Pit Box Press Roundtable: The Daytona Fiasco

Give your general thoughts about Daytona.

Walker (@Walker_Skeeter): As a race fan, I love chaos, so from that perspective it was a very fun race. With that said, as a meteorologist, the idea that despite what the radar looked like the field was forced to drive directly into a downpour made me sick. Given the current mode of doing things – posting officials around the track to call in rain – there was only so much they could have done, but… come on. It was obvious the skies were about to open – ust the tools at your disposal to make the right call, and bring them in.

Phil (@philensespanol): I was disappointed, but at the same time not surprised in the slightest. If you listened to most radio communications every team had a better grip on what was happening with the weather more than NASCAR as a whole did. When they finally did get restarted, there was far too little left to try to take the sour taste away from hours before.  

Gi (@basicallygi): In complete honesty, as thrilling or as entertaining as it can sometimes be to see these chaotic on track incidents at races like Daytona, there is a point when it becomes mundane. This past race at Daytona highlighted that like never before. It was, to be frank, an embarrassing look for NASCAR. Making the final race before the playoffs take place at Daytona is a chaotic choice alone, because it is a track where if you put yourself in the right place, at the right time, anyone can win really, and due to this fact every driver tries to be the hero. Every driver in the field suddenly has the idea that they could win and potentially get themselves inside the playoffs, and as a result all respect or concern for other teams and drivers is lost and the result is a never ending chaotic wreck fest as opposed to an actual race. This past race at Daytona showed that so it’s not a revelation to hear that I was pretty disappointed.  

Francisco (@francisco1213_): For much of the race, there was much of the best drafting track racing I’d ever seen. A majority of the race was run without (big) crashes, which was a huge plus and added to the drama of this being a cutoff race. Then when we knew it was going to race, NASCAR had their hands tied. In most cases, NASCAR shouldn’t throw a caution because something is “going to” happen. But since this was a super speedway, a track where everyone is so close together, this was a clear exception to this unspoken rule. Bad officiating on NASCAR’s end.

Garrett (@Dic_Banjo9): What should have been the crowning achievement of an entertaining and fitting end to the regular season was turned into an absolute clown show by the sanctioning body. Not only did they send the field rocketing into a heavy storm in turn one, they launched themselves into a mockery of a finish that affected the outcome of the playoff field. I’m not saying Austin Dillon didn’t deserve to win. But Martin Truex shouldn’t have missed the playoffs because most of the field was obliterated by negligence.

Jack (@JackSwansey): It leaves a bad taste in my mouth that NASCAR sent the full field into a monsoon at 190 mph, let alone the fact the playoff lineup was determined by a rainstorm. It’s good that NASCAR waited it out to finish under green, and it’s always good to see underdogs do well, but it’s beyond embarrassing for the sanctioning body how it happened.

What could NASCAR have done differently/better?

Walker: Exactly what they did for the Xfinity race the next week: used the radar – which obviously showed that heavy rain was imminent – and brought the field in before the skies opened up. Hopefully they make a habit of doing what they did at Darlington in the future.

Phil:  Be much more consistent on weather prep. The race started at 10 am. They knew the rain was a formality more than a possibility. There was time for them to bring them down pit road long before the skies opened up. 

Gi:  The main conundrum of which NASCAR faced this past race at Daytona was lack of communication. Everyone knows the biggest issue that made itself known in the race was the weather, and the weather was the result of a massive wreck that took out nearly half the field. This could have been prevented by simply having better communication with on track spotters to the tower, as well as listening to the drivers more. 

Francisco: As I said earlier, though they shouldn’t throw a caution because something is “going to” happen, the fact this is a super speedway makes it an obvious exception. Drivers could have been injured badly, and all of that would’ve been prevented had NASCAR thrown a caution a lap or two earlier. In situations like this it is much better to be safe than sorry.

Garrett: I want to say they could have easily prevented this catastrophe by looking out the window. But I don’t think it’s merely that simple. I do think they should have thrown the caution simply out of a heightened state of awareness that it could have rained the lap before it did. Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than it is permission, and I think that in this case, we would’ve forgiven a rain shortened regular season finale. 

