Sunday’s Talladega race reached the halfway point just as I logged on to SPEEDTV.com to watch the Dan Wheldon memorial service at Canseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Jeff Burton was making his way to the front as Dario Franchitti — one of Wheldon’s pallbearers, was seen weeping along with wife Ashley Judd.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard spoke of how Wheldon knew the risks of his career as AJ Allmendinger went sideways, likely killing Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick’s title hopes but thankfully nothing else.
Yes, NASCAR raced as IndyCar mourned Sunday, and those who participate in big-league stock car racing understood how fortunate they were. It’s now been close to 11 years since one of NASCAR’s national series had to close ranks to remember the last of the fallen, Dale Earnhardt Sr.
If NASCAR sincerely hopes to keep from having to go through something that horrid ever again, then naysayers of two-car drafts at plate races — fans and insiders alike — need to shut the hell up.
Sunday’s race featured 72 lead changes among 26 drivers. Also-ran Dave Blaney finished third, glorified Hendrick Motorsports test driver Landon Cassill was in contention and start-and-park rookie Robby Gordon could have won.
Favorites flipped coins between riding up front and maybe getting crunched by somebody, or riding in the rear and maybe getting crunched by somebody. (Both happened.)
The likes of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., after teasing us all day, waited too long to make their move. And when teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton finally cleared the rest of the field, they merely traded paint at 195 MPH before Bowyer won by less than half a car length.
I would safely say the 105,000 in attendance and those watching on the tube got more than their money’s worth. The only thing missing was the possibility of a 25-car melee because the competitors were so much more spread out.
And that’s about the only thing that could conceivably put a driver in mortal peril at this point. Regan Smith took about the same hit that killed Earnhardt Sunday and had the window net down to signal he was OK before the safety crew truck could show up.
So many impacts that used to bring helicopter evacuations, prayers and funerals just don’t do that anymore. Martin Truex Jr. said it best after a direct hit into the wall after a stuck throttle at Martinsville in April: “Ten years ago, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
HANS devices, COTs and SAFER barriers are becoming as dominant a force as Dale Sr. was at Talladega. We’ve seen cars flip and fly, and drivers keep walking away.
Multiple direct hits to the driver’s side door at the sport’s top speeds might be the only thing that could put a driver in the kind of danger he would have been in years ago. And that can’t happen nearly as easily when cars are spaced out enough to slow down once the chaos begins. When was the last time you watched a whole Talladega broadcast and never even heard the phrase “the big one”?
If the big one is a thing of the past, then thank God. They had a big one at Las Vegas last week, and we all saw the result.
Those who want a return to the conventional draft give credence to those morons who say we only watch motorsports to see people crash and burn.
I personally could go another decade (and more) without NASCAR needing to call in Reba McEntire and The Band Perry to sing for somebody who left us prematurely, as IndyCar had to do Sunday. I could go just as long without seeing ESPN’s Nicole Briscoe — closer to this situation than any broadcaster would usually be thanks to her marriage to IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe — break up while honoring Wheldon before the race.
Drivers were holding onto their kids longer and more tightly than they usually do before strapping in Sunday. Let us never lobby for anything that would keep them from embracing after the checkered flag.