2-Headed Monster: Should NASCAR Set Standards for Superspeedway Driver Behavior?

Speedweeks in Daytona Beach, Florida has come and gone, and the teams are en route to California. What remains in their wake is the fallout from finishes in the top-two series that left a bit to be desired.

Nothing new for what has become the norm at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, but has the time come to start treating wrecks as a bit more than just a product of bumping at 200 mph? This week in 2-Headed Monster, Luke Wingard and Vito Pugliese tackle the topic.

Time to Reign in the Recklessness

The season-opening races at Daytona for each of the top three NASCAR series are the most anticipated of the year. Besides being superspeedway races, bringing three-wide drafting action, there’s the constant threat of a field decimating “Big One” lurking for the entire distance of the respective races.

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Following this weekend’s events, the best race and finish was readily apparent by the time the checkered flag flew at the Daytona 500.

I mean who didn’t love seeing Greg Van Alst break through for his first victory in the ARCA Menards Series’ biggest race of the year?

“Heresy” they screamed!

What kind of revisionist history has ARCA — with their legendary “ARCA brakes” or insurance agent drivers not being able to exit their car with a helmet on after an innocuous accident — providing a superior ending to “The Great American Race,” or even the Xfinity Series race for that matter?

The simple truth is, this was the story on the ground for the final lap of the top two series.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series can be forgiven for its meandering 60 mph pace, slowed by constant rain and mist, but the Xfinity and Cup series races were both decided by inches — although not at the start-finish line.

In fact, the end of each race was at no defined point on the racetrack. Instead, because of over-aggressive driving by some competitors, the race was decided by an arbitrary flip of the caution light switch, followed by a determination of what loop the cars were at when the lights actually illuminated.

What other sport determines its most important event in this manner?

Imagine an NBA finals drawing to a finish in a tied game seven, the shot and game clocks both counting down, 10…9…8….ERRRGGHHH!!! There’s the buzzer, game over, thanks for spending $250 on a ticket, $600 on a flight, and god knows what on a hotel room or Airbnb. Granted, the Super Bowl was impacted by a hysterically improper penalty flag, but it did not end the game or determine the winner (the latter is usually reserved for Detroit Lions losses in nationally televised games), certainly not to the extent that the two races in question were this past weekend.

This isn’t a criticism of NASCAR or an effort to paint them in a negative light. There were two field clearing wrecks, so they had to throw the yellow flag (except for the 2007 Daytona 500, that was fine to keep going with cars upside down and on fire), as Sam Mayer went Maverick, going inverted on the backstretch. Meanwhile, on Sunday (Feb. 19), Aric Almirola got into Travis Pastrana, sending him spinning downhill, igniting a chain reaction of crashes that consumed Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger and Bubba Wallace, to name a few.

The sanctioning body can’t be held responsible for the actions of the competitors. That said, the competitors need to bear some sort of responsibility for allowing these races to be contested and completed to provide some air of legitimacy about them.

Instead of necessitating multiple green-white-checkered attempts and wiping out millions of dollars of inventory, why not issue penalties for rough driving for causing a wreck?

Lifting the driver in front of you while in turn two on the final circuit running 9th, doesn’t quite mesh with Ken Squier’s declaration of “ordinary men doing extraordinary things.”

Is there any incentive to not just wipe out some cars around you to secure your place and end the race?

We’ve all gotten far too comfortable with cars slamming into the back of each other at 200 mph and barely hanging on. The leader is expected to block to maintain position, but forcing someone below the yellow line almost certainly will break their momentum, or discourage cars behind from following since they’d be penalized for improving their position.

It’s not too much to ask that drivers be responsible for making it back around and not wiping out half of the field.

Conversely, if drivers are going to be held to that high of a standard and culpability, then they should also be given something more to race with. Cars that have enough downforce to run three-wide reliably have enough power to generate a run in the draft. In the 1980s and 1990s there were multi-car crashes for sure; usually it was due to a blown tire, a car pushing up into another one, or just being loose and spinning. Today’s crashes are caused by lifting the rear tires of the car in front off the ground while pushing, or throwing a late block on a car going 10 mph faster.

I’m not saying we have to rewrite the rule book or the driver code of conduct, but maybe for two tracks we can at least have the threat of a penalty exist to discourage making desperation moves that result in carnage. Will it be a subjective call made by the officials — not unlike say, holding in the Super Bowl — that may be interpreted as a violation? Absolutely. Just as with mechanical modifications that go to far outside the spirit of the rules, NASCAR’s policy has always been, don’t put them in a position to have to make a decision that might result in a suspension or disqualification.

