NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France, who usually doesn’t publicly comment on competition issues in his sport, uncharacteristically instructed drivers not to block at the Daytona 500 drivers meeting, reports NBC Sports. The problem is, you have to keep the other drivers behind you somehow in order to win at a restrictor plate track like Daytona International Speedway. That’s...blocking.
Here’s what France told drivers at the drivers meeting, as quoted by NBC Sports:
But what I don’t normally do, and I’m going to do this today, is bring up a competition issue. This is for the drivers. And what I want you to think about. We realize blocking is part of racing. We understand that. We accept that.
Do not look for NASCAR … when you block somebody out there, and it’s going to happen today. It causes almost all the big incidents. Do not look for NASCAR … you better hope there’s a Good Samaritan behind you who is going to accept that block, because they have that lane and the right to it. And I don’t often make those statements. But I think it’s important today as we go into our most important event to make that really clear with our competitors.
France prefaced his remarks by emphasizing that the Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest race of the year, so it’s understandable that he wants to avoid a big mess out on track. But it’s clear that he might not understand how restrictor plate tracks work.
NASCAR limits the top speed of cars on its fastest superspeedways through the use of restrictor plates, which naturally bunches them up in big packs. Cars tend to come up close behind other cars to take advantage of the hole the front-runners are punching in the air. If you want to keep the person who’s using that convenient air-hole behind you from gaining enough speed to slingshot around in front of you, you have to block them.
A nicer way of putting it might be “defending your position,” but no matter what you call it, that’s just how it works. If you can’t block, you can’t win.
France may be on edge after contact-heavy races so far at Daytona, but Daytona is always full of carnage. As NASCAR journo Jeff Gluck notes in his appropriately confused rant on France’s remarks:
Unless I’m mistaken, the only wreck caused by blocking during Speedweeks was the Denny Hamlin/Brad Keselowski battle for the lead during the Clash. Otherwise, the Big Ones (like in the Truck and Xfinity races) have been caused by ill-timed bump-drafts or just mistakes in tight pack racing.
For better or for worse, NBC Sports got the impression that France’s remarks wouldn’t have any impact on how today’s race is run, based on Denny Hamlin’s statement that blocking hadn’t been something they’d been warned about lately. That’s probably for the best, given how little sense it made.