TALLADEGA, Ala., Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The "Big Crash" returned to NASCAR restrictor-plate racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and it left many drivers, team owners and crew chiefs demanding a change.
A 16-car crash on the final lap of the EA Sports 500 decimated the field and served as a reminder that the huge pack of cars that run together because of the current package of carburetor restrictor plates and aerodynamic rules is unsafe.
Many drivers involved in the wreck marched into the Winston Cup trailer for some serious discussions with NASCAR president Mike Helton and Winston Cup director Gary Nelson after the carnage that amazingly did not send any of the drivers to the hospital.
NASCAR vice president of corporate communications Jim Hunter characterized the discussions as "animated."
"The overriding question is `What are we going to do to prevent accidents like this and racing like this in the future?'" Hunter said. "We don't like this anymore than our drivers do.
"Thus far, we have been unable to come up with a solution, but we are going to figure this out and we will figure it out before Daytona next year. And the teams will help us figure it out. I don't have any details or what we will do today, but I can assure you, we will figure this out so that we're not faced with this type of racing in Daytona."
The Daytona 500 in February 2002 is the next race at which teams must use restrictor plates, which block the flow of air to the carburetor, reduce speeds and force cars to run in large packs.
Ever since Bobby Allison's car nearly flew into the grandstands at Talladega in the 1987 Winston 500, NASCAR has tried to slow down the cars at the 2.66-mile circuit here and the 2 1/2-mile Daytona International Speedway.
First, the series used a smaller carburetor for the second half of 1987 before implementing carburetor restrictor plates the following year.
Since that time, it has created a brand of racing that may be exciting to the fans and highly competitive but puts drivers at great risk.
There was a 20-car crash on the backstretch at this year's Daytona 500 in which Tony Stewart's car flipped several times. A crash at the end of that race killed Dale Earnhardt, the sport's biggest star.
When NASCAR returned to a restrictor-plate track in April, the competitors were able to race from start to finish without a caution flag, making it one of the safest restrictor-plate races in history.
In July, there were three caution flags for 15 laps in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona but no major wrecks.
But the "Big Crash" returned Sunday and NASCAR will have to come up with a better answer in the future, according to the competitors.
"Last year at this race, the night before, we put a smaller restrictor plate on the cars after they approached 200 miles an hour in the final practice session," Hunter said. "We also came back here in the spring, after the race, and experimented with some greenhouses -- meaning raising the cockpits of the cars in an effort to slow them down and it actually sped them up.
"We also came back with some aero testing with 22 teams about a month ago and left with no clear answer. As a result of the conversations taken place since the conclusion of the race today, we will be working with the teams and we will come up with a solution before Daytona."
Sunday's crash left some of the bravest athletes in all of sport shaking in their fireproof boots.
"I'm just glad to be alive after this one's over," second-place finisher Tony Stewart said. "I don't know what to say because there's so much frustration. It's pretty bad when you're this frustrated. When you come off of turn 2 after the checkered flag's over and you see your teammate's car upside down, it scares you to death. And there is no reason that we, as drivers, should be put in that position."
Bobby Labonte was the driver who was upside down during the 16-car pileup on the last lap.
"It was on fire about halfway down the back straightaway and I slid the fire extinguisher off," Labonte said. "When it came to a stop I hopped out. Everything worked fine -- the safety stuff worked fine. No injuries, but of course, a heartache and hard feelings -- at least a bitterness right now. But you go home and cool off and everything will be fine. This is just part of it."
When asked if anything could have prevented the multi-car crash, Labonte said, "A large rainstorm, an earthquake -- who knows? No, not really. It's just part of it. You ride around for a long time and wait until the end. The grandstands are full and everybody is OK, so I guess it's OK. We're OK. It's just part of it.
"I hate that we tore up a race car, but it was an old piece anyway, so I guess we need a new one. That's typical racing here a lot of times."
Sterling Marlin was one of the many drivers that marched into the NASCAR trailer to vent their feelings about the current rules package.
"It ain't the drivers, it's NASCAR," Marlin said. "You run it all day, you're going to wreck. Every driver has been telling them in the NASCAR trailer that it's going to happen. They wanted it to happen. Somebody hit somebody.
"They've got to fix it. They had it fixed if they had done the rules they tried down here in the test. Eighty percent of us wanted it and 20 percent didn't so they went with the 20 percent. I guess they wanted to see us wreck."
Jeff Burton was able to finish third after weaving his way through the crash.
"It looked pretty ugly," Burton said. "This plate racing, this stuff is going to happen. Too many people in one spot."
After the race, NASCAR impounded one car from each engine manufacturer -- the Dodge of Stacy Compton, the Chevrolet of Bobby Hamilton, the Pontiac of Stewart and the Ford of Jeff Burton. All four cars were put on the chassis dyno and will be taken to Lockheed Wind Tunnel in Marietta, Ga.
There, NASCAR will attempt to make the cars even closer -- the exact opposite of what the sport needs after close racing resulted in another "Big Crash."