I watched the Coke Zero Sugar 400 from Daytona this past Saturday and my biggest takeaway is something needs to be done about restrictor plate racing. I know that it has been said time and again but there has to be some sort of solution to this issue. After watching multiple accidents that eliminated half the field and left all but a handful of cars damaged, now is a good time to discuss what could be done to make the racing at Daytona and Talladega better.
The biggest problem I see right now is that the cars need such a shove to really pass one another that it leads to minor mistakes that takes out large chunks of cars at a time. Restrictor plate racing has always been a crap-shoot at best on what happens. Yes, the “big one” has been around for years and when cars are this tightly bunched together these things are going to happen more often than not because it only takes a slight misjudgment to cause a huge problem. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. triggered the big accident early in the second stage with a hard push to the rear bumper of Penske Ford Brad Keselowski which sent Keselowski spinning into traffic on the backstretch. Then, shortly afterwards, Stenhouse again found himself in another bad situation when he washed up into Kyle Busch taking Busch and race leader William Byron out of the event.
Let me get the one solution out of the way that many clamor for but will never happen. NASCAR simply cannot take the plates off of the cars at Daytona and Talladega. At least not in the current package. The speeds the cars would reach would be far too dangerous for the drivers and the fans in the grandstands. Plus, the human body can only withstand a certain G-load for an extended period of time. The G-forces the cars would pull at speeds likely in the 240 mph range would be unhealthy for the drivers over an extended period of time. Also, fan safety could not be overlooked. A 3400 pound stock car hurtling into a fence at 240 mph could be a total disaster.
What else could be done? The tandem draft era of races actually helped spread the fields out of the big packs of cars. My biggest problem with those races was the fact that each driver was basically married to one other car the entire race. If they could have separated and hooked up with different drivers throughout the race I feel it would have been a bit more tolerable. Tandem drafting definitely had it’s benefits but I don’t think in the grand scheme of things that’s the answer to solve the problem at these tracks.
That leads me to an aero package that we’ve seen before. After the 2000 running of the Daytona 500 Dale Earnhardt was very vocal about how bad the racing was. Earnhardt was quoted as saying,
“That’s the worse racing I’ve seen at Daytona in a long, long time. They took NASCAR Winston Cup racing and made it the sorriest racing, they took racing out of the driver’s and the crew’s hands. We can’t adjust, we can’t make our cars drive like we want. They just killed the racing at Daytona. That’s all I’ve got to say. Mr. Bill France, Sr. is probably rolling over in his grave if he seen that deal.”
In response to that, NASCAR changed the aerodynamic package at Daytona and Talladega, making it easier for the driver’s to get runs on one another and slingshot. They unveiled the new package at the October 15th race at Talladega. The package turned out to be an overwhelming success with the race producing 49 lead changes and a finish for the ages. Dale Earnhardt rallied from 18th to 1st in the last five laps of the race. There were only three caution flags in a mostly clean race. Despite the cars being in large packs, they featured a blade across the roof that produced a big hole in the air causing a huge drafting effect with a tall rear spoiler and a wicker bill to produce high drag. By producing so much drag and slowing down the cars, NASCAR was able to let teams run a less restricted plate which allowed for more throttle response by the drivers. This was a popular package that was ran at Daytona and Talladega through the 2002 season. Something similar to this would probably be worth taking a look at by NASCAR.
There’s one other option that could go either way. NASCAR could have the teams remove the rear spoiler altogether and run a different plate that would allow for better throttle response. If the driver’s were having to lift off of the gas to avoid crashing it would more naturally spread the fields out in theory. Perhaps even run a narrower tire for Daytona and Talladega. Anything that would help slow the cars down naturally to allow for a plate that wasn’t choked down as much could help make the racing different at the plate tracks.
One way or another, NASCAR needs to try to address the plate track problems. If they could find a way to help the cars produce bigger holes in the air for a bigger draft effect as well as being able to open up the plates to allow for a little greater overall speed that might just be what it takes. But, inevitably racing at Daytona and Talladega will produce some large crashes from time-to-time no matter what package is being ran. It’s the nature of the beast.
Do you think that the current aero package at Daytona and Talladega works or do you have a different solution? Drop us a comment and let us know what you think!
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