, “We’ll deploy all the talent and resources that we have to try and avoid that in the future.”
Perhaps this weekend’s experiment with reduced downforce at Kentucky will give NASCAR some hints about different ways to slow the cars down without making the pack racing even tighter.
In fact, NASCAR announced on Tuesday it will use a high-drag aero package for Indianapolis and Michigan, incorporating a 9-inch spoiler with a wicker bill and a 2-inch splitter. It will also use the low downforce Kentucky package, but with a different tire, for Darlington, and will introduce a new Goodyear right-side tire for Richmond.
In the aftermath of the Daytona accident, two of the injured fans have retained an attorney to file claims and possibly a lawsuit against NASCAR.
So that should help the attendance at Talladega in October, as lawyers flock to the track in hopes of a big payday.
Rain in Kentucky caused cancellation of Wednesday and Thursday practice, so the first chance Cup drivers had to fine-tune the cars to the new aero rules was a rain-shortened Friday session.
The track dried in time to run the Camping World Truck series race Thursday night.
Oddly enough, in an accident reminiscent of Daytona Sunday, Ben Kennedy’s truck damaged a portion of the catch fence. Lengthy repairs caused the race to be halted five laps short with Matt Crafton declared the winner. With intermittent rain on Friday, NASCAR wisely decided to cancel Cup qualifying in lieu of a 90 minute practice session. Kyle Larson had fastest time in practice and will start on the pole.
With all the rain we’ve had this past week, I was concerned about racing tonight at Fernley 95A Speedway, but I called the office on Thursday and was told the track and parking lot are both in good shape for the ninth points race of the season. Gates open at 3 p.m. and racing starts at 6.
Rain also affected Sunday’s British Grand Prix, with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton taking his fifth win of the season after changing to intermediate tires just as the skies opened up. By the time everybody else had changed from slicks, he was gone. Teammate Nico Rosberg made it yet another 1-2 finish for Mercedes, but Hamilton extended his points lead to 17.
Finally, there’s some sad news. NASCAR star and former broadcaster, Buddy Baker, has been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. We wish Buddy the best.