There is no place in NASCAR for flying cars.
…Or is there?
Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was certainly an eventful one, yet akin to what NASCAR fans have grown accustomed to at restrictor plate events. There were hard hits, a traditional “Big One,” and plenty of aggressive racing.
However, one feature was different this time – two cars suffered violent airborne accidents.
First, Chris Buescher was caught up in a multi-car accident halfway through the event. Amidst the chaos, the 23-year-old was tipped by Michael Annett, and his vehicle left the asphalt. It is worthy to note that the roof flaps, fastened to each car to prevent flipping, did not deploy. Buescher’s No. 34 proceeded to flip several times down the backstretch and come to a rest on its wheels.
Buescher climbed out uninjured.
Later on, Matt Kenseth became the next victim. In the middle of another accident, the No. 10 of Danica Patrick slammed into his No. 20 Toyota. They collided with enough force to lift his Toyota’s front wheels off the ground. While the car’s roof flaps deployed correctly, the air rushing underneath the car was enough to send it higher. It flipped and then rode the wall on the inside of the backstretch before landing right-side up.
Patrick also suffered a hard hit into the same barrier. Both also walked away uninjured.
Kyle Busch was one of many drivers to discuss the aggressive racing featured Sunday.
“You know, it’s just Talladega,” he said. “It is what it is. 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. I really don’t know why… because these cars, they go slower when you push. Makes a lot of sense. That’s how stupid we are.”
When asked if he had a solution to accidents like Buescher and Kenseth’s, he said passively, “I don’t have one… It’s been this way for 30 years. Stop complaining about it, I guess.”
While aerodynamic accidents have plagued NASCAR in years past, it is a fairly new sight in the modern-day Sprint Cup Series. The most recent airborne wrecks have taken place in the lower series, such as Christopher Bell’s barrel-roll down the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway in February. But each series vehicle is a different beast.
The last time flipping cars was a concern in the Cup Series was back in 2009, when NASCAR put a “wing” on the spoilers. Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, and more all suffered airborne accidents that season. NASCAR diligently changed the aero package on the cars and those kind of accidents became part of the past.
NASCAR has been working with a lower downforce package this year, which could be affecting the cars negatively in wrecks at restrictor plate events. Less downforce means the cars don’t stick to the track as much. It makes for better racing, but what we saw Sunday could be a negative.
Seeing these drivers vulnerable inside a completely uncontrolled car is quite unnerving to watch.
“You’ll have (fans) liking speedway racing more than (drivers) do. We all have to do it,” Austin Dillon said. “I don’t know how many really love it. But I know our moms and wives and girlfriends, they don’t like it because they got to watch their loved ones put themselves in situations they don’t like.
“It’s part of the game, speedway racing, always has been. Hopefully, we can figure something out to help keep them on the ground.”
Just a few tweaks can make a world of difference in this sport – and it seems like NASCAR is already looking into it. Monday, NASCAR Executive Vice President, and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell discussed the topic on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.
“My gut reaction is similar to yours, the drivers, the fans and everyone — you never want to see that,” O’Donnell said. “So you immediately work on, ‘OK, is everybody safe? Did the safety equipment do its job?’ and then what can we learn from that.
“The immediate steps are to review all the media shots that we have of those incidents, work with the race teams and then look at what may or may not be different from when we’ve been not only at Talladega but at any other race track. We’ve had cars get in the air at other tracks as well, so we’ll look at that. We’ll study the cars as well. We’ll work with the industry.”
Whether or not NASCAR will find anything to consider changing – only time will tell.
However, back to the question: Is there a place in NASCAR for flying cars? Is it inevitable, or fixable?
“…I don’t think that’s anything new,” Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the winning No. 2 team stated Sunday. “That’s been going on for a long time. We continue to work on the roof flaps and things like that. But, I’m not saying there isn’t ways to do better than what we have. I’m sure there is. NASCAR does a great job of continuing to look into ways to do that. But at the speeds we’re running, sometimes it seems like there’s not a whole lot you can do once you get sideways at that kind of speed.”
Flipping cars, to a certain extent, will always be a possibility at restrictor plate events – just like many of the other nasty hits seen at these tracks. When a car is hit with enough force or wedged awkwardly between a wall, physics will win every time. Arguably no amount of aerodynamic restraints could stop what would take place at those speeds. However, air can be manipulated.
Buescher’s accident was an example of that. If the roof flap had worked properly, in addition to other possible safety features, there is a good chance the car would have never rolled. Kenseth’s case is a little more uncertain.
The Sprint Cup Series will return to restrictor-plate racing in two months for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Look for this talking point to return as the event draws near.
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