Restrictor plate races put drivers, fans in danger

Published 7:46 am Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The people who run NASCAR better learn the difference between equal and fair before somebody gets killed.

I will give NASCAR plenty of credit for improving safety, both with the cars and at the tracks.

But after watching last night’s “big one” at the finish of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, I am more convinced than ever that more needs to be done.

I have said for a long time know that restrictor plate racing is too dangers for the drivers. And after watching Austin Dillon’s car get shot into the catch fence and break apart, I am wondering if enough is being done to protect the fans in the stands.

Yes, the catch fence did its job and kept the car out of the stands, but debris shot everywhere and some fans were injured.

This is not the first time this has happened.

The culprit here is pack racing thanks to restrictor plates used at Daytona and Talladega in Alabama.

I have not gone back and counted the cars in the back at the end of Sunday’s race, which actually ended Monday morning around 2:40 a.m., but it appears to be more than 15 or 20 cars in that pack all racing for the victory.

Drivers have been complaining for years about the restrictor plate racing being too dangerous for the drivers. Yes, I know the fans love it, or at least the ones who do not end up being part of the accident.

This is the second time in three years that a car has ended up in the fence at Daytona. Thirteen individuals had to be assessed Monday morning and one was transported to the hospital where that individual was treated and later released.

In February of 2013, Kyle Larson’s car hit the fence and more than a dozen fans were transported to area hospitals after being struck by debris.

When is enough going to be enough?

Kyle Busch’s crash into an inside wall in February brought immediate upgrades to safety throughout the world of NASCAR.

I am sure this will be addressed from a safety standpoint.

But it needs to be addressed from the standpoint that NASCAR has got to figure out a way to get these cars separated during racing.

Now I am not advocating going back to the days when the cars lined up in a single file at Daytona and most of the passing was done on pit lane.

But there has to be a line drawn in the sand between competition and safety.

The officials at NASCAR have gone too far in “equaling” the playing field” for all the teams. Like I said earlier, there is a difference between equal and fair.

All sports have their good teams and their bad teams. In most sports they introduced a salary cap to trying to even the playing field.

But there are still good teams and bad teams in those sports. The good teams figure out a way to be better than everyone else. In NASCAR, the minute that happens, they change the rules to that the other teams can catch up and be on an equal footing.

To me that is not competition. Competition is setting the ground rules and then figuring out how to be better through personnel or equipment. They should be able to do that without the fear of penalties or having the governing body of the sport give the other team the information that they used to be better than everyone else.

In the end, we all want exciting racing each weekend.

But at what cost are we willing to pay.

It had to be a sobering moment for race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. watching the carnage behind him at the same track he lost his father in 2001.

Let’s not wait for another death of a driver or a fan in the stands before we decide to finally fix restrictor plate racing.

It is only a matter of time before this ticking time bomb goes off.


Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at