POST-WRECK DEBATE Is Talladega Superspeedway unfit for racing?
Recent pile-ups have some questioning whether NASCAR should continue there.
By DAVID POOLE
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After a cut tire on his No. 12 Dodge triggered a 27-car wreck in Sunday's Aaron's 499, Winston Cup driver Ryan Newman offered his solution for preventing The Big Wreck in races at Talladega Superspeedway.
"Don't come here," Newman said. "We've got other tracks we can go to."
After a weekend that also included a 21-car crash in Saturday's Busch Series race, Newman isn't alone in questioning the 2.66-mile track with its 33-degree banked turns.
"It was so destructive it just kind of makes you sick to watch it," rival track owner Bruton Smith said. "Something should be done. I just really believe the track should be redesigned.
"Those dates would be moved quickly if Speedway Motorsports owned that track. NASCAR, the two people who own it, I think their conscience would say 'We're not going back. You're going to have to do something to reconfigure this speedway or we're not coming back.' You're destroying too much equipment."
Smith is chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the Concord; Atlanta; Bristol, Tenn.; Texas; Las Vegas, and Sonoma, Calif., tracks on NASCAR's top circuit. Talladega is owned by International Speedway Corp., a company run by the France family, which also controls NASCAR and has had a long rivalry with Smith.
"Bruton's comments are obviously based on his primary objective, the financial betterment of himself. We believe his comments reflect his perspective," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president for communications.
"I am just very, very concerned for our sport because of what could happen there," Smith said of Talladega. "You see that violent wreck on Sunday, and after it was over all of the drivers walked away. That was fantastic. But what if one of these days four or five of them don't walk away. What happens then? What happens to our sport?
"To me, it endangers the sport when we're putting all of these drivers' lives on the line when we drop that green flag down there. If I owned the speedway, I assure you I would change it. I would tear down the turns. I would shorten it and change it and I would hope the fans would like it. I just don't think stock-car fans are that blood-thirsty."
Grant Lynch, president of Talladega Superspeedway, said he feels his track is safe.
"I think we've probably had as many caution-free races as any track, maybe more, in the past 10 years," Lynch said. The spring races in 1997 and 2001 and last year's fall race were run without yellow flags.
"I think the quality of racing on the track certainly excites the fans," Lynch said. "Sunday's race was tremendous with 43 lead changes. There was a lot of drama and excitement. Talladega is a controversial place, you know, but we seem to have continued to bring the fans in. We're kind of happy with what goes on here."
Predictably, some of the drivers involved in Sunday's 27-car pileup on Lap 4 were not as happy.
"There has to be a better way," Jeff Burton said. "We've got to build some racing where, when something happens, not everybody gets in it. That's what we've got right now."
Sterling Marlin's solution is to allow Winston Cup cars to go faster at Talladega and Daytona, another ISC-owned track where carburetor restrictor plates are used to keep lap speeds from topping 200 mph.
"If we could all run 160 mph at Atlanta, there would be 43 cars on top of each other there, too," Marlin said. "You don't. Handling comes into effect and you have to get on and off the gas. That separates the field. If we could run 200 at Talladega and 196 at Daytona, that would separate the cars."
NASCAR has changed rules several times to attempt to separate the huge packs of cars that have become the signature of races at Daytona and Talladega. The latest innovation is a smaller fuel cell, which forces cars to make more frequent pit stops, but that has had a marginal effect on how races have unfolded.