Jack: Remember the caution clock? In the 2016 Truck Series season, NASCAR decided they’d throw a caution every 20 minutes to bunch the field back up and improve the show. 

That was where the slippery slope started. Like I said after Las Vegas earlier this year, NASCAR forgot that the caution flag isn’t just for entertainment. It’s the single most important piece of safety equipment at the racetrack.

We ought to remember, this season more than ever, that auto racing is a dangerous sport. I don’t care how many green-flag finishes fans miss if a timely yellow flag keeps just one driver from serious injury. Always err on the side of caution. There are lives at stake. Wave the yellow even if it’s “just” raining in the grandstands.

Give your thoughts on superspeedway racing. Keep it to about a paragraph.

Walker: I’ve been a NASCAR fan since I was about eight. When I was a kid, superspeedway racing was my absolute favorite. The speed, the noise, the chaos – not to mention watching my guy Dale Jr dominate. Now, as a 27 year old who prefers good racing over big wrecks… it’s still a lot of fun and has its place in the sport, but more often than not it’s just a clown show.

Phil: As a kid and a teenager, places like Daytona and Dega were almost like appointment level viewing situations. But as I’ve gotten older and seen my share of wrecks and carnage, it’s lost its luster for me. The importance of those races can’t be understated but when it’s go time these races turn into barely regulated junkyards.

Gi: Although carnage is inevitable at places like Daytona, Talladega, and even now Atlanta, it gets to a point where it is a bit too much. These races over the last few years, have become more about “survival of the fittest” as opposed to actual race strategy being put into play. And these drivers know that too. They know it doesn’t matter if they have the worst car on the track, just as long as they can keep it in one piece to the last few laps, because then, just then they may have a chance. And with so many drivers thinking like this, it causes aggressive moves that result in wild wrecks. Due to this, these races just become a long haul of continuous crashes where driver safety is put into question. In the end, however, superspeedway racing is a staple in the sport, and it will remain no matter if it gets better or worse. Hopefully though, it does get better.

Francisco: Super speedway/plate racing/drafting racing, whatever you’d want to call it, is a staple of NASCAR’s identity. It is inherently dangerous, and driver’s “not giving a ****” attitude when it comes to crashes is making it all the more dangerous. Getting rid of it entirely is not the right move. In my opinion, NASCAR should start policing these types of crashes. It wouldn’t stop the “Big One,” but it would add more cost to drivers than a broken race car, which would hopefully lead them to drive safer in the long run.

Garrett: So, I actually love Superspeedway racing. It’s what made me fall in love with the sport in the first place. The problem here isn’t the racing as usual. It’s the safety of the car. I remember when Ryan Newman flipped at Talladega a few years ago due to the rear wing on the Gen 5. The wing was gone all the season after. It was that fast. I don’t feel like NASCAR is taking the concerns about the Gen 7 and it’s stiffness seriously and that’s where the problem lies.

Jack: I’m not one of those people calling for an end to pack racing. It’s unique in the world of sports and when done right, it’s the greatest show on four wheels. As much as the team owners hate seeing thirty-odd torn-up race cars six times a year, it’s really only a problem when safety is as big a question mark as it is in 2022.

The problem is, safety is a big question mark right now. You can’t tell the drivers not to try and win the race, because they won’t listen. Fixing the cars is the only solution that will work.

What are your concerns with the safety of the NextGen car?

Walker: Kurt Busch – the longest tenured driver in the series and one of my favorites – is still sidelined from a concussion he suffered from what seemed to be a fairly run of the mill wreck at Pocono. It’s been a month and a half, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to come back at all this year, if ever. Other drivers have complained about taking harder hits than they’ve ever taken. I’m worried this car has the potential to un-do the sport’s 21 year streak of avoiding disaster. The racing is better for sure – the composite bodies allow for light contact to be made without automatically causing a tire-rub or worse – but these huge hits can’t continue. It’s not worth the risk.

