Five days later and the NASCAR Nation is still abuzz with talk of "the big one" from Sunday's Daytona 500. Spectacular crashes have been a part of restrictor plate racing ever since Richard Petty kartwheeled through the short chute at Daytona in 1988. But never has one of the big multi-car crashes been started by the sport's biggest name and that's what has been driving bloggers and message board postings by the thousands this week.
The crash itself was no different than the dozens of others we've seen at Daytona or Talladega in recent years. Two drivers lost sight of the big picture and let themselves get caught in the moment; neither refused to budge when giving an inch or two would have saved them both a lot of grief and saved a lot of wrecked racecars. That's racing.
There have been, and rightfully so, comparisons made to a similar incident during Saturday's Nationwide Series race. Jason Leffler made contact with Steven Wallace and Wallace went for a wild spin and eventually collected a couple of other innocent victims. Leffler was penalized five laps for making intentional contact.
Meanwhile, Dale Earhardt Jr. spins out Brian Vickers and collects nearly a dozen cars in the process and NASCAR doesn't bring him down pit road.
NASCAR's Ramsey Poston says the two incidents have nothing in common because they deemed one to be intentional and the other to be incidental.
Look through the history of the sport and you'll see hundreds of instances of intentional contact. Dale Earnhardt, the sport's now-mythical hero, was often it's biggest villain in the 1980s because of his tactics on the track. Look at the 1986 race at Richmond when he hooked Darrell Waltrip in the right rear quarter panel and caused a huge wreck with a handful of laps to go, or when he wrecked Sterling Marlin at Bristol in 1987 while fighting for the lead, or when he wrecked Terry Labonte at Bristol in 1999 and stole the win on the last lap. In the 1999 incident, Earnhardt so much as admitted he intentionally made contact with the famous "all I wanted to do was rattle his cage" remark. The key to it all is that Earnhardt was not penalized for any of these incidents, although each of them could easily be considered intentional.
NASCAR has evolved through the years. They now want to legislate every possible aspect of the competition. I wish they would lighten up on some of it.
Keep the rules tight on the cars. Let the drivers race.
If someone intentionally takes someone out, there's no need to park them for five laps because it will eventually work itself out. The drivers are the best ones to handle that situation, whether it's back in the garage or it's a favor that is paid back on the racetrack somewhere down the line. That's how it was when guys like Petty, Pearson, Allison, and Yarbourough all made their name in the sport.
There may have been some penalties for intentional contact back in the day, but those instances were few and far between. That's how it should be today. Only in the case of the most flagrant car-to-car contact should someone be parked.
But with the precedent set with Saturday's penalty that opened the door for controversy on Sunday. Once Leffler was penalized, that meant anyone doing anything remotely similar should face the same five-lap penalty. Earnhardt's move certainly looked avoidable - notice the quick jerk to the right he made to get into Vickers - and therefore should have warranted the same penalty.
The good news is the ridiculous yellow line rule won't come into play again until April. This weekend the only areas that are out of bounds are those set by the nature of the sport: the wall and the infield. That's how it should be.