Is there a faction within NASCAR who have decided that safety is about the sixth or seventh priority for their drivers, crews and fans? That would be sixth or seventh behind profit, "entertainment" value, profit, column inches written, profit, and maybe t-shirt sales?
Five weeks ago at New Hampshire, A.J. Allmendinger spun out of turn four when coming to the white flag. NASCAR allowed the entire field to run nearly the entire lap before half-heartedly throwing a caution flag when the leaders were coming out of turn four. The "reason" given for doing what they did was that NASCAR wanted to give Allmendinger a chance to restart and get going again. This is absurd. The leaders were all separated by several carlengths, and Allmendinger getting restarted would likely have given very few drivers a chance to take a shot at the driver in front of them on that last lap. Meanwhile, Allmendinger barely got rolling again amid a huge cloud of tire smoke, the field packed up accordion-style coming out of turn four and NASCAR got away lucky with just a couple of cars with bent sheetmetal. Let me repeat that: NASCAR got lucky. Can you imagine what the result would have been if Allmendinger hadn't quite gotten going, then somebody had come down the front straight, unsighted by the cars in front of him, and plowed at full speed into Allmendinger's driver side door?
After the lessons "learned" at Loudon, I'd have thought that that scenario would not play out again for quite some time, if ever again, even if NASCAR seemed to fail to understand that they'd done something wrong when they made statements about the situation in the press. I was wrong. For the second time in the last six races, NASCAR failed to throw a caution flag on the last lap of a race while a car sat stationary on the front straight, boradside across the track. This week at Martinsville while coming to the white flag, John Andretti spun coming out of turn four with a little help from a couple of other cars. Yet again, NASCAR allowed the entire field to run the full lap, at a track where the leaders would be arriving on the scene in 10-15 seconds. This is not a time or a place to trust that a driver is going to get a hot race engine restarted in a time-effective fashion. The only difference this time is that NASCAR never did throw a yellow flag, though they yet again got lucky in that the only result was some bent sheetmetal by cars packing up while trying to avoid the stationary Andretti.
I am certain that the "reason" that will be given for both of these events is because NASCAR wants races to finish under green flag conditions. I understand that, though I've made it patently clear in this blog on several occasions in the past that the desire to finish the last lap, or last half of a lap, or last turn at the expense of drivers' safety is idiotic. I remain convinced that a Green-White-Checkered finish will kill a driver, or worse yet, a fan or several fans, at a restrictor plate race sometime in the near future. We have had huge accidents on the last laps of the last two restrictor plate races at Talladega and Daytona this year, one with a car getting up into the fence and injuring several fans and the other with a car coming dangerously close to doing the same.
What has been NASCAR's response to these accidents? Nothing. Not "no more black and white decisions about yellow line infractions" and not "no more blocking allowed". Nothing. NASCAR is simply crossing its fingers that the accidents that we've seen are the absolute worst case scenarios and that nothing bad will ever happen again.
There is no question that the first priority for racing sanctioning bodies should be the safety of the fans, followed by the safety of its drivers. Failure to ensure that your fans are safe from flying race cars is an invitation to be bankrupted by a litigous group of families who have had family members who have been killed at one of your events. No disclaimer that's printed on the back of a ticket stub will prevent a talented prosecutor and a sympathetic jury from relieving a sanctioning body of tens of millions of dollars. Or, prevent congress from instantly stopping all of your activities, should they find that there was something that could have been done to prevent the massive loss of life of patriotic taxpayers.
It's not 1950 anymore, NASCAR. It's not enough to put SAFER barriers on all of the walls of your tracks and come out with a car that's marginally safer than your last one and then call it a day. Unless you continue to take action to ensure the safety of all of your participants, you deserve any bad things which come your way in the future. Here's hoping that I'm wrong and that you're right in your inaction, but I doubt it.
Let's see what happens at Talladega next weekend...