The crash on the final lap of the Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday was something that was so unbelievable; it still makes me shake my head.
On the final lap of the race, a huge crash began when contact between Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski started a big wreck that led to Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet flying through the air and hitting the catch fence. Kyle Laron's car hit the catch fence and it sent debris from his car into the stands, which included the Sprint Tower and Campbell grandstand on the front straightaway.
Police officers came over and told fans to leave the speedway immediately. Parts of the car were still in the stands when fans exited and the joy that was the Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona turned into somberness as rescue workers carried fans out on stretchers.
It makes you wonder what NASCAR can do to try and understand why the wreck happened and what could be done to prevent future accidents like the one we saw Saturday. Something that can be prevented is the style of racing that the accident was caused by that is done by the Nationwide Series at Daytona and Talladega.
If NASCAR fans recall, the tandem style racing was used in the Cup Series not too long ago. The COT’s bumpers lined up so well that it made it easy to push on the newly paved Daytona and Talladega racetracks.
The first time fans recall a “tandem” style of racing was in 2009 when Carl Edwards was leading the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. He was being pushed by driver Brad Keselowski who then moved to the inside of Edwards. When Edwards went to block, he didn’t have enough room, sending Edwards’ #99 Ford into a drastic spin. He would be hit by oncoming traffic, including the #39 Chevrolet driven by Ryan Newman. Newman’s car would push Edwards’ car into the air and send him into the catch fence in a very similar crash as to what we saw in the Drive4COPD300 at Daytona on Saturday.
Anytime cars get into the catch fence, fans are in danger. Back in April 1987, Bobby Allison blew a tire while running the Winston 500 at Talladega. Allison’s car flew into the air and went into the catch fence, causing a few injuries and delaying the race for over an hour.
At the time of the incident NASCAR had unrestricted motors at the superspeedway tracks leading to speeds in excess of 210 miles per hour. They decided that the accident from Allison was enough to warrant a discussion on how to slow the cars down for both fan and driver safety. That’s when they introduced the restrictor plate.
A restricted engine limits the airflow to the engine, slowing the car down and making it harder to pass. That’s when drafting at Daytona and Talladega became the way of racing. It showed everyone that a restricted engine could work and make for exciting racing. It’s still that way today.
But, the tandem style racing is super dangerous. The car pushing cannot see anything aside from the car in front of them making them at the mercy of the driver in front of them. When a big crash happens in front the drivers who are pushing have no idea where to go. Not only that, but the leader coming off of turn four, is a sitting duck.
If you look at the finish of Saturday’s race Regan Smith had the lead coming off of turn four. Brad Keselowski moved to the outside of Smith trying to perform the infamous slingshot pass and speed ahead to victory. Smith did what any driver would do. He moved up to try and block Keselowski but he didn’t have room.
Neither Smith nor Keselowski did anything wrong in their attempt to win the biggest Nationwide race of the season. Smith made a mistake because he didn’t have enough room and the hole closed faster than he originally thought. That doesn’t make Smith a bad driver it happens to the best of them. Look at the finish to the 1976 Daytona 500 between Richard Petty and David Pearson. It was a very similar situation as to why the accident started.
The drivers were not at fault. Any driver would have moved up just like Smith did. It’s the tandem style of racing that is at fault. Some drivers cannot see what is going on and have little time to react to a big wreck.
While the reaction to Saturday’s crash may not be as drastic as it was when Bobby Allison’s crash occurred 26 years ago, maybe it should be as drastic. If NASCAR doesn’t fix the tandem style of racing in the Nationwide Series at Daytona and Talladega they are going to pay the price for it in all the wrong ways.
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