Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Every race weekend, especially the weekend encompassing the Daytona 500 and the start of a new NASCAR season, brings its ups and its downs.
From the No. 3 returning to hallowed ground, to NASCAR’s blown call in the Xfinity Series opener, to the Big Ones this is “The Good,The Bad and The Ugly” for Speedweeks 2018.
20 years after Dale Earnhardt rolled into victory lane in the Daytona 500, it was time for the No. 3 to return home.
Piloted this time by the grandson of Richard Childress (owner No. 3 & 31), Austin Dillon, who made a bold last-lap move to take the lead from Aric Almirola. He, like Dale before him, had a good luck charm…a penny.
Glued to the dash of both winning race car, a fan had given their drivers a good luck charm to win the race. On both occasions, those pennies ended up as silent observers of raw emotion. The emotion of 20 years of struggle and the emotion of a grandson bringing it all full circle 20 years later.
I would love to write down the story of the winner of Saturday’s QQQ Powershares 300 without criticism, but unfortunately, most of what happened after Elliott Sadler’s late race spin probably shouldn’t have.
NASCAR’s decision to throw the yellow flag after Sadler’s spin into the infield runoff area off turn two in the final laps of Saturday’s Xfinity race is a clear example of NASCAR’s trigger finger reaction to relatively safe racing scenarios.
Sadler’s machine spun nearly all the way to the inside wall but never hit anything. The debris that shed of the OneMain Financial Chevrolet was in the middle of that runoff area hundreds of feet away from the racing surface and Sadler piloted his car safely around the apron, after regaining control, with no further issues to his pit box.
The yellow wasn’t waved as Sadler’s car spun, it wasn’t thrown due to Sadler coming back to the racing surface in an unsafe moment because the entire field had already passed him. NASCAR threw that caution for the “show” and the only thing we got out of it was watching teams struggling to keep their operations going so NASCAR has a race to run on Saturday, wreck over $2 million worth of race cars.
Across all three series of NASCAR, we saw exciting passes and questionable tactics. The problem with those questionable tactics? The fact that we have become too assured that things will end up just fine for the other guy.
Multiple times we saw drivers just ‘drive through other racers’ who made a block, or lost momentum in the draft. Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola are prime examples of this.
Though I can not fault Austin Dillon for doing everything in his power to win the biggest Stock Car race in the world, I have to ask myself at what point do we realize all that ‘will to win’ can become a bad thing very quickly.
It’s a real bad scenario for this sport to be in. Do we allow racers to go out there and be so committed to the win that we allow another driver to possibly be killed because “they were racing hard for the win,” or do we realize that sometimes that isn’t a good enough excuse?
There is no doubt in my mind that if NASCAR not just allows, but promotes, through rules packages, such aggressive moves, that no new chassis or HANS device or SAFER barrier will be able to keep up with the times.
Just as the cars in the early 2000’s were faster, less safe and more prone to causing injuries due to the older technology, we are entering a situation where we have all the new safety measures in the world and it won’t make a bit of difference when a driver can jack up another’s rear bumper, in turn, sending him head-on into the wall at 190 mph. Not to mention, without thinking twice because of a false sense of safety and a lack of action by NASCAR to promote a certain level of respect on the track between competitors.
A driver in a late model being dumped for the win at Bowman-Grey Stadium is a hell of a lot different than being hooked into the wall at 190 mph on a 2.5 mi. superspeedway. NASCAR needs to remember that sooner than later.