Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Are Airborne Cars Just Part of the Game At Talladega?

NASCAR made a few judgment calls late Sunday during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Talladega Superspeedway, including a red flag, allowing the race to continue after one last-lap crash but throwing the caution after a second. Did the sanctioning body properly handle each situation?

Mark Kristl: Typically the sanctioning body is in a predicament regarding late-race cautions at superspeedways, but NASCAR’s decision not to throw the caution flag when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. suffered damage right when the white flag flew puzzled me. FOX didn’t help NASCAR by not answering that question, either. Kudos to NASCAR for making a quick yellow after Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr., Justin Haley and Chris Buescher wrecked. All cautions inside 10 laps to go should be quick yellows. Let’s clean up and go racing!

Adam Cheek: The red flag was warranted, especially considering that DiBenedetto’s front end pretty much shattered when it hit Buescher’s machine. Debris was all over, and I wasn’t surprised that NASCAR threw the red. The first last-lap crash — Stenhouse turning dead right into the outside wall — wasn’t terribly major, and I wasn’t surprised that the officials hesitated to throw the caution. It seemed that they realized there was too much debris too late; by that time, Kyle Larson was airborne on the backstretch. Throw the red for a crash that threw debris everywhere, and then hold off since it was just a one-car incident that hadn’t left a lot of debris at first.

Joy Tomlinson: The red flag was necessary to help clean up after Buescher and DiBenedetto’s wreck. There were a lot of debris from several cars there, and if there was any fluid on the track, it could slide down the racetrack and cars wouldn’t be able to get around it. I did question the reaction to the first last-lap crash of Stenhouse; why didn’t they throw the caution flag and go assist him? That was a hard wreck. Drivers would’ve slowed down and since the leaders crossed the line, it would’ve ended under yellow anyway.

Amy Henderson: Yes. The caution came out as soon as debris from the No. 17 was spotted, and the temptation to not throw that flag on the final lap must have been strong, so good call. The one incident I questioned was actually earlier in the race.  When Jimmie Johnson cut a tire and smacked the wall, the broadcast clearly showed something fly off of or out from under one of the cars ahead of the No. 48 that likely caused the tire problem, and there should have been a caution after Johnson crashed just to make sure that didn’t happen to anyone else.  It turned out OK, but why take a chance so early in the race?

Christian Koelle: NASCAR handled everything correctly, with the exception of bringing everyone down pit road during the caution period before what would become the final laps of the race. I am still confused by what happened there, but otherwise, NASCAR made some good judgment calls, including letting them race for as long as possible late especially after Stenhouse’s hard hit.

After Larson’s wild Talladega tumble, should NASCAR refocus on keeping the cars grounded, or is this sort of crash accepted as a possibility?

Koelle: As with any incident like this, NASCAR will go back and investigate why it happened and find new ways to keep it from happening. That’s been commonplace the last few years. Maybe NASCAR needs to look at the surface itself to see if there is a dip or any factors that result in the air going under the car where it shouldn’t. Otherwise, they’re fast cars, and it can take the slightest thing to send them over, so it’s kinda just gonna be the norm.

Henderson: NASCAR has done a good job here, actually. You can take steps to avoid this kind of thing, but you can’t prevent them entirely because of physics. The principle of lift isn’t going away anytime soon (and if you ever fly anywhere, be glad about that). Larson’s crash was scary to watch, but he was just at exactly the wrong sideways angle where the shark fins didn’t do their job and he didn’t go around far enough to deploy the roof flaps. If you’re the sanctioning body, you do everything in your power to make sure these things don’t happen, but if you do that and they still happen, it’s part of the sport.  If you leave something on the table, though, shame on you.

Kristl: With the high speeds at superspeedways, the possibility of a car flipping will always remain. However, because Larson flipped, NASCAR rightfully is investigating. Perhaps something will be learned.

