The Frontstretch: Side By Side: Is There a Place in NASCAR for Plates? by Mark Howell & Summer Dreyer -- Wednesday February 27, 2013

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Side By Side: Is There a Place in NASCAR for Plates?

Mark Howell & Summer Dreyer · Wednesday February 27, 2013


Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we’re going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question… feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll and also in the comments section below!

This Week’s Question: In the wake of Saturday’s fan injuries and ongoing complaints about the racing, is it time for NASCAR to reassess whether restrictor plate racing still belongs in the sport?

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: It’s Time For a Change

It’s high time that NASCAR re-evaluates its restrictor plate policy. We are all-too familiar with the infamous (yet media-enticing) “big ones” that occur as a result of tight mid-pack, door-to-door, nose-to-tail drafting at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega. I find it ironic that it was a car against the catchfence (as in Bobby Allison taking a frontstretch flyer at Talladega back in 1987) that caused NASCAR to establish its present-day formal restrictor plate policy. Here we are, nearly thirty years later, lamenting the aftermath of a similar situation during the final lap of the Nationwide race at Daytona. And what’s the biggest difference between the two wrecks? Last weekend’s disaster at Daytona was caused by cars running restrictor plates as per the NASCAR rule book.

Given recent developments within NASCAR, I believe it’s a good time for the sanctioning body to re-think its adherence to superspeedway restrictor plate racing. My proposal involves two fairly simple changes to the status quo. First off, allow teams to tweak or manipulate their electronic fuel injection systems so as to reduce speed by cutting horsepower. We’ve been told about the relative ease with which EFI allows for custom-tuned allotment of fuel into the engine cylinders…. why not alter the motors and eliminate the need for a restrictor plate that essentially serves the same purpose?

Restrictor plates were added to race cars as a temporary safety measure in 1988…but they’re still here. Has this type of racing run its course in NASCAR?

If NASCAR fears losing control over teams, have someone in the competition division require and/or program the necessary injector settings. As long as everyone runs the same setting, the race cars can be made to go as fast or as slow as deemed proper.

Second of all, I propose that NASCAR – in the name of spectator safety – close off seating that puts fans in harm’s way. There’s no need for race fans to sit 100 feet (or even less) from the track. Getting the sensory rush of 43 cars roaring by you at better than 200 miles per hour is one thing; having a wheel from one of those cars tossed into your lap is another.

I remember sitting in the grandstands along the frontstretch near the entrance of Turn One at Pocono Raceway with my parents many years ago. While the thrill of being close to the action was memorable, so was the pelting from tire rubber we received every time a Cup car went into the corner; a chunk of worn rubber against your face was a keen reminder that perhaps “good seats” could put you too close to the action.

Sadly enough, it seems that such good seats aren’t really good enough. Notice the decrease in race attendance series-wide over the past several years, with business getting so bad that now NASCAR is not going to release fan counts for each event. All it took was a quick camera pan of the grandstands to see the sad truth — blocks of empty seats during Speedweeks proved that even the ascendance of St. Danica was enough to put much meat in the seats.

That said, since open seats seem plentiful, why doesn’t NASCAR require that all rows within a certain distance from the racing surface be roped off or blocked so as to provide a cushion of safety between flying Fords and frantic fans? A catchfence should do most of its job, but what’s wrong with adding a little insurance just in case there’s a situation like we saw last weekend? It seems to me that NASCAR can fix this problem simply and quickly, and perhaps it’s time that we admit that the sport requires even more fundamental change.

A fan with a good seat may not be so lucky next time….

Summer Bedgood, Assistant Editor: Plate Racing Is a Tradition

Let me give a disclaimer here at the beginning by saying that I really am saddened by the devastating crash last Saturday and I hate that it happened at all. I also think NASCAR should continuously look at how to make racing at restrictor plate races safer for both fans and competitors alike.

However, saying that restrictor plate racing doesn’t belong in the sport is lunacy! Let’s just for a minute put aside the fact that it’s been a part of racing history for decades now. The main reason this is a discussion at all is because racing at restrictor plate tracks is too … dangerous.

Racing? Dangerous? Ya don’t say! This is hardly news to literally anyone who knows anything about racing. Every driver, crew member, journalist, and fan knows exactly what the risks are when that green flag drops. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the paper clip of Martinsville, the giant that is Talladega, or any of the cookie cutter tracks in between. Yes, the danger drops when the speeds do, but the risk is assumed no matter which track they are competing at on any given weekend.

But that doesn’t mean that NASCAR should quit looking at safety initiatives and protecting everyone inside said racetracks. However, they will never be able to prepare for every scenario and every loose part on those race cars. If there is an angle that race cars can find a way to hit the wall, or become airborne, eventually they will find it. It’s simple physics. But you can’t punish the racetracks for that when literally every single person there knows that crazy things happen in racing. It says it on your ticket, the drivers know it when they sign the dotted line, and we love the sport anyway.

