NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Power Of The People: Could NASCAR Drivers Nix The Plates?

The most notable moments of Talladega, contrary to popular belief, came two days before multiple cars flipped upside down. Prior to the Chris Buescher melee, long before Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano flared up once again there was a meeting of political minds behind closed doors. The Driver’s Council, an unofficial union of racers feeling more like a “Union” with each passing day, found itself the recipient of a special guest: NASCAR CEO Brian France. France spoke early and often during the closed-doors affair that became ten times more important the second he walked into it.

“At least from Brian’s perspective, it was well done,” said NASCAR spokesman David Higdon on his participation. “He was happy he did it.” “We just had a good discussion,” added France while refusing to delve into details.

What was discussed may never be public knowledge; to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. The fact France attended the meeting, rather than ignoring it, legitimized a Council composed of some of the sport’s more well-known names: Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart. It was a council who, just a few days earlier, publicly offered to pay a $35,000 fine for Stewart after the veteran became openly critical of NASCAR’s rules regarding lug nuts.

What was the end result of that talk? New rules last Monday offering stiff penalties if teams intentionally tried to leave off those lug nuts. It was the exact safety move Stewart was asking for and still calls into question why he’s paying $35,000 in the first place; criticism takes a different tone when those words wind up written in the rulebook.

(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)
When the drivers talk, will NASCAR be forced to listen? (Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

But that moment, followed by France’s visit has vaulted the Driver’s Council to a new level of power. And for Daytona Beach officials, it proved poor timing as it all happened before a track most drivers dread: the restrictor plate carnage that is Talladega.

For 30 years, ‘Dega has been the epicenter of the parity this brand of racing creates. It’s also an equal opportunity employer of turning a driver flat on his head. Some of the worst crashes the sport has seen have come here; Dale Earnhardt, Sr. may have died at Daytona but ‘Dega has offered far more close calls. There was the 2009 incident between Sunday’s winner Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards where debris wound up injuring multiple fans in the stands. Virtually every year has ended with at least one car upside down, the finish in question and the running order a Russian Roulette of who wasn’t swept into a wreck not of their own making.

It’s all a mangled mess but it’s complicated; the fans keep paying, there’s no other real solution to slow the cars down and so NASCAR keeps dragging its feet. But there would be one simple way to stop plate racing once and for all. It’s simple when you think about it, really.

Note to drivers: don’t show up.

Cue this comment from Busch then after a second — let me remind you — a second-place finish.

“I’d much rather sit at home,” he said. “I got a win [that locks him in the Chase]. I don’t need to be here.”

Busch knows firsthand the danger of plate racing; he missed three months last year after a devastating Daytona wreck in the XFINITY Series. Of course, he wasn’t alone in expressing criticism Sunday; the popular Danica Patrick, Buescher, Kenseth, and so many others were open about their disdain for that type of racing.

Kyle’s comment, though appears to carry the most weight. He’s on the Council and his words make factual sense. If you feel as a driver your safety is in danger, plus you’re already locked inside the playoffs why put the rest of your season at risk? We already saw Stewart sit out Sunday because of the worries a Talladega “Big One” could do to his back; he had no such concerns about returning at Richmond a week earlier. How soon before “minor injuries” gobble up some of the sport’s biggest stars heading into the next restrictor plate race?

It would be a way to send a message while hiding behind the rules and forcing NASCAR’s hand. Would the sport punish Busch or threaten him with missing the Chase if he didn’t start Talladega? After all, they just handed the guy a championship after Busch missed the first 11 races of 2015. What if the nine main council members said, “Hey NASCAR, we’re tired of no solution here. Pull the plates or we’ll pull our participation at these four races each year.”

Those words, those actions appear more plausible than ever, especially in an era where a driver strike would be devastating. We’re not in 1969 and there aren’t a list of 50 replacements lining up to drive these Sprint Cup cars. Ownership is limited, manufacturers are stuck at three and the fan base follows the personalities far more than the horsepower or a Toyota logo. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. says he’s going to sit out a race and boy, will people stop and pay attention. The drivers are realizing that; they’re not ignorant to this moment or their bargaining power.

The drivers, more than any other time in NASCAR history, have decision-making sitting squarely within their hands. The future of Talladega and Daytona, more than ever may depend on what they decide to go do with it.

Who knew the decision to dump the plates really has been that easy this whole time?

Share this article

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

18 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

The better play would be for the star drivers to ride around in the back the entire afternoon and never make any attempt to race to the front. A couple of races like that and NASCAR would have to do something.

rg72

I do remember the one year (the 2009 fall race) where they ran in one single file line for almost half the race as a protest to some type of NASCAR edict about bump drafting.

DoninAjax

What happened the last time the drivers threatened a boycott?

Brian probably threatened them. The next plate race is at Daytona.

