NASCAR Still Dealing With Its Talladega Identity CrisisS

I'm not sure if everyone has weighed in on the Carl Edwards restrictor plate mess, but there's been enough chatter from drivers past and present to show that everyone involved in racing has an opinion.

You see, NASCAR has a dilemma when it comes to racing at Talladega. They can use restrictor plates—as they do now—that limit the speed of the cars, resulting in close quarters, side-by-side racing where strategy, drafting, and even bumping other cars is crucial to victory. This is both highly exciting and very dangerous. Or they could take the plates off, which would open up the track and let drivers push their vehicles to insane limits. This is also exciting and also equally dangerous. So what to do?

Most of the current drivers think something has to be done before someone is killed. Jimmie Johnson suggests changing the famous Talladega tri-oval, which is like asking Fenway to tear down the Green Monster. Ryan Newman says "Dega" is an accident waiting to happen. Carl Edwards is on record as not wanting to park his car in the bleachers again. But then there's old timer Bobby Allison—whose famous 1987 wreck led to restrictor plate racing in the first place—who thinks that Edwards is just being a pussy.

"[Edwards' crash] was pretty spectacular, but it was nothing compared to what I did," Allison said. "My wreck was way bigger, way more guard rail, way more cars involved."

In other words, "Suck it up, pretty boy." It's a tough spot for the sport to be in, because the danger is the appeal of stock car racing. You can't take your Chevy Malibu up to 160 on the interstate, so Dale Earnhardt Jr. does it for you. The drivers accept the risk and fans reward them for it. Yes, the Edwards crash was scary, but that was a pretty spectacular way to end a race, don't you think? And look how much everyone is talking about NASCAR now?

But what if spectators had been killed? When a car went into the grandstand at Le Mans in 1955 it killed more than 80 people. Can you imagine what would happen to the sport today if that were repeated? How many hundreds could have been wiped out if Edwards' car had made it over that fence on Sunday? In this day and age, in America, a tragedy like that could end the sport as we know it. Forever.

So there is that to consider. Another thing to consider? Racing fans are completely insane.

In '87, after Allison flew, I went down to talk to spectators during the hours-long red flag to repair the fence. Several people had already been sent off in ambulances, one woman with a serious eye injury. The front row was jammed with Dale Earnhardt fans in black T-shirts, their arms and faces still bleeding from the shrapnel from the Allison wreck.

"If our man Earnhardt can take risks for us," said one man, "then we'll take risks for him, by being as close as we can when he comes by."

Yeah, it's hard to argue with that kind of logic.

Rounding up the opinions on the Talladega fence-slide [From The Marbles]
Ed Hinton: NASCAR has major decisions to make on restrictor-plate racing [ESPN]
The Associated Press: Edwards' last-lap crash similar to Allison's wreck
Jimmie Johnson: Changes to Talladega can control racing - ESPN [ESPN]
Drivers react to Carl Edwards' comments at Talladega [Newsday]
Will Edwards' words wake up NASCAR? Nah [San Jose Mercury News]