Sunday’s violent end to the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway — where 25 cars ended up in an all too familiar wreck — has sparked a debate among drivers on restrictor plate racing at NASCAR’s premier tracks, Talladega and Daytona International Speedway.
The parade of protests against restrictor plate racing began Sunday night right after the race with Dale Earnhardt Jr. who called what happens at the big tracks “bloodthirsty” and “ridiculous.”
Now four time champion Jeff Gordon — often the voice of reason in the sport — is lashing out against the high-speed mayhem.
For those not aware of what happens at Talladega and Daytona — two high banked ovals of 2.66 and 2.5 miles, respectively, — here’s a short lesson.
To keep speeds from reaching 225 m.p.h. to 230 m.p.h. NASCAR puts restrictor plates on the cars that lessens the flow of air to the engine, reducing the horsepower.
The result is that all the cars pretty much drive at the same speed in packs.
Earnhardt, and now Gordon, contend that all this does is create the perfect storm that sparked what happened at Talladega on the final turn of the final lap.
The pair, and most other drivers, think the racing would be safer without the horsepower killing plates, even if speeds hit stratospheric levels.
Right now they race at Talladega and Daytona almost under protest.
“I mean, do we have a choice?” Gordon asked. “I guess we do, but I don’t feel like I really do. It’s just part of racing here at Talladega. You have to accept it. You have to know that you’re going to be going through that at certain times during the race, but at the end, for sure, especially with a green/white checkered. You put a lot of faith in your safety equipment and you kind of white-knuckle, hold on tight.
“I can’t even describe it to you.”
Gordon did try, however, to paint a picture of what it was like racing at Talladega on Sunday on the final lap from inside the car.
“I don’t know how we even made it to the white flag,” he said. “Coming through that tri-oval, being hit from behind, hitting the guy in front of me, you’re sandwiched in between two cars. There are cars doing the same thing on that side of you, and cars on that side of them doing the same thing.
“It was just insane. But you’re doing all you can to try to move your lane and hope that you make it back around.
“You know you’re not going to make it back to the checkered without there being a wreck.”
Gordon said never before in his 20 years of racing in NASCAR’s top loop has he felt so helpless behind the wheel of the No. 24 Chevrolet.
“You can’t see anything but the bumper in front of you,” he said. “And you don’t have a move. It’s not like you can sit there and say, ‘Oh, okay, I’m going to switch, go to the outside.’ You’ve got no moves, man.
“You’re just sitting there pushing that car in front of you as hard as you can. I couldn’t tell you what was happening right in front of us. I certainly couldn’t have told you that (the big wreck) was happening.”
Remember this diatribe is coming from a driver who managed to come through the wreck and finish second behind winner Matt Kenseth.
Gordon is also no stranger to victory lane at Talladega and Daytona having posted an incredible 13 wins on superspeedways.
But things, he said, have changed with pack racing.
“I remember when coming to Talladega was fun,” he said. “And I haven’t experienced that in a long, long time. I don’t like coming here. I don’t like the type of racing that I have to do (now).”
He said the old style of racing — where drafting and horsepower won races — was better and safer.
“I do remember times when the draft and the thought that you had to put into it, the strategy working the draft and the cars in the lines was fun,” he said. “You had some room in between the cars, and you had to use the air instead of the bumper. “To me you could still come from the middle of the pack to first on the closing laps, but just how you did it was different.”
Gordon said the way the race went on the final laps at Talladega took skill out of the equation.
“It was, literally, bumper cars at almost 200 m.p.h , and I don’t know anybody that likes that,” he said. Maybe this is for the young guys, not for the old guys like me.”
BRAD’S BIG BREAK
While Brad Keselowski’s closest competitors among the 12 drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship left Talladega Superspeedway banged up and bruised, the driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge increased his points lead.
He escaped the last-lap wreck when he dropped to the bottom of the track and ended up with a seventh-place finish, putting him 14 points in front of Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet team.
“Wow. That is big,” Keselowski said.
It is even bigger when one considers that four of the next five races are on intermediate tracks where all of the Chase drivers usually do well and there is little chance of any more big swings in points like there was at Talladega.
Keselowski knows he was lucky to come away from Talladega with a points bulge after the team decided not pit for fuel on the final caution before the green-white-checkers finish.
“It’s not really how I wanted to escape ... I’d rather just win the race,” he said. “But with the way that the pit stops shook out and with everyone really close on fuel, staying out was definitely the right move because we didn’t get a second green-white-checkers.
“The crew made all the right calls all day and we got a good finish out of it.”
Keselowski knows, however, that with six races left he can’t afford to rest on his laurels.
“There’s still a lot of racing left,” Keselowski said. “And at least we’re not fighting from a hole.”
1 Brad Keselowski 2179
2 Jimmie Johnson 2165
3 Denny Hamlin 2156
4 Kasey Kahne 2143
5 Clint Bowyer 2139
6 Jeff Gordon 2137
7 Tony Stewart 2133
8 Martin Truex Jr. 2131
9 Greg Biffle 2130
10 Kevin Harvick 2130
11 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2128
12 Matt Kenseth 2117