Charles Jenkins

Tom, IMO your solution is spot on. The drivers do have a lot of power. Much more than any time prior. That said, there are contracts, sponsor deals and many obligations in place were a walk out would be considered a breach. Also the drivers sorta like their lifestyle that is now afforded them.
Bill B’s solution seems to be a way around any breach. The drivers are there and in the cars but the statement on plate racing is being made loud and clear.

josh

These drivers live a fairy tale life….they live on beautiful spots of land and lakes around NC. They fly in private jets and they make money that we can only dream of…..so as a hard core fan of this sport I say suck it up and race. They do it 4 times a year. It comes down to drivers giving each other more room and not messing up on lap 50 of 500 miles. I’m a die hard Rowdy fan and I know he had a raw deal last year hitting a concrete wall…but these cars and tracks are safer than they’ve EVER been, but when he says he’d rather sit at home and not race Talladega…..fine his ass for saying something so stupid…go out and race because you drivers live a privladged life.

Don in CT

Fine a guy for expressing an opinion? Thats a pretty stupid comment.

Bill B

“go out and race because you drivers live a privladged life….” , I think you forgot the last part of that sentence Josh… “so you should be OK with dying young in a fiery crash”.

Well, that’s what you are kind of implying.

Upstate24fan

They all hate plate racing until they win one or have a good finish. Sponsors and owners would never allow it.

Steve

You honestly think Stewarts comments about lugnuts just before Talladega was a coincidence? He’s not stupid. He could see the writing on the wall. Funny how Nascar listened but still fined him anyway. Its like they fined him because he showed how incompetent they really are.

And for them to talk about safety like its their #1 priority is a joke. Talk about hypocritical. If they really cared about safety, all walls at nascar tracks would have a safer barriers and they would be working toward a solution to the restrictor plate problem. But its really not a problem for Nascar. As long as people keep coming to watch and the money keeps rolling in, they will continue to put these races on the schedule.

Phil H

So Tom Bowles are you effing kidding me?? Let’s see these drivers at the end of the season say they are looking forward to 2017 and the season opening 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway! “What’s that you say?What about the Daytona 500? Oh, I can’t run that anymore, all of us drivers rule now!”

Believe it or not, there could actually be a boycott from the FANS! So, drivers you signed up for this, get behind the wheel or don’t go race and we’ll see which boycott wins!

dodom

This can be fixed. The EFI, electronic fuel injection system can be tweaked to slow the cars down and restore throttle response to the cars with the computer. All cars and trucks on the road now have EFI and there are suppliers that have chips to replace the manufactures settings. This can and should be put in place in the racing world. I enjoyed the race but not all the carnage.

justtim

There’s other ways to slow these things down without resorting to restrictor plates that choke all cars down to a power level that causes maximum speed to be lower than the grip on the track. You need to reduce grip either mechanically or with aero penalties. How about – open up the grill and force air through the car like a normal vehicle. Or raise the splitter off the track for the same reason. Or get rid of the rear spoiler. Or go to a treaded tire on the superspeedways so that drivers actually have to do something other than hold the pedal to the floor to get through the turns. Or get rid of all the extra bumper/pusher bars in the front to that any attempt to “bump draft” causes damage to the pusher. There will always be a problem when the available grip on a track is higher than the speed the cars can run…

Al Weaver

Hey Tom, can’t we just open up the road course at Daytona? Take off the restrictor plates and let em race. Now you got a road course the fans were wantin more of.

Don in CT

Great idea Al. Same could be said for Indianapolis which is a really boring oval for stock cars but has a first rate road course.

paltex

The sponsors have all the power. If the driver does not race, then the sponsor does not pay any money. The drivers pay check comes from the sponsor. No race no pay. See what happens then.

Dan

When fans would critized Kyle Busch when he raced the Xfinity series and the truck series I would defend him because I felt he was doing it because he loved to race. A true racer. But after the comment about how he’d much rather be sitting home than racing at Talladega I take it all back.

The Mad Man

What the restrictor plates do is keep the cost of NAPCAR’S insurance down. It’s not really for driver or fan safety. Whenever you question NAPCAR doing something, always follow the money.

Broken Arrow

It’s funny that Kyle Busch is roundly criticized for walking away from interviews when he is angry. (Actually that was exactly the strategy Bill Elliott used to win 16 MPD awards. Better to get a slap on the wrist from NASCAR for skipping the media obligation than say something that you will spend the next 10 years apologizing for.) Yet, when Kyle gets out of the car after a race that was harrowing for all the participants and says the first thing that pops into his head, that is deemed SO wrong and SO unsportsmanlike to his corps of haters. I applaud Kyle for telling the truth and skipping the mandatory sponsor recital to say what every other driver was thinking in some form.

But talk is cheap and there will never be an organized boycott of a race because each driver is too concerned about his own career to care about anybody else’s. Hey, if Kyle, Kurt, Carl, Joonyer, Matt, JJ, and Kevin skip a race, horseface Brad will think “I’ve got it made in the shade” and show up to stink up the show. I do believe the driver’s council can make a positive impact on this situation, but not as long as NASCAR continues to preemptively reject any solution that will cost them money.

Probably the best is for the top drivers to just cruise around the track in a loose pack 40 seconds behind the lead and agree to stick with that strategy for at least 80% of the race. But eventually, someone will break out of the pack and the usual mayhem will ensue. Still, seeing DW describe the non-race as exciting for a couple hours might be worth the effort all by itself.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com

Frontstretch