The Frontstretch: Can Cup Drivers Be The One To Bring Restrictor Plates To Their Knees? by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday October 7, 2007

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Can Cup Drivers Be The One To Bring Restrictor Plates To Their Knees?

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Sunday October 7, 2007

 

For years, critics of restrictor plate racing have looked every which way to stop what they call "manufactured entertainment." However, the racing at Talladega Superspeedway was always rallied by support from the stands - never unanimous, but just enough that it's been next to impossible for NASCAR to appreciate both the danger and the destructiveness plate racing can cause.

But just when it looked like those four-hole square pieces of speed-sucking equality were becoming a permanent fixture on the circuit - they'll celebrate their 20th anniversary next year – NASCAR found an unlikely and surprising enemy.

It's the drivers, of all people, who may leave them no choice but to make some changes.

True, Sunday afternoon's event was the first for the Car Of Tomorrow at a restrictor plate track - but the race wasn't as notable for the different type of car as it was for differing strategies. Last week, conserving fuel was on the agenda for Kansas; this time around, it was just downright going slow. That's right…as slow as you possibly could without losing the draft.

“That was the hardest three-quarters of a race that I’ve ever had to run before," said Gordon, admitting that the hardest thing a race car driver would ever be asked to do - and should never be doing - is to run at a snail's pace. "We talked about it (as a team). Basically, our qualifying determined what our strategy was going to be. I knew there was going to be a bunch of bumping and banging with this new rules package. I didn’t know what to expect. We’ve got a championship on the line."

Needless to say, this strategy worked like a charm for Gordon, who used the last 100 miles to put himself in position to win. In between was two hours of mind-numbing, single file action with him, Johnson, and several others bending over backwards to stay planted at the rear of the field - letting other, lesser-known drivers dictate the pace up front.

"We kind of made a plan to ride around in the back," added Matt Kenseth, one of a long line of Ford drivers who created a single file parade far off the front of the field. "We rode around for about 350-400 miles, and then sooner or later, you've got to go race and try to get a partner up there and see how your car is gonna handle."

"But that's not really what everybody pays to come and watch."

Indeed. In the past, this strategy has been used by a smaller number of drivers, disguised by the rest of the field taking chances to keep it interesting. However, this was a race in which no one seemed willing to stick their necks out anymore, at least until the very end of the event - making the first 400 miles nothing more than a glorified parade at 190 miles an hour.

So much for a new car breathing new life into the competition.

"I was really surprised how unracy everybody was in the middle stage of the race," claimed Mike Wallace when it was all said and done. "Everybody committed themselves to the top of the race track. I even made the comment on the radio, I said, ‘I bet this is boring for the fans because they're all lined up."

“It just made it hard to get that second lane going," added Dave Blaney of the drivers' reluctance to, well…compete. "The middle lane is usually fast, but today, it was really slow. It was hard to get two-wide or three-wide and compete. The top lane took over."

In hindsight, that’s not the only thing that took over on this day. These drivers have made one of the stronger unintentional statements ever put forth from a group of men that doesn't even have a union backing them up. In a year where there's been increasing criticism of NASCAR not listening to what the drivers say, what better way than to make a point than by simply going out there and putting up a stinker? Yeah, the last 20 laps were exciting at Talladega…they always are. But that doesn't make up for the two plus hours it takes to get there; how many fans either tuned out or just didn't stick around until then?

"I looked up front and I could see all the guys just running single file," said Jamie McMurray. "It was a pretty boring race today to watch. I'm sure the last few laps will be good, but the first 450 miles you're just trying to ride around."

Perhaps the harshest words were spoken by his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, his chances for the win torn apart by the inevitable big wreck that occurs when all the cars do start racing.

"Everybody got what they wanted," Greg Biffle claimed. "They got to see a wreckfest, just like Talladega. I haven't finish a race here yet in a Nextel Cup car. I don't ever plan to, I just come to put on a show for everybody and see when I wreck."

Of course, what Greg didn’t understand is that the show didn’t go on, not in the ways intended, and that had more fans than ever before scratching their heads and wondering openly if restrictor plates were an acceptable form of racing for the first time. And the more this lay back strategy is employed, the fans will continue to be unentertained…and NASCAR will have no choice but to finally address an issue that's been around since I first turned the sport on TV at eight years old in 1989.

