NASCAR is lucky to have escaped Daytona with their integrity still intact. 28 people were injured from flying debris, including a tire, from Nationwide Series rookie Kyle Larson’s car at the finish of Saturday’s race. Fortunately nobody died in this incident.
I don’t have all the answers for what could be done to keep this from happening. I’m sure that NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway are going to be looking at what can be done for a long while and will definitely make some changes. Many have shared their ideas already—taller catch-fence, lower speeds-- and I agree with many of them.
A change to the grandstands at Daytona and Talladega is needed. Fortunately Daytona is already planning a major renovation to their grandstands. These changes could be built into the plans for the renovated grandstands. I would like to see those race tracks model their grandstands after the seating at Homestead-Miami Speedway. If you were to take a look at their seating you would notice that their seating is far back from the catch-fence. It’s also much higher off the ground than most race tracks have their seating.
Unfortunately, even with this arrangement that tire still would have made its way into the grandstands, but those people in the first five rows who were hit by debris and fluid on Saturday would most likely not have been harmed if the seating was pushed back and up like at Homestead.
The other change to the grandstands I’d like to see is a “buffer zone” like what tracks such as Kentucky Speedway and Kansas Speedway have. At the front of the grandstands there is a concrete wall and a 10-15 feet gap between the grandstands and the catch-fence that nobody walks in. Nobody is down there, including security guards. I know that there are many people who love to stand next to the fence and feel the cars rushing by them at 200mph just a couple feet away. I’ve done it myself and the experience is exhilarating. But at Daytona and Talladega it is extremely dangerous during race conditions, especially at the end of the race.
One other change I’d like to see is a reduction in speeds. Dave Despain said on Sunday night’s episode of Wind Tunnel that the point of the restrictor plate was to keep the cars from going way over the 200mph speed and flying into the crowd like Bobby Allison did at Talladega in 1987. Even with the restrictor plate the cars are still right at the 200mph mark. Make restrictor plate holes smaller and bring the speeds down by another 10-15 mph. They don’t have to be going 200mph in order to put on a good show. The show could still be amazing at 190mph.
What can be done to produce more side-by-side racing?
Yesterday’s Daytona 500 was incredibly tame. Actually, that may be an understatement. The race was a single-file parade for about 140 of the 200 laps. The only racing took place on restarts for a few laps and then they all made their way back into a long line around the perimeter of the speedway. Everybody decided to wait until the last 20 laps of the race before they actually started to race hard.
Quite frankly, the 55th running of the Daytona 500 was an embarrassment.
However, don’t give up on the Gen-6 superspeedway package just yet.
When the drivers actually did race side-by-side, the action was awesome. What needs to be done is something to make that action happen for more than the race. It was obvious that the main reason for the single-file parade was the men and woman behind the wheel. Ever since testing at Daytona back in January it was obvious that the car was very unstable. The lack of stability led to a lot of big crashes. The new car also meant a lack of replacement parts for the car. So the more crashes that happened meant each team had fewer replacement parts as Speedweeks went on. To me, the amount of cars that were already torn up led to the drivers racing carefully in the Budweiser Duels and the Daytona 500. So if you make the cars more stable in the draft, maybe less cars get torn up and maybe the drivers race harder throughout more of the race.
I’d like to see NASCAR give the teams more spoiler. The spoiler that was used this past week is about half the size of the spoiler that is going to be used at the rest of the race tracks on the schedule. Using a bigger spoiler would punch a bigger hole in the air which should lead to faster closing rates. That could lead to more passing and more side-by-side racing and obviously a much more exciting race.
Many people think that the fans calling yesterday’s race boring just want crashing. That is not the case at all. Many seem to think that there’s no middle ground between wanting excitement and wanting to see nothing but crashing. Many said the same thing when the fans complained about wanting the “Old Bristol” back. They don’t want the crashes, they want the bumping and banging and tempers that Bristol was known for. The same goes for Daytona and Talladega. They want to see side-by-side racing. Two and three-wide racing for much of the race. Basically, the fans want to see the 2010 Aaron’s 499. That race was a record setting day for NASCAR for lead changes and green-flag passes. Obviously every race is not going to be that way, and the fans get that. But they don’t want to see a long parade for 450 miles of a 500 mile race.
The Danica 500
Much of yesterday’s race coverage was dedicated to Danica Patrick, and for good reason. She qualified on the pole (first woman to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series and for the Daytona 500) and stayed up front for most of the race. She even led six laps which made her the first woman to ever lead a lap during the Daytona 500. She also became only the 13th person to lead a lap at the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, regardless of gender. Patrick finished eighth and was in contention for the win right down to the very end. It was a fantastic day for her.
All that said, she needs to follow up her run in the Daytona 500 with a good finish next week in Phoenix. I’m not expecting her to be up front contending for the win again, but a top-25 would be a big accomplishment. Patrick has already proven that she can race well on the superspeedways. Now she has to improve on the other tracks that make up the bulk of the schedule if she ever wants to take the next step.
The ratings for yesterday’s race were up 30% from last year’s Daytona 500 that was run on a Monday night in prime-time. It was the highest rated Daytona 500 since 2006.
There are a couple reasons for the increase ratings. One is the brand new Sprint Cup car that has brought back manufacturer identity to NASCAR. The cars on the race track actually look like the cars in the showroom. The other has to be the Danica-factor. It’s impossible to deny the fact that her winning the pole for NASCAR’s biggest race brought in a big audience. Just how much of an impact she had on the race remains to be seen, but you can’t deny that she did have an impact.
What I’d like to see is a ratings increase for this Sunday’s race in Phoenix. I’m not expecting the ratings to be anywhere near as high as they were for Daytona, but I’d hope that there is still an increase.
Pastrana qualified fourth for his first Nationwide Series race at Daytona and his first race for Roush-Fenway Racing. He didn’t stay up front, but he started to get back up there as the race got closer to the finish. He made his way through the first big wreck and showed that he had a fast car even though nobody wanted to work with him. He was involved in the last-lap crash though, but then again, so was everyone not named Tony Stewart.
Pastrana is learning what he needs to do to be competitive and has proven he has the drive needed to become a winner in NASCAR. Pastrana said this past weekend on his website that he is funding his NASCAR efforts mostly out of his own pocket. Pastrana doesn’t have to do that. He’s made enough money from his freestyle motocross career to live comfortably for the rest of his life. It costs a lot to put a competitive car on the track in the Nationwide Series. That says something to the desire that Pastrana has to become a winner in NASCAR.
I don’t think Pastrana will ever become a champion in NASCAR. I don’t know if he’ll ever win a race either. But he definitely has the desire to get the job done, and the enthusiasm he brings along with him is just wonderful.