NASCAR Reconsidering Safety Rules

Tuesday, October 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) _ NASCAR will take a closer look at rules designed to make racing safer at Talladega and Daytona after angry drivers complained conditions at those tracks are actually more dangerous.

Drivers and crew chiefs stormed the NASCAR hauler Sunday following the EA Sports 500, which was marred by a wild 16-car wreck on the last lap in which Bobby Labonte's car ended up on its roof.

NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said Monday the sanctioning body will use ``all the resources we can muster'' to address the drivers' concerns. That will include using its new research and development center in Conover, N.C.

``We're just as anxious as they are,'' Hunter said.

He added, however, that NASCAR has been trying to solve the problem of keeping speeds down without hurting competition at Talladega and Daytona since the tracks opened in 1969 and 1959, respectively.

``We have to find a solution at both tracks, but we'll look at Daytona first because we race there first,'' he said.

The 2002 season will open in February with the Daytona 500, a race in which Dale Earnhardt was killed last February in a final-lap crash.

Earlier in that race, a multicar wreck also raised questions about the aerodynamic rules at the two longest and fastest tracks, which reduce speeds but also keep cars closer together.

None of the drivers was injured in Sunday's wreck, but many of those involved _ and some who weren't _ complained bitterly to NASCAR about the rules.

``It ain't the drivers, it's NASCAR,'' Sterling Marlin said. ``You run it all day, you're going to wreck. Every driver has been telling them in the NASCAR trailer that it's going to happen.''

The rules at Talladega and Daytona require the use of carburetor restrictor plates that limit horsepower to keep cars under 200 mph, presumably creating safer racing. But the power-sapping plates also cause cars to bunch up, which can lead to more crashes.

In recent years, most of the events at the big tracks have featured exciting racing in which many of the 43 starters remain tightly packed throughout, often running three- and four-wide.

Ward Burton, who narrowly avoided Sunday's crash, said there's not much a driver can do except hope for the best.

``With what was going on in front of me, I knew it was going to happen,'' he said of the wreck. ``What do I do? I can't back off. I just sit there and see if I get through it or not.''

Drivers were especially upset because the aerodynamic rules at Talladega remain virtually unchanged from the April race there, despite an August test in which 19 teams took part in an effort to make changes.

``We learned a lot but we couldn't reach a consensus,'' Hunter explained.

The next race at Talladega is in April. The Winston Cup cars race twice at Talladega and Daytona every year.

The next step, Hunter said, is to sit down with drivers and crew chiefs and all of NASCAR's technical experts.

``We're going to have some discussions and get all their input,'' Hunter said. ``Then we're going to whittle it down to three or four things that make sense across the board and schedule some tests and try those things.''

``We understand the frustrations of the drivers and teams. We're very sensitive to it. There's a balance out there somewhere and we're determined to find it.''