On fire? Check.
Flipped over? Check.
Pissed off at Joey Logano? Check.
Surprising? Absolutely not.
On Sunday, 40 cars started the Geico 500 at Talladega Speedway. Only five reached the checkered flag 188 laps later sans damage. Twelve drivers were out of the race at the end, not including the seven who wrecked coming to the checkered flag. Chris Beuscher got on his lid. So did Matt Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed twice. Junior and Danica Patrick, who wrecked with Kenseth, had encounters with some flames post crash.
All that restrictor-plate fueled mayhem and aside from a continuation of the Kenseth/Joey Logano spat and some weird Twitter beef between Delana Harvick and Earnhardt’s girlfriend, there was not much too controversial about the race.
Because it’s just not that surprising anymore.
NASCAR has been coming to the 2.66-mile high-banked oval in Alabama since 1969 and from the beginning, the track has been no stranger to the strange. In 1987, Bobby Allison’s crash that sent his car careening into the catch fence, led to NASCAR mandating the use of the horsepower-limiting restrictor plates for subsequent races at Talladega and Daytona.
I can’t say I can remember a more controversial move in the history of stock car racing.
Reigning Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch cannot be counted among the supporters of plate racing.
“These cars, you try to get a little bit aggressive, start bumping people and pushing people, they’re real easy to get out of control,” said Busch. “I really don’t know why we’re bumping and pushing and everything else, because these cars, they go slower when you push … makes a lot of sense. That’s how stupid we are.”
Busch said he would rather stay at home than run plate races after finishing second.
Patrick also had a few disparaging remarks about the racing after her accident garnered her an x-ray during her trip to the infield care center. But other than that, drivers seem somewhat resigned to the danger associated with racing and, more specifically, the restrictor plate brand of racing.
NASCAR has done a great job in the last 15 years to improve the safety of the cars and the tracks. But that does not mean that the laissez-faire attitude that has permeated the culture vis-à-vis plate racing. It has not been that long ago that Austin Dillon’s car knocked down the fence at Daytona. Nor has it been that long ago that Kyle Larson’s engine ended up in the seats either.
I’ll be the first to admit I dig the excitement that comes from plate racing. Sunday at Talladega kept me on the edge of my seat (or at least awake, which is a plus). The aggressiveness among the drivers was a bit ramped up because of the threat of rain. But there has to be a balance. While everyone thankfully walked away from the carnage on Sunday, the financial cost for the 35 race cars that ended up in varying degrees of wreck, probably costs owners somewhere in the range of $10 million.
There are no easy answers and, like any changes that NASCAR may or may not make, there will be good and bad that comes from anything they may do to keep the two biggest tracks from turning into parking lots that can collect half of the field.
Not to say they will do anything. There was a guy who actually won on Sunday who, naturally, had no complaints about the race of fans’ reaction to it.
“I’m a capitalist. I love capitalism,” said Brad Keselowski, after celebrating in Talladega’s victory lane for the fourth time. “There are still people paying to sit in the stands, sponsors still on the cars, drivers still willing to get in them. Sounds self-policing and enough interest to keep going, so we’ll keep going.”
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column during the NASCAR season. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.