Phil:  My concern is if we’ve done enough to prevent the worst from happening. We’re seeing head injuries, drivers getting the wind knocked out of them from the smallest of taps and on more than one occasion cars go sauntering down the track. Couple that in with the random fires and NASCAR has a long off-season ahead to correct these instances. 

Gi: With the new car, there are certain limitations that teams have to adhere to. As a result of this they are not allowed to manufacture their own parts, and instead have to use the parts of a single source supplier. Due to this issue, teams haven’t been allowed to modify the cars like they want and it has caused issues inside the cars such as fires and more. Also because of the new composite bodies, these cars aren’t crushing on impact like that of previous generation cars, because of it’s stiffer body and drivers due to this describe hits as ‘harder’. 

Francisco: This new car is visibly much stiffer than the older cars. Yes that gives the positive that the chassis/bodies are mostly more durable, but the fact that drivers are taking the brunt of the hit in low-to-mid speed crashes (where the hit isn’t hard enough for the new stiff body nor the SAFER barrier to deform) is a scary thought. Changes need to be made to the car as soon as possible, especially with Kurt Busch potentially out for the season because of a mid-speed crash.

Garrett: While I think this car is safer than the Gen 6, and every car before it, there is a massive problem with the rigidity of these cars. Anybody that follows me and Walker on social media have seen our conversations as early as the Coca Cola 600 and how we’ve noticed that these things don’t bend. Then Kurt Busch was injured in a relatively small crash at Pocono. While I’m certainly no doctor and I won’t pretend to be here, Kurt took a lot of shots in this car over the course of the season, and one of the lightest is what’s caused him to miss the rest of the year. Not to mention the other vast structural issues: fire in the rocker panels, brittle toe links, etc. this car needs to go back to the drawing board.

Jack: I’m not a trained engineer, so I’ll defer to the experts on this one. All I know for sure is, the old-school drivers like Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are the most concerned, and we already know those guys are tough. 

Should they have flown the caution flag a lap earlier? Give your argument for or against it.

Walker: See my answer above about using the radar, but YES. Anyone who has taken even a basic meteorology course would have been able to tell them that what they were doing was stupid. It was OBVIOUSLY about to rain. It wasn’t worth the risk. They made it clear they were willing to wait it out… why take that chance? Buy a subscription to RadarScope so you can get high-quality radar imagery and USE IT!

Phil: Without a doubt, yes. NASCAR tried to squeeze as many laps as they could out of it, and miscalculated by one lap. They risked the life of each of those drivers, especially ones who complained of pain after it. 

Gi: Yes! Yes! And again yes! NASCAR, whether they truly did know if it was raining at the track yet or not, knew that rain was coming. Radios were buzzing with drivers relaying that it was drizzling, and rain was seen behind turn one. So yes, NASCAR should have absolutely thrown the caution flag a lap earlier, just to better be safe than sorry. However, the benefit of the doubt does have to be delivered to race officials because this is Florida we are talking about, where if the weather wasn’t unpredictable then pigs would be flying. 

Francisco: Absolutely. Many drivers said these were the biggest hits they’ve ever taken, and these crashes would have been much more costly some 20 years ago. I understand why they didn’t, because it wasn’t raining (from their point of view) on the track yet. But with rain that close and cars reaching 190 mph+, it should have been a no-brainer.

Garrett: Without question. Again, it’s better safe than sorry. You never want to see a race under a rain delay. But you know what I hate more? Watching my favorite driver as well as all the others stumble out of their brutalized race cars because NASCAR was slow to be responsible.

Jack: I don’t think they had a full lap of warning, but they definitely had enough time for the spotters to notice. The caution should have come out at the start/finish line. Nobody would complain if they threw the caution when it was “only” raining on the grandstands. 

Well, it’s NASCAR, they probably would have. But they’d be wrong.

Featured photo from @NASCAR on Twitter.

Published by Madelyn Hipp

Madelyn is a recent graduate of Purdue University in Aviation Management. Her favorite drivers are Ryan Blaney, Justin Haley, and Christian Eckes. Her other interests include Major League and college baseball, hockey, golf, and air racing. She is the founder, editor, and a writer at Pit Box Press.

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