“It was a little boring out there for us," said Jeff Burton. "Just going around that top lane single file is not what any of us want. The drivers don’t want that, the fans do want that and I don’t think we are going to see a whole lot more of that."

"I think the racing was disappointing," summed up Ryan Newman. "To see single file racing and the guy that wins the race sitting in the back all day just lounging around… that's not racing to me."

"I hope it wasn't what NASCAR intended with this car."

Well, actually it was; but one or two more races like that one, and clearly won't be what NASCAR intends anymore.

It’s in the driver’s hands.

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M. B. Voelker
10/08/2007 06:28 AM
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It wasn’t any different than any other plate race really.

It was only that they rode around in just one line instead of 2-3 lines.

Melvin Krause
10/08/2007 06:47 AM
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Regarding COT: The Army has their Bradly Fighting Vehicle, now NA$CAR has it’s very own Brian Racing Vehicle. About as FUBAR as the racing itself.

Douglas
10/08/2007 06:52 AM
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I think the fans are very smart! Did you notice ALL the EMPTY seats at Talladega?

The fans are staying away in droves!

What a joke NASCAR has become!

Ken in Va.
10/08/2007 09:35 AM
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I had to record the race on my DVR bnecause I had company. Good thing because I skipped through the boring part and watched the whole thing in about half an hour.

HankZ
10/08/2007 09:50 AM
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Empty seats, boring racing, upset fans, pissed off drivers…yea…NA$CAR will fix the plate-bitching by moving the fall Talledega race to Las Vegas. Just watch.

Please post Biffle and Newmans addresses so I can send a bowl of milk to them to cry into.

Cripes!

Rich
10/08/2007 12:07 PM
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Let’s see, three and four wide racing for the first part of the race. Once all of those drivers that needed their five points for leading a lap got them,they all sat back and cruised. for 100 laps. I know the drivers weren’t sure about what the COT would do, but they could have taken a little risk and made the show a little less boring by racing instead of cruising.

trosselle
10/08/2007 04:37 PM
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HankZ:
NASCAR would never move the race to LV. Bruton Smith owns that track not NASCAR (Sorry, International Speedway Corporation).

There is one driver who could make Talledega a great place to race. That driver is Dave Blaney. How could he do it? Simple, he could have a few of his catapillers go to the speedway one night and knock the banking down to say about 15% to 20%, make it progressive and shorten the track to about 2 miles. You may see 200 mph heading into the turns but then some cherry red brake rotors on the cars in the turns.

Travis Rassat
10/09/2007 07:00 AM
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There are a lot of good points here. I got to thinking about this and I have an idea. The problem with a restrictor plate race is the drivers basically just mash the pedal and hold it. The driver element is more or less taken out of the equation. We always blame the restrictor plates, and “restrictor plate racing” has become synonymous with “boring.” The issue isn’t actually the plates – it’s the tracks. They’re too big to be practical anymore. Daytona and Talladega have become obsolete by being big and perpetual. Perhaps it is time for a reconfiguration?

They need to reintroduce driver skill at these races. There is no braking, accelerating, shifting or any other driver input that differentiates the really good drivers from the not-quite-as-really-good drivers. They hardly talk about the car being tight or loose. All of these elements are important for good, exciting racing, but they are missing because of the track. If they were to tighten up and flatten the corners at Talladega in order to force the drivers to brake, shift and accelerate, they could end up with a much more exciting race. Make each corner different, and turn it into more of a “roval” like Pocono or Indy. They could actually still use the restrictor plates, forcing the drivers to shift more to get back into the powerband. I think if they could work to reintroduce these elements, we’d be up for a more exciting race that fans and drivers would enjoy.

Bill
10/09/2007 10:26 AM
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Travis probably has the best answer to the problem. Unfortunately, the strategies will never change for restrictor plate racing as long as the points are structured as they are currently.

Probably the only other option that would work would be to award points for EACH lap a driver leads. If NASCAR wants points to be such a factor, that would get the drivers up on the wheel and attempt to lead laps. They couldn’t afford not to because, in this case, the Chase drivers that didn’t do that would definitely be left out in the cold.

 

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