AFTER WATCHING Kurt Busch's race car temporarily "parked" atop Ryan Newman's car late in Sunday's Talladega race, I wondered whether NASCAR officials shudder when they watch major wrecks and think "We are so lucky a driver wasn't killed."
We've had so many major wrecks at the treacherous Alabama superspeedway that people just seem to take them in stride: "Oh, another big one. A mess, but let's move on."
Newman clearly was furious about the wreck that sent Busch's car airborne. During a live television interview, Newman said: "They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls. But they can't get their heads out of their [butts] far enough to keep [the cars] on the racetrack, and that's pretty disappointing. Y'all can figure out who 'they' is."
"They" is NASCAR. While we are sure NASCAR officials winced when they heard Newman's comments, the 35-old driver won't be fined. NASCAR allows drivers and crew chiefs to express themselves, provided they don't criticize the cars and the racing product.
Race cars at Talladega are equipped with restrictor plates to "slow" the cars, as if racing side by side at 195 mph may be considered slow. Since Newman has a degree in vehicle structure engineering from Purdue University, maybe he should confer with NASCAR on how to prevent cars from taking flight.
It's a tribute to how sturdy stock cars are that a 3,300-pound car can perch on top of another without the driver - Newman, in this case - being injured. Busch actually is glad his car landed on Newman's car.
"I got lucky that Ryan Newman was in the position he was in to save my car from multiple barrel rolls," Busch said. "When I reviewed the tape, I was in the mode of 'This barrel roll is going to last from Talladega to Georgia.' It was going to be a long barrel roll. But Ryan Newman was in the right place at the right time to help me settle back onto the track and not be as big of a wreck as it could have been.
"There's nobody to blame. I can't even blame NASCAR for it. It's just when it's a free-for-all like that at the end of the race, you have to expect bumping and grinding."
The good news for Newman is, the next Sprint Cup race is Saturday night at Darlington, one of his favorite tracks, even though he's never won there. Newman's best finish at "The Track Too Tough to Tame" was second in his first race (2002). He also has five other top-five finishes at Darlington.
David Ragan's out-of-nowhere victory at Talladega is good for NASCAR. Ragan drives a Ford for under-funded Front Row Motorsports. Teammate David Gilliland pushed Ragan to his second career Cup win.
Ragan's first W was in the summer Daytona race 2 years ago, when he was driving for Roush Fenway. In Ragan's latter years with the organization, Jack Roush said Roush Fenway had to do a better job for Ragan. It didn't work out, and now the 27-year-old Georgia native is with Front Row. If Ragan continues racing well perhaps one of the top NASCAR teams will reach out to him for next year.
"To do it here at Talladega in 2013, it's a true David vs. Goliath story," Ragan said. "I couldn't be more proud to play my own role. Front Row Motorsports puts a little emphasis coming to Daytona and Talladega. The draft is a big equalizer and anything can happen."
The crew chiefs for Ragan and Gilliland are Pennsylvanians: Jay Guy (Ragan) is from Lancaster; Frank Kerr (Gilliland) is from Bensalem. Guy was Brad Keselowski's crew chief 3 years ago. Kerr previously served with Marcos Ambrose.
The Darlington race will mark the 10th anniversary of the fantastic Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch finish at the track. Craven edged Busch by .002 of a second in the closest finish since electronic timing was introduced in NASCAR in 1993. (Jimmie Johnson's win by .002 over Clint Bowyer in the spring 2011 Talladega race tied the Craven/Busch finish.)
The Darlington victory was the last in the Cup series for Craven, now an ESPN analyst. He led only the last lap of the 2003 race.
"Since I've retired, it seems as though it's all that anybody wants to talk about when I cross paths with them," he said.
Referring to Darlington's possibly endangered status on the NASCAR schedule, Craven said: "It's critical that we look at Darlington the same way that baseball looks at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, because geographically, it might not be perfect. If you look at the design of the racetrack from an aerial view, it might not be perfect. But the track tests the driver. There's not a driver that's carried a NASCAR license that wouldn't rank the track among the toughest that they've ever competed at."