NASCAR: Restrictor-Plate Racing Isn’t Going Anywhere

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite several violent crashes this weekend, restrictor-plate racing at Daytona and Talladega unlikely to change.

After Sunday’s crash-filled GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, a lot of people are weighing in on how NASCAR can “fix” the racing at Daytona and Talladega, the two superspeedways where NASCAR mandates restrictor plates on the engines.  The combination of high speeds, close racing, and violent crashes has some people shaken up.

Really.  Look.

Is the speed of the cars the problem?  From a raw speed perspective, no.  Talladega’s pole speed was actually the fourth-fastest in nine qualifying sessions in 2016.  Texas’ pole-winning speed was two miles per hour faster.  Daytona and Las Vegas were nearly four miles per hour faster.

Some would argue that removing the restrictor plates and letting the cars run at maximum speed could be a solution.  If you have watched races at Talladega, you know the number “212.809”, Bill Elliott’s record-setting pole speed from the 1987 Winston 500.  Do you know how many cars finished on the lead lap that day?  Eight.  Eight!  The 16th-place car that day finished five laps down.

Today?  When the cars run single-file during a restrictor plate-race for more than five minutes people start freaking out.  “Boring.”  Can you imagine if they removed the restrictor plates and turned Talladega into a super-sized Homestead?  People would lose their minds.

Part of the problem for NASCAR is that plate racing, as a spectacle, is so good.  No other racing in NASCAR has white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat drama like plate racing.  In an era where NASCAR is trying everything possible to create drama – “Game 7 moments”, anyone? – I feel quite confident in saying that NASCAR is not going to do anything to touch the four races that are always guaranteed to bring it.

(Real talk:  An underrated “problem” with changing the dynamic of plate racing to thin the packs is that the Daytona 500 is the marquee race of the season.  NASCAR wants your eyeballs on that race for three hours every February.  They will not do anything to risk Great American Race becoming as ordinary as a June day at Michigan or Kentucky.)

Immediately after the race Sunday, a common refrain was “I don’t want to see a driver get killed.”  Do you know when the last NASCAR driver was killed at Talladega.  It was Tiny Lund, in 1975.  Forty-one years ago.  Drivers have died at Loudon and Watkins Glen more recently.  And for as many serious crashes as we saw Sunday (and Saturday in the Xfinity race, for that matter), how many injuries did we see?  Zero.  That’s not to say NASCAR should be content to say plate racing is “safe”.  But the way to “fix” plate racing is to keep improving the safety of the cars and the safety at Daytona and Talladega.

Related Story: NASCAR: The Five Worst Wrecks From The Talladega Weekend

One thing I think most of us can agree on – NASCAR fans do not really like or embrace change.  I can’t imagine the fans’ reaction to a 150 mph-pack crawling around Talladega (or the four-hour race that would come with it) would be positive.  And NASCAR (nor the tracks) would likely give up the pack racing that is unique to Daytona and Talladega.  Of all the possible solutions, the fact is NASCAR is most likely – for once – to do nothing to change this time.