This same direction should be applied to the super speedways, least of which the premier event of the year that is billed as the Super Bowl of stock car racing. If there’s a race where you want casuals to watch and convince them to tune in again this week in California, giving them a race back to the finish line with a legendary call should be the goal — not whatever that exercise in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Coliseum degenerated into this year. – Vito Pugliese

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Waid's World: Competition Was Hot, Heavy & Dangerous in 1988 Tire Wars

The Last Thing NASCAR Needs Is Another Rule

With the way many superspeedway races have devolved into wreckfests and ended under caution in recent years, some fans have suggested that NASCAR should implement a rule that penalizes drivers for driving too aggressively and causing the race to end under caution.

This sort of rule, however, should not be implemented as it cuts against the grain of what makes NASCAR so special in the first place, and serves only to create yet another judgement call for NASCAR to make, which it could hardly handle correctly. 

The primary reason such a rule would prove detrimental to NASCAR is that it would discourage the type of aggressive racing that provides fans with the exciting moments they want to see. What makes the finish of a NASCAR race so entertaining, especially at superspeedways, is the way that the action steadily increases in intensity as it crescendos towards a climax inside the last 10 laps or so.

Penalizing drivers for racing aggressively down the stretch would force them to be more conservative. Therefore the finishes to these races would be far less dramatic and exciting.

Although fans may complain now about the way some races end under caution, this level of discontent would pale in comparison to how outraged fans would be if every superspeedway race ended similarly to the Daytona Duels in which drivers are content to follow each other home (for the most part) to conserve their equipment.

Hard racing has long been a trademark of NASCAR, from Dale Earnhardt’s “Pass in the Grass” to Ross Chastain’s “Hail Melon,” many of its greatest moments have come as a result of aggressive driving towards the end of races. A simple answer as to why a rule such as the one proposed should never take effect is that it would negate one of the aspects of NASCAR that makes it so special in the chaotic nature and high intensity of its race finishes. 

A second reason NASCAR should avoid putting a rule like this into play, is that it would provide NASCAR another judgement call to enforce, and it has historically proven to be totally inept in executing the rules consistently.

Unlike many stick-and-ball sports, many rulings NASCAR has to make are not black and white. A baseball umpire has it relatively easy; a pitch is either a ball or strike, a batted ball is either fair or foul, a runner is either safe or out, and so on. Most of NASCAR’s rule book concerning in-race actions, on the other hand, involves judgement calls. 

The inability of NASCAR officiating to make consistent rulings on rules currently in place, such as the yellow line rule at superspeedways and rules on restarts at all tracks, should lead fans to believe that yet another gray area in officiating is the last thing the sport needs.

While NASCAR stripped Regan Smith of a breakthrough Talladega victory in 2008 on the grounds that he made the winning move below the yellow line, yet they let Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2003 victory stand under similar circumstances. When NASCAR posted Elliott Sadler for a restart violation when Brad Keselowski spun his tires on a late-race restart at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a 2012 Xfinity race, they have let many more egregious restart offenses slide.

A rule penalizing drivers for over-aggressive driving causing races to end under caution may prove even more difficult to officiate than the previously mentioned examples, as ‘over-aggressive driving’ would prove especially burdensome to define specifically and identify during races. 

In summation, NASCAR should avoid creating a rule to penalize drivers for late-race aggression leading to races ending under caution, as this sort of rule runs counter to the spirit of the sport and it would present an officiating nightmare. Although ambitious or even foolish moves may continue to cause races to finish under yellow on occasion, this slight nuisance pales in comparison to the headache that would definitely result from a rule put in place to mitigate this issue. – Luke Wingard

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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Christopher

The solution to superspeedway chaos is (a) no green white checker at those races, (b) single file restarts if within the last 20 laps, (c) superspeedway-specific engine packages with no plates and reduced horsepower.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christopher
TiminPayson

Single file restart is a good idea. Not sure reducing hp has a significant effect.

Christopher

They use tapered spacers to reduce speed; the tapered spacers remove from the driver an ability to accelerate as on non-superspeedways. Reducing the horsepower with unrestricted engines would bring down the speed without hampering the driver using acceleration as a tool as they do everywhere else.

Tom B

Those are good ideas. Speed and acceleration is all relative, whether 200mph or 175mph. It is still very fast.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR is getting exactly what they want from the double file restarts, GWCs and all the other gimmicks they can think of to bunch up the bumper cars and get the wrecks that fill up the ads.

Tom B

Very true and it is costing owners a lot of money and making the end of the race anti-climatic.

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