You've all seen the replays of Dennis Setzer's car on fire and off the ground from Sunday's Nationwide race, but odds are, you haven't heard complaints about how the spoiler didn't do its job in keeping the car on the ground. (Anyone else see the posible irony that Setzer experienced that vicious wreck in the first race he hasn't started and parked in the Nationwide Series in a long time? Maybe the racing gods were trying to tell him something.)*
There's a reason that no one has addressed the spoiler: It had nothing to do with the crash. If you watch closely, Setzer's car is pinched into the wall by Paul Menard's car. Odds are both drivers were flat out on the gas (so, roughly about 185 mph) and given that the force of Menard's car was as great as the force of Setzer's, there was no space for Setzer's car to go. Had it not gone airborne -- or through the wall -- it would have looked like it was in a trash compactor.
Of course, the top story from all of this is that Setzer walked away unhurt. But a crash like this has nothing to do with the spoiler or restrictor plate racing. Had Setzer's car been pushed into the wall at Atlanta or Texas like this, odds are that the same thing would have happened. (Remember Brad Keselowski at California? Or Michael McDowell at Texas? Crazy things happen when a car hits an immovable object at nearly top speed.)
And Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have flipped at plate tracks in Nationwide races recently.
Obviously Junior's crash wasn't as innocuous looking at first as Ryan Newman's flip at Talladega last fall or Brad Keselowski's spin and fly at Atlanta. While the wing may or may not have had something to do with those flights, there's no guarantee that a spoiler would have prevented it.
Flying through the air is one of the inherent dangers of racing a car, spoiler or no spoiler. As long as the quarterpanels and rear bumpers of race cars aren't sealed to the ground like the front, there's always the chance that the rush of air underneath the back of a car will get it airborne when turned backwards, no matter what's on top of the rear decklid.
Many people like to blame the media for attempting to create stories when there isn't one, and sometimes those criticisms have a legitimate foundation. However, this is one of the times when the media was appropriately silent. In racing, just like in life, sometimes stuff happens that you can't always directly prevent. Just be thankful for the numerous safety innovations in the past 20 years in NASCAR.
- Dennis Setzer