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Did NASCAR Just Make Racing More Dangerous?

An Opinion

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January 19, 2012

By Nicholas Schwartz

Nicholas Schwartz

At NASCAR’s Preseason Thunder testing in Daytona Beach, one of the more puzzling changes NASCAR has implemented to help curb the widespread abuse of tandem drafting -- the practice that has fans ranting and raving and even some drivers, notably Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- is to prohibit the use of radio to the effect that drivers and spotters will not be able to communicate with other drivers and spotters.

Jeff Gordon, then, will only be able to communicate with his spotters and the men on his pit box -- no more conspiring with the driver just inches behind him on the next move in the race.

On the surface, I can understand the intent behind this particular rule change.

Other strides to kill off tandem racing NASCAR has made include enlarging the restrictor plates and making alterations to the size of the front grill -- a ploy that is supposed to make it tougher for drivers to keep their machines from overheating in dirty air -- but fiddling around with the radios is one idea I don’t see as being a good idea.

Sure, pairs of drivers that can talk to each other have a greater chance of remaining locked in the packs of two that have plagued Talladega and Daytona of late. But it also means that the two men racing at 200 miles per hour just inches from one another know exactly what the other is doing, and the chance for a potentially dangerous accident is lessened.

Jeff Burton said as much to ESPN’s David Newton earlier in the week. With drivers freely communicating with one another, one very important unknown is taken out of the equation, and we’re left with safer racing. Moreover, if Preseason Thunder proved one thing, it’s that taking away radio communication didn’t discourage tandem racing one bit -- it was still rampant. So why not re-install the ability to talk with other drivers for safety’s sake?

As reported by ESPN, Earnhardt, who is a longtime outspoken critic of tandem racing, wasn’t pleased after the Thursday practice sesson: “Nothing's changed," Earnhardt said. "I don't know what they need to do. The changes were a good effort. They're not really affecting it as much as I thought they would. I thought it would be a little different.”

Even more puzzling is the fact that the radio ban is not just in effect at restrictor-plate tracks, but at every single track on the circuit. Why shouldn’t Brad Keselowski be able to radio over to a teammate during a caution flag to alert them to debris on the racetrack? There are a million scenarios one could draw up, but they all point to the fact that this particular NASCAR rule is plain dumb.

The one area in which changes are having a beneficial effect on tandem racing is purely mechanical. With a larger restrictor plate, cars at Daytona were routinely breaking speeds of over 200 miles per hour, and there are some who believe that the only way to separate the field is to remove some of the car specifications that relegate each entry to cookie-cutter performance, thus bunching up the pack with no stronger cars able to break away, and have each driver relying purely on the strength of their own car.

It’s not going to be an easy process, and NASCAR isn’t going to get it right all at once. As Earnhardt and other drivers have complained, the 2012 Daytona 500 is probably going to look just like the 2011 edition -- but at least NASCAR is moving in the right direction.

I’m fine with NASCAR tinkering with the performance of cars, and it sounds like the drivers are as well. But there’s no good reason to take away safety features, and that’s exactly what NASCAR has done with their multi-radio ban.

If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.

You can contact Nicholas Schwartz at .. Insider Racing News

The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.

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