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Long: Thank God they walked away

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500

TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 01: Chris Buescher, driver of the #34 Love’s Travel Stops/CSX-Play it Safe Ford, has an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 1, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Thank God Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked away. Thank God Danica Patrick walked away. Thank God Chris Buescher walked away.

Now they and the NASCAR industry need to ask, “What the hell are we doing?”

Another Talladega Superspeedway demolition derby has ended, and more questions remain about restrictor-plate racing after seeing cars upside down, slamming into walls and careening out of control.

Now that there is a Sprint Cup Drivers Council, the Race Team Alliance and more collaboration in the sport than ever before, it’s time for action. Everybody has a voice and there no longer needs to be a sense of resignation that days like Sundays are acceptable. Races like Sunday are not entertaining so much as ridiculous.

How much money did car owners see destroyed? Think more than $5 million - a conservative estimate. That’s not good business.

Even more so, the clock is ticking on the human toll. The next restrictor-plate race is in two months at Daytona International Speedway. A year ago, Austin Dillon’s car sailed into the catch fence after the finish there. He was uninjured.

Credit NASCAR for the safety devices that allowed each driver to walk away Sunday and also from the incidents in Saturday’s Xfinity race. Let’s be honest, there also was some luck involved.

Also understand there aren’t any easy answers. If there were, NASCAR would have enacted them. Go ahead and call for the banking to be knocked down at Talladega, but that’s not going to happen. Taking the restrictor plates off the cars will reduce pack racing but increase the speeds and significantly raise the odds that cars get airborne.

Questions must be asked, and all areas examined. Yes, Buescher was clipped, and that sent his car tumbling down the backstretch, but Kenseth’s car was turned sideways and picked up by the air.

“I hate it,’’ reigning series champ Kyle Busch said. “I’d much rather sit at home. I got a win. I don’t need to be here.’’

But he has to be with a rule that states a driver must start each race. Sponsors also expect these drivers to compete each weekend, along with the fans who pay to see these drivers perform.

Thank God Michael Annett walked away. Thank God Ricky Stenhouse Jr. walked away. Thank God Matt Kenseth walked away.

That the description of Sunday’s carnage — 35 of the 40 cars were involved in accidents — is “typical Talladega’’ is sadly true and gut-wrenching.

Of course, that is how drivers have to look at it, or they never could get in the car.

When is enough enough with this type of racing?

“I’m a capitalist,’’ winner Brad Keselowski said. “There’s people still paying to sit in the stands, there’s sponsors still on the cars, drivers still willing to get in them. Kind of sounds like it’s self-policing, and there’s enough interest to keep going, so we’ll keep going.’’

They will.

Not everyone, understandably, was as enthused.

After his second crash of the day, Earnhardt said: “Hell, I’m going home. I’m done.’’

Buescher added his name Sunday to the list of those who have gone airborne in a Cup race at a restrictor-plate track.

“I am pretty sick and tired of speedway racing at this point,’’ he said.

Dillon knows that feeling too well. His Daytona crash last year wasn’t the only time he’s been airborne. His car got up in the air in 2013 at Talladega when he was subbing for Tony Stewart.

“It’s just not a fun thing to be a part of,’’ Dillon said. “I think as a group, all of us want it to be where we’re not leaving the ground. We’ll get some smart people on it. I have total faith in NASCAR that they’ll do their job and work on that. But, man, wild day.’’

How many times do we have to leave Talladega more grateful than enthused about a race that had 37 lead changes and saw both two sets of brothers in the top 10 (Austin Dillon was third, Ty Dillon was sixth in relief of Stewart, while Kyle Busch was second and Kurt Busch was eighth) and saw two rookies in the top 10 (Chase Elliott was fifth and Ryan Blaney was ninth)?

“Sitting in cars for a lot of years, the line is hard to describe,’’ six-time champion Jimmie Johnson said of this type of racing. “We have some races that seems pretty mellow and others that don’t. Plate racing is plate racing. The thing I don’t like to see is cars upside down and we saw a couple today.

“That’s the part that I really don’t like and hopefully we can try to keep them on the ground.’’

Sooner than later.

Thank God A.J. Allmendinger walked away. Thank God Joey Logano walked away. Thank God Kevin Harvick walked away.

Thank God this race is over.

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