A couple of weeks ago, I took NASCAR to task for being inconsistent with their fines and basically letting drivers and teams know it’s OK to cry conspiracy theory, but not as acceptable to offer opinions on the racing. After this weekend at Talladega, it’s time to add another category to the list of what you can’t do: whine.
Racing at Talladega isn’t new. NASCAR’s top series has been going to the 2.66-mile superspeedway since the early days of the sport, and fans love it. The racing at ‘Dega, as well as Daytona, the other superspeedway on the circuit, is dramatic, competitive, and rife with multi-car crashes and torn sheet metal. It is easier on these tracks to win more via luck than skill, but this creates the type of underdog stories we all love. David Ragan, a perennial high-20s finisher, made a daring last-lap pass on Carl Edwards Sunday to take the victory in near darkness, after a three-hour rain delay halted action at the light-less track.
At the end of the day, Ragan was happy. Others were not. That’s the way it goes at Talladega. The winner celebrates a victory at one of the wildest tracks on the circuit, while the victims of the big crashes complain about racing in a pack. There were two “Big Ones” –massive crashes that have become the track’s trademark–in Sunday’s race, including one in the closing laps that saw Kurt Busch become the first driver to go upside down in NASCAR’s new Gen 6 car, tumbling once before landing on the hood of Ryan Newman.
In his post-race interview, Newman, obviously upset about crashing out of the race, took shots at NASCAR for restarting the race as darkness fell and drizzle continued to fall from the sky, going so far as to say, “They can’t get their heads out of their asses.”
Newman has flipped before on a superspeedway, so he’s undoubtedly tired of being a part of crashes. But, even though they mentioned the impending darkness before the final restart, no driver said it was too dark to race. As for the rain comments, NASCAR unfailingly errs on the side of extreme caution when it comes to racing in the rain, stopping races for even the smallest amounts of moisture on the track. Furthermore, not a single car lost control because of a wet racetrack, so Newman’s implication that it somehow caused the crash is unfounded.
Anytime a car gets upside down, it’s scary; there’s no doubt about that. But NASCAR race cars are astoundingly safe machines that have continuously protected drivers for decades. Busch walked away unscathed from his mangled car after the crash, as did every other driver involved. The last on-track death in the Cup series was Dale Earnhardt in 2001, and that was due to a seat belt tear. Since then, NASCAR has made great strides in safety improvements.
Look, NASCAR is a dangerous sport, there’s no doubt about it. But the risks involved are ones drivers take willingly when they decide to drive a race car for a living. The comments we hear at Talladega and Daytona undoubtedly stem from frustration and a feeling of helplessness upon being caught in a crash caused by somebody else. But the racing at these tracks has always been like this. Had Newman missed the crash, he’d no doubt have been talking afterward about how wild it was to see a car flipping as he just skated by. And had he won, I’m sure there’d have been nothing but happy feelings all the way around.
It’s OK to be upset at getting knocked out of the race, but it’s old and tired to complain about the racing and claim it was too dark to drive. David Ragan didn’t think it was too dark to finish the race. Neither did his Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland, who finished second. Newman’s not the only problem, but it’s easy to single him out after his comments Sunday. If he wants to stay in the sport, he should consider pulling his head out and realizing he sounds childish and whiny. Or, if it truly bothers him so much to make millions of dollars driving a race car, I hear the PGA is constantly looking for new talent.