The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway is one of NASCAR’s premier races. The scene of a summer’s Saturday night casts the bright lights upon a large audience of viewers captivated by America’s best drivers bidding for a heightened purse and heightened stakes.
Restrictor-plate racing is an inherent spectacle which attracts the darker side of human curiosity. To the viewer not interested in the NASCAR season, the thing that keeps them watching is the same thing which made legendary spectacles of Felix Baumgartner’s death-defying leap from space and more recently Nik Wallenda’s walk across the Grand Canyon.
NASCAR, for better or worse, has pandered to this audience more than anything else, believing it can cultivate and harvest a new fan base out of drama, altercation, and the idea that racing drivers defy death at every turn. It worked, as last night marked TNT’s highest rated race since 2010.
But the lunacy in this logic lies within the fact that these fans do not understand race safety. They have never stepped foot on a race track let alone in a race car. They may barely know of Jason Leffler and more than likely glanced upon the death of Allan Simonsen as just another racing footnote.
Racing back to the caution has always been a hot topic within motorsport, especially NASCAR. Take the Indianapolis 500 this year, where a great race finished under a yellow flag, causing debate on social media. While other motorsport such as IndyCar freeze the field and do not use green-white-checkered finishes, NASCAR’s fan-first approach continues to put a risk on driver safety, especially at restrictor-plate tracks.
Every driver is fully aware of their safety on a final restart. Balancing the line between aggression and discipline varies, depending on the driver. And with a pack of 30 drivers vying for the best position possible, accidents are bound to happen. Despite it, in my opinion, being less safe, NASCAR took away tandem drafting for the fans, not safety.
This is the nature of the beast NASCAR has recreated. On the final restart Scott Speed and Carl Edwards got together, creating a small pileup in turn two. Rather than freeze the field, NASCAR gave the fans what they wanted. “Are you not entertained?” The Gladiator quote rung out throughout Twitter as the inevitable pileup at the start-finish line occurred, even as the drivers in turn two were still gathering things up.
Anything can happen in motorsport. Injury and even death still occur, regardless of the amount of safety that exists. Denny Hamlin was injured during the last lap of a race, ruining his championship hopes. Chase hopefuls such as Ryan Newman could have seen their hopes end in the blink of an eye last night as well, all due to the negligence of NASCAR’s race control. The hypocrisy was absolutely ridiculous and something that cannot happen at an elite level of motorsport.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486