Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Are Restrictor Plates Returning To NASCAR Tracks?

According to NBC Sports NASCAR will run restrictor plates on the Xfinity cars at Indianapolis, this following an encouraging test session at the Brickyard in 2016. The report became fact as NASCAR made the announcement on March 23. Drivers Ryan Reed and Blake Koch expand on the package here. The most intriguing angle is the use of drag ducts, where air blasts into the nose and out the front wheelwells; the IMS test indicated they work.

As one who has studied the history of racing may expect the restrictor plate controversy has raged from 1988 onward with drivers predictably speaking against the restrictor plate, yet in the nearly thirty years since the restrictor plate was re-introduced to NASCAR the case against it has been thoroughly discredited by three decades of actual racing. And alternatives are always presented - Dale Jarrett claiming "open the aerodynamics some....let them have the horsepower trying to do it."

Yet in the history of racing those is search of examples where having more horsepower or adding horsepower opened up passing will fail to find any.

MRN call of the 1971 Yankee 400, a restrictor plate race.

NASCAR first mandated restrictor plates in August 1970 until late-September 1971 when it went to carburetor sleeves - in July 1973 NASCAR returned to running restrictor plates and in March 1974 the Southeastern 500 at Bristol was the last race to run them until 1988.   Michigan in 1971 saw two competitive races with the plate, such as the Yankee 400.   NASCAR nearly mandated the plate for 1979 when several tracks were repaved and speeds shot up markedly as a result - analyst Greg Maness adds that the Chevrolet Laguna S-3 was hit with the plate for 1978 and this is part of why that successful marque was dropped after 1977.

"Some people were saying they would not be able to pass...."  So noted Ned Jarrett two laps into the 1988 Daytona 500, the first to run restrictor plates since 1974.  

While not as competitive as the Daytona 500, that year's Firecracker 400 and Diehard 500 saw eye-popping finishes.

Ned Jarrett repeatedly mocked the opinion that the restrictor plate impeded ability to pass in his racecasts at Daytona and Talladega - because the racing itself disproved the view against it. 

People who cite the 2000 New Hampshire 300 as a case against restrictor plates ignore how in the radial tire era stock cars have long struggled to pass there and everywhere - when the Modifieds race at New Hampshire they have run restrictor plates since the track opened - with no impediment to passing at all.  

It also ignores how the longer the drivers ran with this plate package the more used to it they became and the more aggressive they started to get in the racing.   Restrictor plate usage far beyond just this one race would certainly have seen drivers figure out passing in such a horsepower box.

The notion - advanced by many, not just Dale Jarrett - that adding horsepower will increase passing not only is not supported by any realworld evidence, it is further discredited by Indycar's absurd push-to-pass button, which adds short bursts of extra horsepower akin to nitrous oxide usage - it has been in Indycars for several years with zero discernable increase in incidence of passing.  It was bulkier racecar bodies, air-displacement wings - and the combination present in the modern-day Wheldon-12 racecar - with no particular increase in horsepower that opened up passing (the use of air-displacement by Indycars  also brings to mind NASCAR's successful roof blade package, curiously never used in race conditions on smaller tracks despite several test sessions with this package at Charlotte).

The blunt reality is Dale Jarrett is wrong.   NASCAR has needed to expand restrictor plate usage for two decades.   The New Hampshire experiment should not have ended in that one race and the pending use of restrictor plates at Indianapolis should not be limited to that one race - or that one weekend - either.   The fact is NASCAR has too much horsepower by over 250 and has had such for one and a half generations.  

The Camping World Trucks have run small engine spacers - which serve the same effect as the restrictor plate - for a number of years and they have seen excellent racing.

Balancing the horsepower, tire, downforce, and drafting effect is how Indycar has exploded the last quarter-century in competitive racing and how NASCAR can reach that same end.   Restrictor plates have worked - period - so NASCAR should mandate them not just for Indianapolis, but beyond.

NASCAR is shooting for racing like this (from Indy Lights in 2016 and 2013) for the Brickyard and elsewhere - with racecars that are underpowered.

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