Does NASCAR Actually Care About Driver Safety?

By Paul Schmidt

Watching the AMP Energy 500 on Sunday afternoon, I was struck by one thing: Good Lord, this race was boring.

After a stern warning from NASCAR President Mike Helton that drivers would be heavily penalized, the first half of the race was marked largely by single-file racing.  No two-deep.  No three-deep.  Everyone just lined up single-file, and went around in circles. All because of the warning from Helton, which came just a scant two hours before the race. 

That’s right, two hours before racing, NASCAR told all the drivers that most of their strategy would be thrown out the window — It was definitely the name of safety, yes, but why not make the announcement at the beginning of the week so drivers have time to adjust to a rule that has been in place, but not enforced, all season long.

As the race sped towards its conclusion, Ryan Newman got sideways in the stretch and got airborne. The number 39 car flipped and came down on its roof, sliding up the embankment into the wall and then sliding back down the track before rolling over and over, finally coming to a rest in the infield, again on its roof.

Newman, thank goodness, was ok, but after being involved in a crash at Talledega earlier this season with Carl Edwards and being very open about the cars getting airborne, he was obviously disappointed about being the driver, again, to be affected by a horrific crash at the grand oval.

Edwards didn’t mince words after the earlier race, either, saying, “I guess we’ll do this until someone gets killed and then we’ll change it.”

When even your drivers are resigned to someone losing their life, NASCAR, that means it’s time for a change.

Restrictor plates were (in a simplified way) designed to slow the speed of the stock cars, and keep them at a max speed of approximately 195 MPH, and while that in itself has been a success, it hasn’t kept cars on the ground. Even just the slightest bump has sent cars careening through the air in the most disturbing manner.

What does that mean? Perhaps modifications to the tracks are in order. The high banking turns (33 degree banks) at Talladega especially are reason for this — if the banks were lowered, drivers would have to slow down through the turns. As it is now, drivers tend to decelerate very little through the banks, and racing three or four deep, at excessive speeds, even the slightest mistake can cause a massive pileup.

With lowered banks, people would have to slow down, increasing the margin for error.

In a sport where the difference between winning and losing is thousandths of seconds, a small margin of error is what the drivers are used to — it just shouldn’t have to be that small in determining whether they live or die.