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TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Nobody needs to be reminded that racing is inherently dangerous. We all know drivers assume the risks. It’s understood that no one forces a driver to compete.
That shoulder-shrug approach doesn’t make the scorecard from Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway any easier to accept.
The delicate line between sport and entertainment was dangerously straddled by 40 drivers roaring along in a pack of cars at 200 mph. When the dust settled, 35 cars had been involved in at least one accident and two cars went airborne. When Kevin Harvick’s car lifted off the track in a last-lap crash, it finally put an end to the chaos.
Yes, driver after driver exited their race car unharmed. Save for some bruises to her arms and legs and soreness when she took her breath, Danica Patrick scrambled to safety following the most frightening crash of her career.
So, yes, we celebrate on Monday that no one was injured, and better yet, no one died in the carnage that was a typical Talladega race.
But all that wrecking came at a price.
The cost of damaged race cars on Sunday neared $10 million in losses across the grid, according to an informal survey Monday by The Associated Press of five top race teams. Within that series-wide estimate, some teams estimated they lost $500,000 per car — total loss situations — while others estimated $250,000 without including any engine damage.
Those losses, the terrifying tumbles taken by Chris Buescher and Matt Kenseth, the hard licks into the wall, the parking-lot effect from a 21-car accident, all of it is accepted as part of the show. Racing at Daytona and Talladega, the only two tracks in NASCAR that require the use of horsepower-sapping restrictor plates to slow the cars, simply is what it is.
That’s all fine and well because everybody knows what they signed up for, right?
Cars should not be going airborne anymore. IndyCar faced this same issue in the buildup to the Indianapolis 500 last year, when three cars took flight in terrifying crashes. Rules were immediately implemented to keep the cars on the track, and IndyCar again issued a mandate in car design for this month’s race.
NASCAR is in the same position and went to work Monday studying the wrecks to see what can be altered to keep cars from lifting off the track.
“We never want to see cars get up in the air,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, told AP.
Improved communication between NASCAR, owners and drivers should lead to solutions. O’Donnell said the new collaboration gives NASCAR a new “ability to work with the race teams and their top engineers” on how to keep cars on the track.
Kyle Busch, who broke his leg and foot in a crash at Daytona last year, said after his second-place finish Sunday that he’d rather stay home than participate in plate races. Third-place finisher Austin Dillon admitted: “We all have to do it; I don’t know how many really love it.”
Dillon walked away from a frightening airborne accident on the last lap of last July’s race at Daytona, an incident he said is “not a fun thing to be a part of.” He has faith that NASCAR understands the drivers’ concerns.
“I know NASCAR will put their efforts toward fixing it,” he said. “They’ve made the car safer. That’s the reason why we’re walking away from these crashes. I think as a group, all of us want it to be where we’re not leaving the ground.”
It’s important to put Sunday’s demolition derby in at least a little bit of perspective. Yes, the destruction was unusually high. But the threat of rain played a huge role in the multiple accidents.
Normally, the aggression in plate races doesn’t come until about 30 laps remain and many drivers spend most of the race riding around in the hope they can stay out of trouble to make a late run for the win. They couldn’t wait Sunday because rain could have ended the race with no notice.
It meant the pace was much faster from start to finish.
“It was almost like the entire race was overtime,” O’Donnell said. “Everybody was on the gas each and every lap. There was one point where we had weather 100 yards away, four laps to go until the halfway point and two laps to go in the fuel runs. That certainly produced three-wide racing from start to finish.”
Plate racing isn’t going away anytime soon, though various measures could be taken to reduce the pack element — remove the restrictor-plates, slow the cars, knock down the banking at Daytona and Talladega — nothing should be eliminated from conversation as NASCAR tries to “fix” the issues plaguing the four events each year.
Not everyone is convinced the racing needs to be fixed. Brad Keselowski picked up his fourth Talladega victory and had few complaints after the race.
Of course, he ran up front and ahead of much of the chaos.
