Restrictor-plate racing becoming more of a risk
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Who's at fault for the last-lap crash between Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway? Stewart didn't do anything wrong, and Busch wasn't the culprit. Instead, restrictor plates are once again to blame.
The final lap in Saturday's 400-mile race at Daytona marked the second straight restrictor-plate event where the leader became the victim of a horrifying wreck just short of the finish line.
Busch passed Stewart for the lead with less than two laps to go, but Stewart caught his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate as they came out of the final turn on the last lap.
As Stewart made an attempt to pass, Busch tried to block him twice, with the second block resulting in his rear bumper hitting Stewart's front end. Busch spun around and slammed hard into the wall. He was then struck behind by Kasey Kahne, triggering a multi-car crash, the second "big one" of the race.
"I don't know that we did anything wrong," Stewart said. "(Kyle) was protecting his position, which he's got to do. That's what he has to do as a driver. He can't just sit there and let us make a move like that and not try to defend it. But it puts him, it puts us, it put Kasey Kahne behind him in a bad position where it drove Kyle's car all the way up to Kasey's windshield."
While Stewart took the checkered flag, Busch climbed out of his battered car with no injuries, but he had to be forced by NASCAR officials into the safety vehicle for a ride to the track's infield care center.
"I just don't like it to end that way," Stewart added.
Kyle Busch became the victim of a horrifying wreck just short of the finish line.
Busch refused to comment on the crash, but crew chief Steve Addington said his driver's misfortune was the product of restrictor-plate racing.
"It's part of this racing," Addington said. "I feel like this is what happens on the last lap coming to win the race."
In a similar ending at Talladega earlier this year, Carl Edwards held the lead with Brad Keselowski on his back bumper as they approached the finish line. Keselowski attempted to make a pass underneath, but Edwards blocked with the two drivers making contact.
As Keselowski drove on to his first career Sprint Cup Series victory, Edwards spun, hit third-place runner Ryan Newman and then flew into the wall and safety fence along the frontstretch. Edwards was not hurt as he exited his car unhurt and jogged to the finish line. However, seven race fans sustained minor injuries after being struck by debris from his car.
At Daytona, Edwards stayed clear of a final lap incident and held on for the fourth-place finish.
"It was a crazy finish, and I thought I wanted to be up there racing with those guys, then I saw that and I was just fine with where I was at," Edwards said.
NASCAR mandated restrictor plates to reduce speeds for races at Daytona and Talladega after Bobby Allison's spectacular crash in the spring 1987 race at Talladega. Allison's car sailed into the safety fence on the frontstretch after he cut a tire. His car broke the fence with debris flying into the grandstand. Several spectators were also injured in that incident.
Even though Daytona and Talladega provide a lot of excitement for the fans when a multi-car pileup occurs, especially those on the final lap, most drivers aren't particularly thrilled with restrictor-plate racing at NASCAR's biggest track.
"There is nothing to do to stop it," said Jimmie Johnson, who finished second at Daytona. "If you think about the position that the sport is in, one race, it's boring, there's no racing, there's no excitement. Then a couple races there's an exciting finish and we're worried about the exciting finish. It's plate racing. We're damned if we do, damned if we don't."
NASCAR has said in the past that safety is their number-one priority. Safety improvements have been made with the new car, but NASCAR still needs to take steps to reduce risks in restrictor-plate racing before something serious happens.
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