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Long: Thank God they walked away

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Thank God Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked away. Thank God Danica Patrick walked away. Thank God Chris Buescher walked away.

Now they and the NASCAR industry need to ask, “What the hell are we doing?”

Another Talladega Superspeedway demolition derby has ended, and more questions remain about restrictor-plate racing after seeing cars upside down, slamming into walls and careening out of control.

Now that there is a Sprint Cup Drivers Council, the Race Team Alliance and more collaboration in the sport than ever before, it’s time for action. Everybody has a voice and there no longer needs to be a sense of resignation that days like Sundays are acceptable. Races like Sunday are not entertaining so much as ridiculous.

How much money did car owners see destroyed? Think more than $5 million – a conservative estimate. That’s not good business.

Even more so, the clock is ticking on the human toll. The next restrictor-plate race is in two months at Daytona International Speedway. A year ago, Austin Dillon’s car sailed into the catch fence after the finish there. He was uninjured.

Credit NASCAR for the safety devices that allowed each driver to walk away Sunday and also from the incidents in Saturday’s Xfinity race. Let’s be honest, there also was some luck involved.

Also understand there aren’t any easy answers. If there were, NASCAR would have enacted them. Go ahead and call for the banking to be knocked down at Talladega, but that’s not going to happen. Taking the restrictor plates off the cars will reduce pack racing but increase the speeds and significantly raise the odds that cars get airborne.

Questions must be asked, and all areas examined. Yes, Buescher was clipped, and that sent his car tumbling down the backstretch, but Kenseth’s car was turned sideways and picked up by the air.

“I hate it,’’ reigning series champ Kyle Busch said. “I’d much rather sit at home. I got a win. I don’t need to be here.’’

But he has to be with a rule that states a driver must start each race. Sponsors also expect these drivers to compete each weekend, along with the fans who pay to see these drivers perform.

Thank God Michael Annett walked away. Thank God Ricky Stenhouse Jr. walked away. Thank God Matt Kenseth walked away.

That the description of Sunday’s carnage — 35 of the 40 cars were involved in accidents — is “typical Talladega’’ is sadly true and gut-wrenching.

Of course, that is how drivers have to look at it, or they never could get in the car.

When is enough enough with this type of racing?

“I’m a capitalist,’’ winner Brad Keselowski said. “There’s people still paying to sit in the stands, there’s sponsors still on the cars, drivers still willing to get in them. Kind of sounds like it’s self-policing, and there’s enough interest to keep going, so we’ll keep going.’’

They will.

Not everyone, understandably, was as enthused.

After his second crash of the day, Earnhardt said: “Hell, I’m going home. I’m done.’’

Buescher added his name Sunday to the list of those who have gone airborne in a Cup race at a restrictor-plate track.

“I am pretty sick and tired of speedway racing at this point,’’ he said.

Dillon knows that feeling too well. His Daytona crash last year wasn’t the only time he’s been airborne. His car got up in the air in 2013 at Talladega when he was subbing for Tony Stewart.

“It’s just not a fun thing to be a part of,’’ Dillon said. “I think as a group, all of us want it to be where we’re not leaving the ground. We’ll get some smart people on it. I have total faith in NASCAR that they’ll do their job and work on that. But, man, wild day.’’

How many times do we have to leave Talladega more grateful than enthused about a race that had 37 lead changes and saw both two sets of brothers in the top 10 (Austin Dillon was third, Ty Dillon was sixth in relief of Stewart, while Kyle Busch was second and Kurt Busch was eighth) and saw two rookies in the top 10 (Chase Elliott was fifth and Ryan Blaney was ninth)?

“Sitting in cars for a lot of years, the line is hard to describe,’’ six-time champion Jimmie Johnson said of this type of racing. “We have some races that seems pretty mellow and others that don’t. Plate racing is plate racing. The thing I don’t like to see is cars upside down and we saw a couple today.

“That’s the part that I really don’t like and hopefully we can try to keep them on the ground.’’

Sooner than later.

Thank God A.J. Allmendinger walked away. Thank God Joey Logano walked away. Thank God Kevin Harvick walked away.

Thank God this race is over.

NASCAR releases Cup rules packages for 2021

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NASCAR announced Thursday its rules package slate for the 2021 Cup Series season, a day after next year’s schedule was unveiled.

For returning tracks to the 36-race schedule, the rules are largely unchanged save for Darlington Raceway.

Cup teams will use the 750 horsepower, low downforce race package at the 1.366-mile track. It’s the package that’s been used this season on road courses and short tracks. Nashville Superspeedway, the 1.333-mile track being added in 2021, will use the same package.

The packages for the other new race tracks – Road America, Circuit of the Americas and the Indy road course – have not been decided on.

“We constantly review the race packages to try to put on the best possible racing for our fans,” John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice Presiden of Innovation and Racing Development said in a media release. “When he brought in the short track / road course package this season, Darlington was not part of it due to its unique size. We’ve been evaluating data from both race packages, as well as feedback from drivers, teams and OEMs and feel that the 750 hp / low downforce package best fits the track.”

Other rule changes include:

  • Teams are restricted to 150 restricted computational fluid dynamics runs per calendar month.
  • Teams must compete in a minimum of 16 points events with a short block sealed engine (up from 13).

Click here for the rule packages for each Cup race in 2021.

Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

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If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
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Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”