“I’m a capitalist,” he said. “There’s people still paying to sit in the stands, there’s sponsors still on the cars, drivers still willing to get in them. Kind of sounds like it’s self-policing, and there’s enough interest to keep going, so we’ll keep going.”
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Carl Edwards had been grinding for 30 laps, doing everything he could to catch Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in a two-way breakaway from the pack at Richmond International Raceway.
When he finally caught him on the last lap Sunday, and in the final turn, he had no time to think about what would be the prudent thing to do. Instead, Edwards focused on the reason they are racing: to win.
Edwards bumped his sometimes-volatile teammate off his racing line in the last turn and passed him to win his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, and the fourth in a row for the Gibbs racing stable.
NASCAR said it was the first last-lap pass for a victory in the history of the premier series at the track, a span of 120 races.
“I wish it was anybody but my teammate that we had to race like that with, but big picture to me is we’ve both got some wins, we’re in the Chase, and it’s fun to have to race your teammate for the win,” Edwards said. “If the roles were reversed, I would have expected him to bump me the same way.”
Then in a bid to throw a bone to Busch, whose car was sponsored by Banfield Pet Hospital, he said: “If my cat ever gets sick, I don’t care how much it costs, I will take it to the Banfield Pet Hospital, if that helps.”
Gibbs said there’s no game plan for how to handle the next team meeting.
“What you do is you just start out and work your way through it, and that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
Edwards, who had fallen nearly 1.5 seconds behind after a restart with 36 laps to go, gradually ran him down, catching him on the final lap. Then he slipped underneath Busch, a master blocker in late-race situations, and nudged him just enough to allow Edwards to get inside him for his second consecutive victory. It was also the fourth in a row for the Gibbs stable, and fifth in nine races.
“Kyle’s an amazing teammate and it’s like he got really slow there at the end,” Edwards said. “Something happened that last lap, it’s like his rear tires went off or something, and he went down into (Turn) one and I dove it in and I got to him, and I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got something here.’ Then he went to get down to the bottom to park it in three and four and I’d already decided to go down there, so I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to give him a little nudge.’
“We’ve both got wins. We’re racing for fun and getting these trophies. Just an awesome day.”
After falling so far behind, Edwards was surprised to find himself in position to challenge for the victory.
“Man, I didn’t think we had anything. Kyle was just so good for that run. I was just doing everything I could. He never spun his tires,” he said. “If Dave (crew chief Rogers) hadn’t screamed at me to just go get him, I don’t know if I would have dove it in there that hard.”
Busch seemed less than amused after being denied his third victory in the last four races.
“We just kind of gave it up a little bit there on the last lap, but I guess that’s racing and we move on,” he said. “… We had a really great car. … We were fast, maybe not as good as Carl was on the long runs, but we did everything right, everything we were supposed to do.”
Jimmie Johnson finished third, follow by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne and pole-sitter Kevin Harvick. Gibbs placed all four of its drivers in the top seven, with Denny Hamlin sixth and Matt Kenseth seventh.
The race was the first scheduled for during the day at Richmond since 1997, and the racing made a huge fan of Johnson.
“We had multiple lanes that laid the rubber in the race track and we didn’t have all those marbles built up on the outside, where it really limited your opportunities up high,” he said. “It was fun. The cars were slipping and sliding; there was a ton of fall-off. I enjoyed the long runs. I really like sizing-up guys that I’m racing with and seeing how that works out. And then, at the end we had a bunch of short runs.”
Kahne was trying to hang on to a good finish at the end and missed the drama ahead of him.
“I didn’t watch. I wish I would have. It sounded like a great battle,” he said.
Edwards dominated the first half of the race, leading 120 of the first 200 laps, and he continued to lead until Kevin Harvick slipped underneath him with 170 laps to go. Edwards faded for a time, but wound up leading seven times for a race-high 151 laps. The race featured 23 lead changes, the most here since 2007.
