The prevailing mindset I had immediately following the wee hours of Sunday night, into Monday morning’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway was very simply, “they got away with one.”
After watching both the Verizon IndyCar Series’ MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway last week and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona last night (or early this morning), the stark difference between the type of racing at the respective high-speed tracks couldn’t have been more obvious.
For cries that the MAVTV 500 IndyCar race was pack racing… no, it wasn’t.
The typical restrictor-plate style of racing at Daytona, with upwards of 20-30 cars usually 10 to 12 rows deep either two or three-wide, had its usual consequences.
It again reared its ugly head, again ended with a car careening into the catch fencing in the final lap, and again showcased the immediate, obvious and persistent danger that exists from this type of racing.
And again showed how fine of a line that type of racing is flirting with disaster that could have far-reaching repercussions beyond the series itself.
From a pure carnage standpoint, Sunday night’s NASCAR race had four crashes involving eight cars or more.
Last week’s IndyCar race had three two-car crashes.
Sunday night’s NASCAR race went a full two laps before the first caution flag flew.
Last week’s IndyCar race didn’t see a yellow interruption until Lap 136.
The similarities are that both races ended with severe accidents, but their severity differed in magnitude.
The Ryan Briscoe/Ryan Hunter-Reay accident in Fontana ended better than it could have given how Briscoe’s car dug into the grass and flipped upside down before coming back down to earth. The likable Australian was OK, and even joked about tearing up a divot in a video posted mere hours after the race.
And likewise, the last of the “big ones” where Austin Dillon’s car was launched and almost thrown into the catch-fencing ended better than it could have, too. The car sprung back from the fence onto the track, and although some debris got through the catch-fence, it was not the magnitude that it could have been. Dillon emerged nearly 100 percent unscathed, save for a bruised tailbone.
Where restrictor-plate racing flirts far too closely with going over the line is in airborne accidents that launch cars directly into the catch-fencing.
Although IndyCar has had its share of airborne accidents this year, and that’s not a good thing, none have occurred in the same type of way that ones at Daytona or Talladega seem to occur: directly in front of tens of thousands of paying customers, fans, who don’t buy their tickets thinking they could become part of the story, or the action.
It’s happened way too frequently in recent years at Daytona. The Kyle Larson last-lap accident a couple years ago in the NASCAR Xfinity (then Nationwide) Series race that injured more than 30 fans should have been the trigger for change… and it wasn’t.
It came a year after Joey Coulter’s accident in a Camping World Truck Series race.
It came a year before Parker Kligerman’s accident in the tri-oval in practice for the Daytona 500.
It has now been exceeded in shock value by Dillon’s wreck, which clearly scarred the drivers from their post-race quotes.
The specter of fans being hurt, or worse, killed, is the single biggest story that could emerge from Sunday night’s race.
We live in an era where innocence getting attacked is the thing that sends shock waves down your spine.
It’s what’s happened in numerous national instances the last few years; it rarely inspires any change, but it should be enough to get you angry and want to shout loud enough about the situation that the right people that need to listen do so.
Sunday night’s NASCAR race was a NASCAR story that has tentacles extending to other forms of motorsport, and could affect them if they’re not careful or change before a major tragedy strikes.
For more reaction from last night’s race, head over to NASCAR Talk.