NASCAR always toes the line between entertainment and motorsport. Creating an end-of-season playoff, tweaking that formula, throwing "competition" yellow flags to bunch up the field - all variations on the same ruse of juicing television ratings with little regard to actual racing. And if there's any race where entertainment trumps competition, it's Talladega. The semi-annual race at NASCAR's biggest superspeedway, and one of its most storied tracks, has devolved into a high-speed demolition derby. Let's start with the finish at this year's Geico 500.



Even the broadcast commentators are tired of the crashing at this point in the race. Thirty five of the 40 cars that took the green flag on Sunday were involved in some kind of incident. But hey, that's why you're watching, right? Talladega is always about the big one - a wreck that takes out most of the field.

I'm not sure what's worse: the fact that every driver in the field has to suit up for this race knowing they will probably get into a horrible wreck, or the way this parade posing as a race demeans how hard it is to drive a stock car on the edge of 200 mph for hours at a time. For the uninitiated, Talladega is a restrictor-plate race. That means that every car in the field has an air restrictor fitted to the engine that caps engine power uniformly (or not, as some claim). The result is lower top speeds in the name of safety. The unintended consequence is that everybody is tightly packed in traffic and any mistake can turn into a multi-car accident. Like this one with Chris Buescher.



We might as well replace Darrell Waltrip on the broadcast team with the WWE's Jerry "The King" Lawlor. But hey, crashes are entertaining. I mean, I wrote this post and watched every one, and you're here too. It's just that this isn't really good racing. It's barely excusable from a safety perspective. But man, check this one out!



Oh, and let's not forget Dale Earnhardt Jr. He wrecked early with his Daytona-winning car.

Dale Jr. also lost his freaking steering wheel during the race, grabbed the steering shaft to prevent crashing, and managed to get the wheel back on without incident.

That's pretty badass. Like we said, driving a stock car at the limit is grueling work. Competing in a lottery race like Talledega undermines the skills of the drivers and the effort of the teams that prepare the cars. And no, I don't have any idea how to fix this. Television ratings show that people prefer close races where anyone can win, and TV advertising drives revenue. NASCAR (and F1, for that matter) has decided that entertainment trumps racing. Until the viewing public says otherwise, we'll have two forms of motorsport: good racing that nobody watches, and mechanical circuses that we can't ignore.


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