What are we trying to accomplish here?
NASCAR officials announced a change in the size of the restrictor plate at Talladega Superspeedway Friday after Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet barrel-rolled down the backstretch.
McMurray wasn’t injured. Neither was Ryan Newman, whose No. 31 Chevrolet struck McMurray’s car when it turned sideways in front of the Richard Childress driver.
Ty Dillon (No. 13 Chevrolet) and Daniel Suarez (No. 19 Toyota) were also unhurt. Their two cars made contact during the same incident with Dillon getting into the outside wall.
McMurray’s car “got airborne.” NASCAR reacted, announcing a reduction in the size of the plate, which restricts airflow into the engine, from 7/8ths of an inch to 55/64ths of an inch. The move will be in place for qualifying, scheduled for Saturday, as well as Sunday’s GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Speeds during the second practice had reached 204 mph.
The change in the size of the plate will slow the cars by as little as two mph or as much as five, depending on who you ask.
Here’s a news flash: they’ve crashed at much slower speeds here. Got up in the fence, too.
In 2009, the winning pole speed for the spring race was 188 mph and change. The race included two multi-car incidents that featured 10 or more cars in each. And a last-lap crash that saw Carl Edwards’ car get up in the fence, parts fly into the grandstands and fans injured.
Friday’s move will slow the cars but there is no guarantee that it will keep them on the track if they make contact under certain circumstances.
Those circumstances occurred Friday. Again.
They’re just as likely to occur again.
You can’t remove the chance of that taking place until you slow the cars to the point that it becomes physically impossible for it to occur.
At that point, vehicles will be running faster out on I-20, the interstate that fronts the 2.66-mile track.
Is the answer then to do nothing? Don’t change the size of the plates, just turn everyone loose and hope for the best?
Obviously, that’s not the answer either.
Fans enjoy racing at Talladega and Daytona because of the speed and the close, tight-quarters racing that unfolds out on the track. You don’t get that anywhere else in the series. Some places have the speed but not the close packs of cars. Others have the cars a bit closer, but not the speed.
At Talladega, it comes with a bit of danger. It comes with risk. It always has and always will.
How much danger are you comfortable with, how much risk is OK?
Maybe there is no answer.