Tomlinson: Considering that in most of the races this year the cars stayed on the ground for the most part, it’s good that NASCAR is investigating the crash. There were extra pieces on the cars in this race, parts needed to slow the closing rate. Could those pieces have had an effect on the instability of the cars here? Perhaps.

Cheek: Changes aren’t warranted, for the most part. We’ve seen cars go over with pretty much every configuration of car and/or package, and it won’t stop with more changes; it’s basically granted every time the series goes to a superspeedway that we could see a flip. However, it could’ve been partially due to air catching under the spoiler’s air wick, but at the same time, he did get turned at more than 175 mph; sliding into air at that rate would certainly cause the car to flip or at least get air.

Tyler Reddick switched to a different team (Richard Childress Racing) for 2019 even after winning the Xfinity Series title last year with JR Motorsports. In terms of both his immediate and long-term future, was it the right decision?

Cheek: Yes. Tyler Reddick‘s performed exceptionally well after struggling in parts of 2018 and not running consistently well (until it counted, of course). Childress’ Xfinity program seems to be above and beyond its Cup team, so Reddick has excelled.

Tomlinson: It was the right decision for now, as he has proved why he’s the reigning Xfinity champ. While it’s possible for an underfunded team to perform well in Cup, it’s exponentially tougher. I mean, until Talladega, it was Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing stealing the show. A driver of his caliber needs to be on a team that can compete at all tracks, not just superspeedways. Silly season should be interesting this year, as Reddick definitely deserves a Cup ride.

Henderson: For the short term, sure.  JRM already had his replacement, and for some reason, Reddick didn’t appear to be a part of Hendrick Motorsports’ long-term plans. RCR’s Xfinity program is good.  Long term, even with its issues, Hendrick is the better Cup team, so that could hurt Reddick, though if he continues to be solid, he’ll land a Cup ride in the next year or two. Hendrick appears to be looking down the road and actively auditioning Noah Gragson for the No. 48 ride in 2021.

Koelle: Other than Michael Annett‘s victory at Daytona International Speedway and his pole at Talladega, JRM has been slightly struggling as of late. That makes me believe it was a good move, but it would’ve been exciting to see how he would’ve done returning with everything he had last season.

Kristl: Absolutely! All four Hendrick drivers are locked up long term, so Reddick’s path to the Cup Series was blocked. While RCR owns two charters, the team has alliances with StarCom Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports. Could Reddick someday drive for either team if the money is there? This offseason, if a team is willing to sell a charter, RCR could scoop it up for Reddick.

With Kyle Busch not in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series lineup at Dover International Speedway, who has the best shot of breaking into the win column?

Cheek: Brett Moffitt. He’s run well this season but hasn’t managed to break through (yet). He’s ready to get going after his championship season, and he could come out and win.

Kristl: Stewart Friesen, Johnny Sauter and Moffitt. All three drivers have shown speed this season, all three have competed there before and all three are eager to win and clinch their playoff berth.

Koelle: You can’t look past Sauter at Dover. He’s one driver who will propel and kick some tail if he gets the chance to. I also like Grant Enfinger and Sheldon Creed, but it’s anyone’s game this weekend.

Henderson: I like Matt Crafton‘s chances.  He’s struggled a bit and had some terrible luck, but his numbers at Dover are very good, though he has one win to Sauter’s two. Dover is the kind of track that can favor a veteran driver’s experience, and Crafton’s hungry for a win, so that could be a winning recipe.

Tomlinson: Friesen has battled with Kyle Busch for the lead this season, so he could be the one to beat this week.

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I think the airborne problem is not due to the cars spinning and getting air on their own, but it generally happens after a hit from another car that sends it tumbling or up off the pavement. Not sure what can be done there short of making the cars rectangular boxes to prevent the sloped nose from going under/lifting the car it hits.

Paul Rodrigues

Sure they still go airborne but it’s not as violent as in the past. Notice that the bodies are pretty much intact.

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