Seven other drivers also led, with Busch, Harvick, Kurt Busch and Johnson also leading for at least 44 laps.
Notes: Johnson has three career victories at Richmond, but none since September 2008. … Gibbs cars have won five of the first nine races. … The race went green for the first 157 laps, the longest green-flag run to start a race at Richmond since 1979, and only the fourth time in the last 47 races in the premier series on the 0.75-mile oval that the first 100 laps were run caution-free.
Lap length: .75 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (4) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 400 laps, 45 points.
2. (9) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400, 40.
3. (3) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400, 39.
4. (8) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 400, 37.
5. (1) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 400, 37.
6. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 400, 36.
7. (13) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400, 35.
8. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 400, 33.
9. (22) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 400, 32.
10. (7) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 400, 32.
11. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400, 31.
12. (23) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 400, 29.
13. (16) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 400, 28.
14. (19) Greg Biffle, Ford, 400, 27.
15. (15) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 400, 26.
16. (27) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 400, 25.
17. (17) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 400, 24.
18. (14) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 400, 23.
19. (18) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 400, 22.
20. (11) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 400, 21.
21. (24) Aric Almirola, Ford, 400, 20.
22. (26) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 400, 19.
23. (30) David Ragan, Toyota, 400, 18.
24. (21) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 400, 17.
25. (10) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 400, 16.
26. (12) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 400, 15.
27. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 399, 14.
28. (29) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 399, 13.
29. (25) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 399, 12.
30. (36) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 399, 11.
31. (32) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 399, 10.
32. (34) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 399, 9.
33. (39) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 398, 8.
34. (33) Chris Buescher, Ford, 396, 7.
35. (20) Brian Scott, Ford, 395, 6.
36. (40) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 394, 5.
37. (37) Ryan Ellis, Toyota, 393, 0.
38. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 392, 3.
39. (31) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 390, 2.
40. (35) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 390, 1.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 97.070 mph.
Time of Race: 3 hours, 5 minutes, 26 seconds.
Margin of Victory: 0.675 seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 49 laps.
Lead Changes: 23 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K.Harvick 1-21; J.Johnson 22-63; C.Edwards 64; J.Johnson 65; C.Edwards 66-89; D.Hamlin 90; J.Johnson 91; M.Kenseth 92-93; C.Edwards 94-157; Ky.Busch 158-168; C.Edwards 169-196; Ky.Busch 197; C.Edwards 198-229; K.Harvick 230-270; B.Keselowski 271-273; K.Harvick 274; B.Keselowski 275-277; Ku.Busch 278-286; Ky.Busch 287-314; Ku.Busch 315-360; Ky.Busch 361-363; C.Edwards 364; Ky.Busch 365-399; C.Edwards 400.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): C.Edwards, 7 times for 151 laps; Ky.Busch, 5 times for 78 laps; K.Harvick, 3 times for 63 laps; Ku.Busch, 2 times for 55 laps; J.Johnson, 3 times for 44 laps; B.Keselowski, 2 times for 6 laps; M.Kenseth, 1 time for 2 laps; D.Hamlin, 1 time for 1 lap.
Wins: Ky.Busch, 2; C.Edwards, 2; J.Johnson, 2; D.Hamlin, 1; K.Harvick, 1; B.Keselowski, 1.
Top 16 in Points: 1. C.Edwards, 331; 2. K.Harvick, 324; 3. J.Johnson, 310; 4. Ky.Busch, 302; 5. J.Logano, 299; 6. Ku.Busch, 279; 7. D.Earnhardt Jr., 278; 8. D.Hamlin, 258; 9. B.Keselowski, 255; 10. M.Truex Jr., 246; 11. C.Elliott, 234; 12. A.Dillon, 234; 13. J.McMurray, 224; 14. K.Kahne, 222; 15. M.Kenseth, 212; 16. R.Newman, 205.
Carl Edwards celebrates after winning the Sprint Cup auto race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va., Sunday, April 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Chet Strange)