Will NASCAR Flips Continue Until “Someone Dies”?

As we mentioned yesterday right after it happened, Carl Edwards had a horrific crash on the final lap of the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR race at Talladega, as he clipped the front of Brad Keselowski’s car while attempt to block a potentially race winning crash. The unheralded Keselowski went on to take the win, while Edwards went tumbling onto Ryan Newman’s roof before nearly hurtling into the crowd.

Carl Edwards flips at Talladega

While Edwards was fortunate enough to walk away unscathed - pulling a Ricky Bobby and running the last few hundred feet to the finish line - some fans were not, and we now know just how dangerous things were. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS says that seven fans suffered minor injuries after being hit with debris from both Edwards’ car and the catch fence that kept it out of the grandstand - including one woman with a possible broken jaw.

Video of the crash after the jump:

Edwards’ crash was the most spectacular of three major crashes throughout the day, first the first of two “Big Ones” coming just seven laps into the race. In all, more than half of the field were involved in the two big wrecks, taking out some of the sport’s biggest names such as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and more.

And then came Edwards’ wild ride, which only involved two cars but almost ended in tragedy. But while Edwards downplayed any problems with Keselowski, AOL FANHOUSE said he didn’t hold back his feelings about the state of NASCAR racing at Talladega:

“I just want to tell my mom, I’m OK,” Edwards told the television audience. “I’m very fortunate.

“NASCAR has put us in this box and we’ll race like this until we kill someone and then they’ll change it.”

And Edwards wasn’t alone in his frustration. Martin told CBS SPORTSLINE that this type of accident is almost unavoidable:

“I mean, how could that not happen? That’s what I say. How could it not happen? It’s not that guys are losing control of their cars. It’s that there are so many in such a wad that you can’t help but move up or down on one another, and it starts a wreck.” 

As noted in the CBS SPORTSLINE article, there are three major issues at play: restrictor plates, bump drafting and yellow out-of-bounds lines, and all three came into play in the big incidents. Restrictor plates were introduced to reduce horsepower (and therefore speeds) as a reaction to Bobby Allison’s crash in 1987 at - surprise! - Talladega in almost the exact same spot:

And while restrictor plates did reduce speeds (by about 20 mph), they also made it impossible to drive away from a pack of cars. Which means that the fastest way around a superspeedway is in a wad of 20 cars all “bump drafting” each other. Which leads to a lot less single car crashes and a lot more multiple car melees.

The final issue is the “out of bounds” line - basically, cars aren’t allowed to go to the apron of the track for any reason, even to avoid another car. Which meant that Keselowski - as he noted in Victory Lane - either had to stay in Edwards’ path, causing his flip, or take evasive action low and risk being penalized by NASCAR.

This all adds up to the “box” that Edwards referred to in his interview. And he’s right: there’s no reason for NASCAR to change things, since the massive crashes are what attracts mainstream media coverage and casual fans (ESPN SportsCenter had twice as much post-race coverage yesterday than they would have if it was incident-free).

The “cult of the crash” is a touchy subject in racing - wrecks equal ratings and are great for the sport. Unless someone gets seriously injured or killed. I’ll leave the last word on the subject to Dale Earnhardt Jr., talking to ESPN.COM about the media’s promotion of the dangerous side of racing. I think he knows a thing or two about the importance of safety in racing:

“There’s a responsibility of the media and the sanctioning body to come to their senses,” Earnhardt said. “They’ve celebrated the big wreck to bring attention to this stuff. This didn’t just start happening today. It’s been like this for a long time.” Where do you draw the line? When does it become too exciting to be safe?