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Two NASCAR tracks are primed for tragedy

Flames trail from Ryan Newman’s car, top, after one of Sunday’s big crashes in the NASCAR race at Talladega.

AP

Flames trail from Ryan Newman’s car, top, after one of Sunday’s big crashes in the NASCAR race at Talladega.

The cataclysmic gloom and doom coming to NASCAR's restrictor-plate tracks is inevitable.

The cataclysmic gloom and doom coming to NASCAR's restrictor-plate tracks is reactionary nonsense.

Which side of the fence are you on?

Wherever you are, let's hope it's far away from the carnage and the flying sheet metal and the fire and the cars flipping in the air at Talladega on Sunday.

That wasn't racing. It was a blood sport. Visceral cheap thrills. A demolition-derby crashfest, when 35 of 40 cars suffered some sort of damage. Matt Kenseth's car went flipping in the air. Chris Buescher went barrel-rolling three times before his car finally stopped.

Danica Patrick walked out of her car physically battered and shaken.

"It was awesome," a fan said as I walked into a Birmingham, Ala., hotel after the race.

And therein lies the dilemma for the NASCAR business model. Fans — enough of them anyway — crave this stuff. It's sad and scary at the same time, but it also pays the bills.

"I love capitalism," said Brad Keselowski, who emerged as the winner and most fortunate son on Sunday.

"There's 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."

But it's time for a fair warning.

Yes, NASCAR has made significant strides in safety since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 on the last lap of the Daytona 500. Neck-and-head restraints. Safer barriers. Reinforcing catch fences. Concussion protocols.

It still may not be enough one day at Talladega or Daytona. All it takes is a hit at a wrong angle, especially if a car gets popped while it is flipping through the air. Double-whammy. Maybe a driver is seriously injured or killed. Maybe it's a fan, or a cluster of them.

This much is certain: Restrictor-plate racing invites the inevitable seismic clang when cars are going three- or four-wide at close to 200 mph.

Drivers hate every minute of it.

"It's scary, it's very scary," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.

"Very, very insane. You get butterflies in your stomach even thinking about coming here because you don't know what will happen," Trevor Bayne said.

"We don't like to be a part of crashes," said Austin Dillon, who was involved in a spectacular one at Daytona in July. "It's not what our job is, is to crash. Our job is to compete and have fun out there and put on a show.

"Putting on a show, in that crashes happen. I don't think of it that way.

"I think people, if they're cheering for crashes, man, it's not a good thing."

Yes, drivers sign up knowing the risks. But this isn't racing.

This is Russian roulette for the sake of entertainment.

You can moan about the wussification of NASCAR if you wish, as you sit there in the comfort of your home. I doubt that you will go flying in the air at close to 200 mph, fearing for your life, anytime soon.

— Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

Did you know?

The cost of damaged race cars on Sunday neared $10 million in losses across the grid, according to an informal survey Monday by the Associated Press of five top NASCAR race teams. Within that series-wide estimate, some teams estimated they lost $500,000 per car — total loss situations — while others estimated $250,000 without including any engine damage.

Two NASCAR tracks are primed for tragedy 05/03/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2016 8:20pm]
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