During Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, a crash on the last lap in the DRIVE4COPD 300 would send Kyle Larson up into the catchfence, sending debris into the grandstands. Larson’s engine was on the fans’ side of the catchfence, while one of his tires would land a couple rows up in the stands. The wreck started when Regan Smith threw a block on Brad Keselowski in the tri-oval on the 2.5-mile oval coming to the checkered for the win.
Automatically after the crash, some have looked at making rule changes to therefore improve the safety, so wrecks like this don’t happen in the future. Some of those suggestions have included changing rules on the drivers in how they race, specifically blocking. However, the 2013 Daytona 500 Champion says you can’t do that.
“It’s just impossible,” he said during a teleconference. “When the plates were put on the car, it requires a different type of racing. Your speed comes from the car behind you. So the pushing, not necessarily physical contact, but that bubble between the two cars, that bubble is what speeds things along the most and makes things happen within the draft.”
Johnson adds that it’s a knee-jerk reaction that people are going with, instead of thinking of other possible solutions.
“So here we are back to pack racing which everybody wants to see, a car crash happens, and the knee-jerk reaction is: Let’s eliminate blocking,” he said. “That’s plate racing. You cannot as the leader survive on your own. You have to look in the mirror, spend 80%, 90% of your time driving the rearview mirror blocking the lead. That’s what you do.”
Late in the race, blocking has become part of the game as that is seen as drivers know that is their only chance at the end of a race to hold on to the lead. Smith even said on Saturday that if he was putting in the same scenario during the Daytona 500, he would do the same thing.
“You’re going to block,” Johnson commented on Tuesday. “You have to defend. You have to do things on plate tracks that drivers just don’t like to do and it’s not what we’re used to doing, not what we’re used to doing. But that’s the game, that’s the element.”
A couple years ago, there was a rule that drivers weren’t allowed to push in the corners, however Johnson says rules like that are unfair with the current package.
“To leave the rules the same and try to impose something on the drivers in how you perform out there, that’s unfair,” he said. “I mean, it’s absolutely unfair.”
Instead of focusing on making rule changes towards the drivers, Johnson says we need to learn from what happened and make changes to create a safer environment for fans as we have done through the years.
“When you look at the evolution of safety, if you go back far enough, you look at the restrictor plate put in place after Bobby Allison’s crash,” Johnson explained. “We continue to make changes. What we saw in Talladega with the crash that happened with Carl and Brad, there were some ideas about the fence posts, the gap between them, what needed to change. Daytona implemented that into their track. When you look at the proximity of where fans sit near the racetrack, there’s certain elements of our sport that are dangerous.”
In closing, Johnson did say that if they want to get rid of blocking, then they might as well get rid of restrictor plates.
“If that requirement is put on the drivers, I say break out the bulldozers and knock down the banking,” he said. “Let’s take the plates off, make the track flatter where you have to lift, and let’s get rid of the draft altogether.”