Yellow Fever–Safety First DW


Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The final laps at both Talladega and Daytona have fans on the edge of their seats, holding their breath collectively and hoping the driver they are cheering for not only comes back around in the lead, but comes back all together.

Wrecks on the final lap at the two Super Speedway’s that require the carburetor restrictor plate to keep speeds down have seen an increase of wrecks coming to the checkered flag in all three series over the last 5 years by a large margin. Drivers are at the mercy of the cars ahead of them to pull them to the front and the leader is at the mercy of his skill and mirror to keep the field at bay.

When every driver is full throttle and won’t lift, even if they are flying thru the air things are bound to happen and happen they do.

Remember Tony Stewart in 2012? Throws the block on Michael Waltrip, Tony end over end and landing on Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy? Or how about Kyle Busch at Daytona in the Summer race of 2009, off turn four and throws the block on Stewart coming to the line? Kyle should have been nicknamed the “Pinball Wizard” after that wreck. Or Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin with the big crash behind them that sent Clint Bowyer upside down and slide thru the infield grass in 2007, or 2012 Trucks at Talladega when a big crash happens behind the top 3 that send Paludo and Justin Lofton into the wall among many other trucks and sent Parker Klingerman to victory lane.

These crashes have more than torn up sheet metal in common. They all happened on the last lap of restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega. All of them except the 2007 Daytona 500 had the caution flag wave and freeze the field.

NASCAR set in place the freezing of the field and no racing back to the caution after a wreck in
Loudon New Hampshire in 2003 that saw Dale Jarrett sitting in the middle of the race track off turn four. Ever since that time once the caution waves the field slows it’s pace and track and safety workers can go immediately to cars and drivers to get medical attention and the track cleared as fast as possible.

The examples I used above along with this past weekends race at Talladega that had Austin Dillon t-boned by Casey Mears and Dillon’s No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevy shot up in the air while racing for third spot on the final lap. Fans are well aware that once the white flag is displayed if a caution comes out the field is frozen and declared official. This incident seemed to draw the ire of not only fans but comments from one certain Hall of Fame driver and TV commentator Darrell Waltrip.

Waltrip said on his Twitter and Facebook accounts

"“my personal opinion is and I’ve said this many times,, when the white flag comes out, you race back to the finish line!!!”"

Waltrip’s Facebook comment on this brought on a large quantity of fans agreeing with him.
One fan said “Race back to the checked flag..ALWAYS”
another posted “Agreed because that crash was on the backstretch,by the time the field would have gotten back around they would have been on the cool down lap.” One even went to the barbaric extreme of saying NASCAR needs bloodshed to be exciting.
The fans will always have their extremist views, but a commentator and former driver that has been there, wrecked cars to the extreme of seeing his arms flailing around because the sheet metal is gone, plus having seen friends and colleagues killed he should be the last person to talk against a rule that was put in for a pure safety standpoint.

When the field is further away from the finish line than most of the lengths of tracks we run on (a mile and a half) it is a long time to wait. Wait for the end, wait for another crash, and wait for safety personnel as they can not enter the track while it is green.

One of the responses that we’ve seen to that is, well they will have been slowed down and on the cool down lap. Ok, how about the times we’ve seen drivers upset with each other and slamming against one and other is frustration, they are not focused on a stop car or safety worker. Or how about the times we’ve seen cars wrecking and flipping at the start finish line or even into turn one and two after the checkered flag.

Bottom line is–Safety first in NASCAR, it has to be this way.

"“The safety for our drivers and our fans is the most important thing to us,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Monday. “There comes a time when you see what happens on the race track to move safety equipment and attend to the drivers involved.”"

That this is even being discussed, and there are people complaining about NASCAR’s decision, is appalling.

NASCAR even went as far as to add the three attempts at a Green White Checkered finish so fans have the chance at a good finish. We are nearly to the end of the fourth year with G/W/C in Sprint Cup racing and the rule has always been clear that once the white flag flies the race is official, drivers left off the throttle and under a caution speed come back around to take the checkered flag.

For any discussion of this being wrong, we can’t have the rules both ways to fit each individuals personal interest. The egocentricity of people sitting in the stands is beginning to get out of hand. Justin Wilson, a driver in the Izod Indy Car Series who was injured in a crash at Fontana this past weekend may have said it best. “ I think there are people who fail to see the danger in race car driving anymore.” Sometimes a race is just OVER.

We have seen to many drivers killed and or injured in 2013 on every type of track imaginable. From slow speed dirt tracks to high speed asphalt tracks.

Some people just need to remember how they felt after the news of one from our racing community lost their life. The drivers know the risks, they’ve always known that, but using that as an argument to get what you want, your driver to make a risky move to possibly win a race. It is not only an egregious thought, but it’s downright distasteful.

NASCAR fans are the most passionate fans in racing, the drivers are the most competitive people around. With that said, we need to thank them for what the do each week to keep our passion alive, keeping the sport alive, but we also need to thank the sanctioning body from time to time for keeping our drivers alive.

Caution flags fly for a reason and Darrell Waltrip should look back and maybe change his stance. Competition never…EVER trumps safety.