TALLADEGA, Ala. – It started with a little push by Dale Earnhardt Jr., (search) really nothing more than a love tap at 190 mph to the rear bumper of Mike Wallace's car.
But that high-speed shove — called bump drafting — triggered a 25-car accident that wiped out over half the field at Talladega Superspeedway (search) on Sunday. It was the second largest accident in Talladega history, behind a 27-car wreck in 2003.
When it was over, many drivers were seeing red over the racing conditions forced upon them at restrictor-plate races and the blatant disregard competitors gave to NASCAR's (search) pre-race suggestion against bump drafting.
"Bump drafting is just part of this kind of racing," Kasey Kahne said as his crew worked to repair his car. "I was getting bumped here and there and I bumped here and there. You can ask them not to do it, but they're going to. That's how you get to the front."
Because NASCAR requires horsepower-sapping restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona, the cars run most of the race side-by-side in a tight pack of 43 cars. A driver can go from last to first in a handful of laps, and many of them use their fenders to get there.
So NASCAR asked them to stop via a kind suggestion given by events director David Hoots during the pre-race driver meeting.
"The bump draft is limited to only where you need to do it on the back straightaway. That's the only time you should be trying to do it," Hoots told the drivers. "When you do it going into (turns) three and four or through the trioval in (turns) one and two, you're setting yourself up to have a big problem and you all know what I'm talking about it.
"Let's limit it on the back straightaway when the cars are nice and straight and hope that will help eliminate any problems we have with yellow flags."
But the message sailed right over the competitors heads.
How else could you explain Earnhardt running up on Wallace's bumper along the frontstretch with 55 laps to go in the race?
It caused Wallace to wiggle, at the same time Jimmie Johnson was easing up the track from the bottom line. Johnson's car made contact with Wallace, who was already out of control, and Wallace went slamming into the wall.
The accident piled up behind him, with at least a dozen cars coming to a rest in the infield in what looked like the closing seconds of a demolition derby. Kyle Busch had to climb across hoods to get out of the mess, and stopped to peek into the window of Casey Mears, who was unable to go anywhere because the cars around him had him pinned in.
Rusty Wallace blamed the accident on NASCAR's weak delivery of the bump drafting edict.
"The fella that delivered the speech to tell them how to not bump draft didn't do too good," Wallace said. "He was just kind of nonchalant talking about it in the drivers meeting. I'd have been standing up there with a baseball bat talking to them.
"It was just a suggestion. It needs to be kind of a rule in a way. Those guys that hit you, boy they hit you hard. I was surprised that was going on."
Earnhardt, who wrecked three laps from the finish, admitted to bump drafting Wallace but implied that Wallace's contact with Johnson is what caused the accident.
"I got behind Mike, I was kind of pushing him, waiting to get out of trioval and had my bumper up there to ease it to him," Earnhardt said. "I couldn't see it, but a silver gray car (Johnson) came up track into him and Wallace was trying to lift. I tried to lift but there was nothing I could do to help him.
"He was bouncing off the front of my car like a woodpecker. It's a shame. It took a lot of guys out."
But driver Sterling Marlin said the bump drafting was inexcusable.
"He (Earnhardt) ought to know better than that, we all knew what was going to happen," Marlin said. "It's ridiculous that professional drivers can't run three deep without hitting each other."
As the drivers headed home, the only thing any of them agreed on was the solution to stopping the big restrictor-plate wrecks.
"If they want us to quit bump-drafting, take the plates off," Tony Stewart said.