So why does restrictor plate racing belong in NASCAR? For the same reason that road courses, short tracks, and intermediate tracks all have a place in this sport. They allow drivers to showcase their talents on a variety of racetracks, and the master of all (usually) wins the championship. You can throw the word “crapshoot” around all you want to. You can’t deny that there are certain drivers you just know will be in the mix when the checkered flag falls at Daytona and Talladega.

To get rid of these historic and—let’s be honest, exciting—racetracks for the sake of danger is asinine. If that’s the case, why don’t we put a speed limit of 60 mph on any racetrack more than 1.5-mile and have them race bubble wrapped station wagons instead of stock cars? We can have discussions about slowing the cars down, changing the banking, and moving the grandstands back several feet to minimize any potential injuries as much as possible. Those discussions have to happen and if you can have these safety innovations without sacrificing the racing I see no reason why they shouldn’t happen.

NASCAR can do all of those things, though, and the risks associated with racing will still exist. You can’t have racing that is both exciting and completely harmless. It’s just not possible. Punishing the fans who attend Daytona and Talladega, or the tracks themselves, does not make sense. They’ve seen the replays and many have watched racing for years. Several of them will probably be back at the racetrack as soon as they can. Many race fans even said so when asked by the media after Saturday’s crash.

Restrictor plate racing is dangerous, and NASCAR and the tracks should do what they can to minimize the damage. But restrictor plate tracks also belong in the sport as a means of competition and determining a champion. Many race fans enjoy it despite the risks associated with it. Instead of overreacting and dumping a track for danger, simply make it safer. A happy medium that most people can live with.

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02/27/2013 08:23 AM

Plate racing is NOT racing. It’s a crap shoot. You’re either lucky or not. Or benefit from a caution.

And, once again, we see nascar not making any changes to the track. They continue to roll the dice…until someone dies.

02/27/2013 10:10 AM

Plate racing puts the most butts in the seats and the most eyes on tv. NASCAR will do nothing about it (unless what we saw Sunday becomes the norm).

02/27/2013 02:00 PM

The Daytona 500 did nothing to help out the ‘dega track which has been losing fans.

Factor in that taxes have gone up (for working families!) and, oh look, gas is going up too, and I don’t see it getting any better.

Sure hope that “Gen-6” car works out. I mean, you know, for drivers OTHER than the Hendrick boys (and girl).

02/27/2013 02:36 PM

Just a question – how many of the posters or writers ever attended non-plate races at Talladega or Daytona? I attended a ton and the racing then looked just like it does now and you had big ones then too. The plate plays no part at all. What makes so many ‘big ones’ today is reliability and parity. Back then, if you made it to the halfway mark without a big one, the lead pack would be down to 25 or so cars. By the three quarters mark, another ten or so would be gone. Less cars meant fewer chances for an incident. Today’s equipment is so good and teams so equal most of the cars are still around at the end, leading to more chances for an incident. There is no fix short of altering the configuration of the tracks or doing something radical with the cars that completely eliminates drafting (oddly enough, tandem racing did a good job of breaking up packs and ending the big one but fans hated it). Even if you slow them down to 180ish, they’ll still be in a pack, still get together, and still sometimes flip into the fence. Heck, I was at New Smyrna in 1984 (1/2 mile asphalt track) and saw an entire late model flip into the grandstands. It is just something that happens in racing.

Brian France Sucks
02/27/2013 11:07 PM

Here’s a novel approach: Bulldoze Daytona and Talladega and build smaller tracks that don’t require the need for restrictor plates, or at least cut the banking down. Daytona, as it is, is too narrow anyway. Its like Charlotte with longer straights. Build a Rockingham clone or another short track in their stead, while leaving a road course for the 24 hours of Daytona.

NA$CAR’s main problem is that the France family (I$C and NA$CAR) and $MI got greedy and built too many big tracks. The racing at the bigger venues is yawn inducing most weeks. Thus, you get manufactured drama from “debris” cautions. Closing the smaller venues (Wilkesboro, Rockingham, Memphis, Mansfield, IRP, Myrtle BEach) has left the schedule devoid of decent racing. FYI I know the last 4 were Busch/Nationwide tracks. Adding Iowa to the Cup schedule would be a good start, along with giving Rockingham back a date.

The bottom line is that plate racing is about a half step from going to the county fair demo derby. The only difference is when things go bad, the fans are in harm’s way.

02/28/2013 02:35 PM

Easy solution is alter the aero package so the drivers have to lift and brake going into a corner. And this applies to all the big tracks too.