Photo Credit: USA Today

Yesterday’s race at Talladega was one of the more interesting races we have seen in years. The racing was just another episode in what has honestly been a great NASCAR season as far as racing is concerned.

However, with Talladega comes the threat of big wrecks. Most of the wrecks we saw had at least one heavy hit. It was the closest thing I have ever seen to a iRacing race in real life: multiple pileups, many bruised cars, and those bruised cars racing in the Top 10.

Chris Buescher and Matt Kenseth tried to defy gravity in the race. Both were involved in accidents that at the very least, shook the oil up in the car a bit. Both accidents were met with many of the same reactions on Twitter and other social media, mainly.

Why did the roof flaps not work?

I thought the roof flaps were designed to prevent the cars from flying through the air?

GG roof flaps...

Looks like NASCAR roof flaps worked well. Brian France is ruining the sport. He should resign and be sent to Guantanamo Bay with nothing but a magazine and a duck.

-Various Twitter Users

*some anecdotes may be made up

The reason the roof flaps didn’t work is because in both incidents, there were anomalies that prevented them from working, both physical and mechanical.

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Common between the two wrecks were that the cars did not turn backwards before lifting. Roof flaps are designed to be most efficient when the car is going backwards (especially with a counter-clockwise rotation). Neither case had the cars facing backwards when they rolled (or flew).

Photo Credit: NASCAR Youtube. All others are screen grabs.

Lets start with the easy one. Chris Buescher’s incident is a common “sweet spot” when it comes to flipping a NASCAR. Chris was driving along happily at 200 mph when he got shunted in the side by Michael Annett. That shunt was placed directly in the RR axle. The combination of the forward force of the direction of travel + the side force of the shunt (which was offset by it being on the RR) = Rollover.

This has been a common “sweet spot” with NASCAR racecars no matter what generation of car is being used. Three incidents that come to mind are Clint Bowyer at the 2007 Daytona 500 (Gen4), Mark Martin at Talladega in 2009 (CoT) (which incidentally was the last race in which 2 roll overs were observed in one race), and Reagan Smith in the 2015 Nationwide race at Daytona (Nationwide COT). I could find more examples, but I will let you guys have fun with that. No amount of roof flap would have prevented this roll over. It was just the right spot, at the right time. Had Annett hit him a bit further back, Chris would probably have had a head-on with the wall.

2007 Clint Bowyer

2009 Mark Martin

2015 Reagan Smith

Matt Kenseth’s incident was a little more complicated. His blowover was quite an anomaly. If you watch the wreck in slow motion, you will see that the issues start in these places

1. Danica drills him in the RF tire demolishing the RF corner.

2. Car’s suspension buckles and transitions from the banking to apron which exposes the underside.

All of this happened within the first 3 seconds of the video. Follow with me now. Watch the first angle at 0.25x.

0:00 - Drilled in RF by Danica. Kills tow and RF suspension

Credit: NASCAR on YouTu

0:01 - Car’s right side digs in absorbing the sharp left turn.

~0:01.5 - Car shifts to the left side suspension absorbing the blow from Danica. At this point, the car transitions the banking and the front of the car is in the air from the wheel to wheel contact.

~0:01.8 - Air rushes under the front of the car with the void left by the front wheels. The car continues to rotate around the point of contact. At this point the car is going airborne.

0:02 - Car continues rotating in the air (at 150+ mph) and turns around.

~0:02.5 - Air catches under the (already lifted) back end and the blowover commences.

It was those sequence of events that sent Matt over. The combination of the wheel to wheel hit and the rotation of Matt’s car because of it. Could the roof flaps have helped? Most likely not. As you can see in the last picture, the roof flaps have deployed, but are not really “in the wind” and providing enough downward pressure. Matt’s car was already well past the tipping point. There really isn’t much that could have been done.

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To NASCAR’s credit, they do all they can to try to keep the drivers and fans safe. However, they cannot predict all incidents. Anomalies will happen where a sequence of variables will occur just perfectly to replicate the results they were trying to prevent. Are these incidents worth reviewing to try to mitigate? Possibly. In my opinion, they are not worth stewing over, making radical changes, and experimenting with unproven methods. If we see similar events when we come back in October or at Daytona in July, then perhaps we need to do something

These crashes are going to happen. There is not much more we can do to the cars outside of reducing their mechanical performance. From both flips, and the other wrecks we saw yesterday, the cars are built like tanks. Talladega has a very wide surface with plenty of runoff room (on the backstretch). This gives room for cars to slide, spin, and flip well before they crunch a wall. For those concerned over fan safety, perhaps they need to make like Daytona and reconfigure the wall and stands.