In May of 1987, Bobby Allison cut a tire while running in the spring race at the Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway). The cut tire sent Allison spinning and airborne into the catchfence, tearing a gaping hole during a violent wreck. Fans were injured and the race was delayed while repairs were made to the fence.
It was after this incident that NASCAR decided that carburetor restrictor plates would be required at the circuit’s two largest tracks, Daytona and Talladega.
Restrictor plates effectively choke the engine by restricting the air flow, cutting its horsepower nearly in half. Since all the cars are limited to a lower amount of horsepower, they are bunched together.
Combine this with the physics of the draft, and you are left with an entire field of cars bunched together.
Racing at plate tracks often turns into a game of follow the leader, as one cannot afford to leave the draft. Then, at the end of a race, blocking becomes paramount, which can lead to results we’ve seen in the past two plate races. Both Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were leading just yards away from the checkered flag, but both ended up with destroyed race cars.
In each case, the draft and blocking is the culprit. The car directly behind the leader is able to suck up and get a huge run, which can slingshot them past the leader if timed right. The leader then is left helpless except for trying to block.
Both Edwards and Busch tried to block, but the car behind them had gotten a quarter-panel in position, sending each leader spinning.
To me, there is one solution that may create a small amount of danger, but will eliminate a lot more: make the restrictor plates smaller.
With a smaller plate, the cars would be able to drive faster instead of depending on the draft. Racing would be more like at other tracks, where better cars are able to pull away. The draft would still exist, but a superior car could still drive away.
As cars become less dependent on the draft, finishes would be less dependent on blocking and who can mirror-drive the best. Cars would not be forced to get to the leader’s bumper before making a move.
Picture some of the fantastic finishes that have happened at Atlanta. They happened without restrictor plates, and would be impossible if plates were on those cars.
The lone drawback is that speeds would increase and potentially pose a greater danger. Rusty Wallace tested a car without any sort of restrictor plate in 2004, and he reached a top speed of 228 miles an hour. Wallace described the experience as “out of control”.
This tells us that some form of plate is necessary, but that a smaller one could make the racing better while not making the cars “out of control”.
Carl Edwards was right when he guessed that NASCAR will keep things the way they are until someone gets killed. After Kyle Busch’s wreck on Saturday, that day is coming.
For the safety and betterment of the sport, NASCAR should shrink the plates to let the cars race instead of creating a high speed parking lot like the one they have now.
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