For over 30 years, the pendulum of racing at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway has continually swung between what is most exciting for race fans and what is safer for competitors. After yet another one of the sort of incidents that NASCAR dreads occurred in the Cup Series' last trip to Talladega, that pendulum has yet again swung towards safety.
On Tuesday, NASCAR issued a rules bulletin to its teams announcing changes in order to slow speeds at Daytona and Talladega while also reinforcing superspeedway chassis. The size of the tapered spacer placed on engines has been reduced from 57/64-inch to 53/64-inch, and the wicker has been removed from the rear spoiler. In addition, a reinforced roll bar behind the driver's compartment and near the rear wheel well which had previously been optional is now mandatory.
The rules bulletin will take effect for August's Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and October's YellaWood 500 at Talladega, the final superspeedway races for the current generation of Cup Series car before the introduction of the Next Gen car in 2022.
The intended effect of the rule changes is to slow speeds at Daytona and Talladega by approximately 7-10 MPH, as well as further maintain the integrity of the driver's compartment in the event of a rollover.
The rule changes come largely as a result of a crash at Talladega in April, when Joey Logano's car became airborne and flipped onto its roof during an accident at the end of the backstraightaway.
Logano was unhurt, but his car landed with his driver's side roof exposed to traffic, and he later shared that the roof of his car had caved in on him. The accident was the latest in a troubling series of such accidents since the implementation of new aerodynamic rules at Daytona and Talladega several years ago: Since April 2019, there have been six separate incidents at NASCAR's fastest racetracks where a car has become airborne or been going fast enough to flip over, the most serious of which being a crash that seriously injured Ryan Newman in the 2020 Daytona 500.
While speeds bordering and even beyond 200 MPH made for increased opportunities to gain a run and make passes in the draft, making for a more exciting racing product, it also increases the likelihood of a car achieving liftoff if turned backwards.
In the aftermath of Talladega, at least one driver – William Byron – suggested that slowing speeds in the interest of safety may be the best avenue, pointing out that race teams had engineered cars to the point that previous mandates made by NASCAR to slow speeds were not effective.
"I still think the teams are getting the cars too fast a little bit," Byron told reporters in late April. "... I feel like they could slow the cars down two or three miles an hour and still be fine. They made that increment step to slow them down. All the teams quickly got that back. I feel like it's no big deal if we were running 195 around here instead of 199."