Restrictor plate fixes clear as mud
You know that old sports saying that goes something like, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out?” Well, I guess a similar saying could come out of Sunday’s Geico 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway — one that goes a little like, “I went to a NASCAR race and an air show broke out.”
Racing at Talladega has been pretty controversial, on and off, since the track’s early days, more specifically since opening weekend. In case you weren’t aware, the top drivers of the day (late 1960s) boycotted the first NASCAR premier series race at the track, prompting “Big Bill” France to enlist drivers from the precursor of the Xfinity Series to run the top level race in the stars’ place. Another interesting tidbit — it was from that race that Richard Childress received purse money that helped him build the Richard Childress Racing empire we know today. But that’s another story for another time.
Back to Sunday’s race. With three cars getting airborne — Chris Buescher and Matt Kenseth both flipping and Kevin Harvick riding along the wall — outcries are coming, again, that something needs to be done, and understandably so. After all, of the 40 cars that entered the race, 33 or 35 of those cars (depending on which report you go with) were involved in at least one wreck sometime or other during the 500-mile race. That’s more than a little excessive, don’t you think?
But what’s the answer? I sure don’t know. I’m by no means an expert, far from it, and I’m not going to begin to pretend that I am. The drivers are the ones who race these cars, and even they haven’t come to a consensus on the issue.
According to Denny Hamlin, there are two solutions — either speed the cars up or slow them down. Slowing them down may work, but speeding them up? I’m not so sure I’d be comfortable with that. Remember the days before restrictor plates? Specifically, remember why restrictor plates were introduced? I sure don’t want to see another car up in the grandstands. That’s definitely not a solution. Given the choice between Hamlin’s two suggestions, I guess I’d have to go with the slower options. But how much do cars need to be slowed down? What would the racing look like? I don’t know.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says there’s no way to really fix what we saw on Sunday. Maybe he’s right. After all, consider all the do-dads that NASCAR’s tried the last couple of decades — wicker-bills, roof strips, the list goes on and on.
Maybe Earnhardt was onto something when he suggested that it was the drivers’ responsibility to try to avoid what happened on Sunday. Maybe we shouldn’t put this on NASCAR’s shoulders; maybe we should turn to the drivers for a solution.
Hamlin seemed to admit that drivers shouldered at least some of the blame for what was seen Sunday, because quite frankly, drivers had gotten so comfortable plate racing that they were taking risks that maybe they shouldn’t. Then he said that they’d probably, eventually, get equally comfortable with any changes that could be made, so the same problem could rear its head, again, a few years down the road. So, does that mean any fix would only be a temporary fix?
Of course, these drivers can’t even seem to agree whether or not there should be restrictor-plate racing. Kyle Busch said Sunday that he hated it and would’ve preferred staying home since he already has a couple of wins ahead of the Chase, anyway. But according to Hamlin, everyone enjoys plate racing; they just have those moments of dislike. He even said he’s previously been in the camp of drivers not thinking there should be plate races. I guess whether or not you like plate racing, as a driver, depends on your result on a given race day, but then again, Busch finished second on Sunday. And, judging by interviews over the years, I don’t think Ryan Newman’s ever enjoyed it.
So, should we just say goodbye to restrictor plate tracks? Before saying yes, think about this for a minute — that would mean saying goodbye to the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most-renowned event.
I’m thinking saying “adios” to plate tracks is out of the question. So, what needs to be done? Maybe showing down cars would be an option? If so, what about in a few years when teams adjust and we see this mess again? Would the answer be to slow them down again? Where would the line be drawn?
I sure don’t have an answer, and it seems like nobody else has a feasible solution, either. I realize that racing will always be a dangerous sport. Back in the day, Dale Earnhardt Sr. would scoff at those who complained of the danger. But there has to be a line drawn somewhere; enough is enough.