DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — To anyone watching, Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway looked like a high-speed protest of NASCAR’s pre-race ban on bumping in turns.
Cars paraded around the 2.66-mile speedway in a long, single-file line after NASCAR made it clear that bump-drafting would not be tolerated.
“It wasn’t like everybody was in their cars and we were like, ‘Let’s get single-file and prove a point’ or ‘Let’s just follow each other,’” race-winner Jamie McMurray said. “You had to be in the outside groove because that’s where all the momentum was.”
McMurray snapped an 86-race losing streak after the final 10 laps were marred by two frightening accidents in which the cars of Ryan Newman and then Mark Martin went airborne.
Newman, who was trapped in his car for almost 15 minutes before rescue workers could shear away its roof, called it “a boring race and a ridiculous race” afterward. But McMurray didn’t think the race was all that different.
“I remember in 2004, 2005 with the other car, Dale Jr. riding around the very top of the race track and everybody following him,” he said. “I remember it being really similar to that. And more than anything now, the drivers have learned they have to make it to the end of the race in order to win the race. So maybe they don’t take the chances that they did a few years ago.”
Kurt Busch, sixth with three races remaining for the 2009 NASCAR championship, called the lack of risk-taking a byproduct of the restrictor plates used only at Talladega and Daytona.
“It’s been an ongoing process since they introduced the restrictor plates, as far as this Catch-22 that we’re in,” Busch said. “We have to provide for the safety of the drivers and the fans, and yet at the same time, we have to put on a good show.”
To put on a better show at a track usually known for three- and four-wide racing, Busch suggested NASCAR increase the size of the opening in the plates at Talladega but not Daytona, where he said speed is less of an issue.
“We should go faster at Talladega and create the need for the cars to slide a little bit and put more emphasis on set-up than on bump drafting,” he said.