Sunday, April 26, 2009
Updated: April 27, 9:00 PM ET
With excitement comes danger at Dega
By Terry Blount
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Wow.
What more can you say? Well, frightening, breathtaking, stunning, spectacular, terrifying, surprising, humorous and unbelievable.
You could watch 1,000 NASCAR races and never see another one like the Aaron's 499 on Sunday.
No race this season comes close to this one for excitement. But there's a dark side. Fans were injured, cars were destroyed and drivers were angry.
Unbelievable: Brad Keselowski, a Nationwide Series regular who competes in a few Cup events, was the winner in a finish no one could imagine.
Frightening: Carl Edwards had the finish line in sight before the No. 99 Ford became an airplane that almost flew into the frontstretch grandstands.
The No. 99 Ford exploded against the fencing, which bent back like a rubber band, but didn't break. Seven spectators were injured from flying debris. Most of the injuries were bumps and cuts, but one woman suffered a likely fractured jaw.
Edwards walked away. Actually he ran away. That's the humorous part.
In a "Talladega Nights" and Ricky Bobby moment, Edwards climbed out of his mangled car and began jogging down the track until he crossed the finish line, bringing wild cheers from the crowd.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second, didn't know about Edwards' sprint.
"Are you serious," Earnhardt said. "Did he carry part of that car with him?"
It was a brief moment of levity, but Edwards found little to laugh about.
"NASCAR puts us in this box [restrictor-plate racing] and will race this way until they kill somebody," Edwards said. "Then they'll change it. We're very lucky nobody got [seriously] hurt today."
Spectacular: Talladega is NASCAR's dilemma. The giant Alabama oval was good for 57 lead changes among 25 drivers. This is the type of up-front action the fans crave, the type of passing they rarely see at many tracks.
But is it worth it?
Terrifying: The typical Big Wreck didn't happen once. It happened three times.
Thirteen cars were a mangled mess before eight laps were complete, including the cars of both Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.
Big Wreck 2 came with nine to go. Robby Gordon slammed the inside wall head-on at the middle of the backstretch, but luckily hit the SAFER
Barrier and was unhurt. Nine cars were involved, including Jimmie Johnson.
"Man, it sucks racing here," Johnson said.
Breathtaking: Earnhardt pushed Ryan Newman down low in the final four laps, hoping to make a move to win it at the end.
But a two-car freight train was coming behind them on the final lap when Keselowski pushed Edwards around both of them on the outside.
Keselowski made his move, Edwards tried to block and went on the scariest ride of his life. The flying car brought back memories of Bobby Allison's 1987 Talladega crash when his car almost went through the catch fence.
Stunning: Allison was watching at home in Hueytown, Ala. He told one reporter that Edwards' crash was "almost identical" to his accident.
|Carl Edwards' car goes airborne after bouncing off the hood of Ryan Newman's No. 39 at the finish Sunday at Talladega.|
The Allison crash is what led to the restrictor-plate era, slowing the cars down by choking off horsepower.
But the danger remains, as everyone saw Sunday. Most of the drivers hate the pack racing. Most of the fans love it.
"There's a responsibility of the media and the sanctioning body to come to their senses," Earnhardt said. "They've celebrated the big wreck to bring attention to this stuff. This didn't just start happening today. It's been like this for a long time."
Where do you draw the line? When does it become too exciting to be safe?
"Certainly the accident at the end dampened the excitement of the race," said Rick Humphrey, president of Talladega Superspeedway. "Racing is dangerous, but people were injured and that's unfortunate. But all the safety devices did their job."
Surprising: Keselowski's honest comments after his victory.
"This is NASCAR racing at its finest," he said. "I found myself laughing in the race car halfway through it because I was having so much fun. I hope the fans had fun too.''
Keselowski didn't realize people had been injured. When told about it, he still gave another honest response.
"There has to be some element of danger in this," he said. "It's no different than football. The fans want contact. If we hadn't had contact out there, everyone in this media center would write how boring it was."
Without the passing, the race would be boring. But you don't get 57 passes for the lead without additional danger.
"Talladega is short for 'We're gonna crash,'" Newman said, "'we just don't know when.'"
Wow. Talladega is a double-edged sword of danger and excitement. And no one knows where to draw the line.
NASCAR puts us in this box [restrictor-plate racing] and will race this way until they kill somebody. Then they'll change it. We're very lucky nobody got [seriously] hurt today.
-- Carl Edwards
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.