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The bedlam at NASCAR's Talladega race: A postscript

October 08, 2012|By Jim Peltz
  • Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 car, flips in the air as part of the pileup.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 car, flips in the air as part of the pileup. (Todd Warshaw / Getty Images )

After the cars came to rest at Talladega Superspeedway following their spectacular crash -- including one car that flipped on its roof -- one of the television announcers said, "The fans loved it [and] the TV audience, but 43 drivers are not too happy."

Sunday's NASCAR race? No, that Talladega wreck happened seven years ago. The car on its roof was driven by Scott Riggs, the announcer was the late Benny Parsons and the story basically was the same then as it is now.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and other drivers weren't too happy, either, Sunday after more than 20 cars were collected in the last-lap bedlam at Talladega.

But as Riggs would attest, this isn't something new. As long as NASCAR mandates so-called restrictor-plate racing at Talladega (and Daytona), where the cars are grouped into packs because there's a lid on their horsepower, the danger of multi-car wrecks remains.

Earnhardt, Gordon and the other Sprint Cup Series drivers know that. Which raises the question: At what point do the drivers shoulder at least part of the blame for the big crashes they abhor?

Only they know what it feels like to be traveling at 200 mph with cars all around them and trying to finish as high as they can, whether that means trying to pass someone or blocking someone.

But aren't they supposed to be the best stock-car drivers in the world? Aren't they supposed to have the superlative skill, patience and reflexes to keep enough distance between one another -- even if it's only a foot or two -- to prevent gigantic wrecks?

Or does the will to win, the adrenaline of the moment and the intense desire to race supersede their expertise, if only for an ill-fated split second?

One of the best of the best is Tony Stewart, who's not only the Cup series' defending champion but also one of its most outspoken critics of reckless driving. Yet it was Stewart -- with all his years of experience -- who sparked Sunday's melee and briefly ended up on his roof as a result.

"A mistake on my part," Stewart said. "I was trying to win."

Gordon maintained that there was "a little more to it" than simply Stewart's misstep, that the aerodynamics and power of the cars shuffling forward and back as they draft make it "inevitable" something will go wrong.

Perhaps. But if Stewart hadn't made his tactical error, the race might well have ended without the "Big One." Aren't the risk of a huge wreck at Talladega and one actually occurring because of a driver's lapse, different things?

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