By: Isaac Donsky, Columnist
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
In the short lifespan of “Pit Stop,” I’ve tried to paint the picture of NASCAR being a must-watch sport. But even I can’t defend them on what transpired last weekend.
Let’s be frank: the YellaWood 500 at Talladega on Oct. 4 was an absolute disaster from start to finish, and it made me reconsider my fandom of racing as a whole.
Where to start on this trainwreck? Well, the race was an absolute wreckfest. 13 caution periods were thrown, almost all for multi-car pile-ups. Nearly every car suffered some form of damage one way or another. The amount of accidents, paired with two red-flags (stoppages of the race to clean up after accidents), caused the race to run well over four hours in length.
Now, that’s actually quite common for Talladega Superspeedway. Talladega was allegedly constructed on an ancient Native American burial ground. While no evidence exists to confirm this, the urban legend might as well be true, as weird and wild things always happen at this track.
The racing at Talladega is, to put it simply, violent. Unlike at other tracks, the drivers don’t get spread out. They race close together in large packs, making quick, darting moves to pick up any position that they can. This type of racing often leads to crashes. Big crashes, like 27-car pile-up crashes.
So seeing so many cars running around the track wounded isn’t anything new. But for whatever reason, this time it just felt tiring. I found myself wondering aloud whether or not the drivers actually wanted to finish the race.
Honestly, the race just overstayed its welcome to me. And apparently, it overstayed its welcome with NBC, as coverage was shifted to cable with two laps to go for local news.
This is unacceptable. Talladega is a playoff track. This was a playoff race. Imagine an NFL playoff game on FOX suddenly switching to Fox Sports 1. That’s what this felt like to us racing fans who witnessed this. Other sports don’t get their coverage turned off when they go past their scheduled run time. This sends a message that NASCAR isn’t respected by the television partners that bring these races to our living rooms.
Here’s the thing though: I can deal with wreckfests. I can deal with poor television coverage.
I can’t deal with the rules being clearly broken.
Because of the high speeds at Talladega, drivers often make bone-headed moves that result in violent crashes. One of these bone-headed moves that many drivers pulled during the 1990’s was to drop way below the apron of the racetrack to make a pass. Some drivers even drove through the infield grass while making these moves.
In order to curb this, NASCAR instituted a controversial rule about adding a double-yellow line in 2001. A double-yellow line was placed along the apron of the racetrack. Any driver who dropped below this line to make a pass was to be penalized unless they gave back the position they took. However, if a driver was forced below the line by another driver, the driver who forced them below would be penalized.
NASCAR hoped that this rule would keep drivers from making what they believed were dangerous moves. But all this rule has done is caused controversy after controversy. NASCAR has never enforced the rule consistently. Sometimes, a driver makes a pass below the line and is penalized. Sometimes they aren’t. Wins have been taken away. Complaints have been raised.
And now this most recent incident: On the final lap of the race, Denny Hamlin rocketed below the yellow line, passed four cars in one turn, and won the race. NASCAR reviewed the tape and made the call. No penalty.
A clear violation of the rule is ignored. One of the most blatant examples of rule-breaking in NASCAR history and they ignore it!
This is the kind of inconsistency that makes it hard to be a NASCAR fan sometimes. How can NASCAR expect to be taken seriously when they refuse to consistently enforce its own rules? Or do the officials at NASCAR not even know their own rulebook? How can NASCAR expect to gain new fans when they pull this kind of bull?
It’s just frustrating. It’s so frustrating that the pinnacle of American motorsport pulled a stunt like this. It honestly makes me want to reevaluate watching another race.
Who am I kidding? I’ll still watch, even if it kills me.