What are Restrictor Plate Races at NASCAR and Which Tracks Require Them
Restrictor plates have been a part of some Nascar races since Bobby Allison’s Daytona wreck in 1987. The injuries caused by the wreck prompted Nascar to look at ways to move beyond the fence and barrier and to add another level of safety to the cars by forcing them to slow down.
In 2013 Nascar may be revisiting its restrictor plate guidelines on super speedways such as Daytona and Talladega in light of the wreck on February 23, 2013 that injured 28 spectators.
How Do Restrictor Plates Work?
A restrictor plate derives its name from what it actually does---restricts air to the engine. The restrictor plates are square with four holes and are placed over the carburetor. This gives the engine less air and thus reduces speed.
Current Tracks that Require Restrictor Plates
**Note: Some believe that Auto Club in California should require the restrictor plates as well.
What Do Drivers Think?
Overall drivers tend to have issues with the restrictor plates. They reduce speed but also create more opportunities for pack racing where drivers are bunched together. In this scenario a wreck can take out many cars in the field very quickly. Restrictor plates have been accused of causing more accidents which can still put the driver and the spectators in danger if those big wrecks happen in front of the grand stands.
Restrictor Plates and February 2013 Daytona Crash
Restrictor plates may have something to do with the Daytona crash on February 23. The wreck sent debris into the stands including a tire and engine parts. At least 28 spectators were injured and some were hospitalized for days.
Part of the issue with the plates seems to be the inability to pass. The race cars stayed on the high side of the track for the whole race. Those that tried to go lower to pass had little to no luck.
Also at issue was the newly-implemented no-blocking rule. The rule is aimed at preventing wrecks such as the one on February 23 and Tony Stewart’s 2012 Talladega wreck. However, Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the 2013 Daytona race feels that the rule is shortsighted. Johnson noted “It's not like open-wheel racing where you go into a hairpin turn and you're allowed one move to defend….That's what plate racing is: You defend and you keep people attached to your rear bumper.”
Why NASCAR Wants Them
After speeds of over 200 mph on the superspeedways (tracks where there are long stretches of straight track) and wrecks that injured drivers and fans, Nascar decided to put some kind of restriction in place to protect everyone involved.
The reduced air intake did slow the cars down but the idea, according to Jay Busbee of The Marbles, seemed counter-intuitive to the very idea of Nascar and racing. If a driver had the skill and talent to drive faster, it seemed like he should get that chance.
But safety trumped the need for speed.
What do you think about restrictor plate racing?
Safety Issues of Restrictor Plates
Restrictor plates are a great equalizer among the drivers. They slow down the faster drivers and lead to what is known as pack racing. Pack racing of 10, 12, 15 cars, all on each other’s bumpers at 200 mph works well when nothing goes wrong.
But inevitably something does go wrong. One tap by an over-eager aggressor or a tire blowout can send the entire field flying into all directions and debris flying everywhere.
While the races are exciting for the fans and, let’s face it, seeing wrecks is a part of the thrill of Nascar, it seems that eliminating one issue created another one.
There may be a third answer out there that restricts speed on super speedways but also allows the talented drivers to pass safely.
Will NASCAR Reconsider Restrictor Plates?
Opinions seem to be mixed. Driver talent and technology have both become more sophisticated over the past few years. The new Gen 6 cars are proving to be fast.
Ron Meyer of sctuners.com notes that fans want the thrill and the speed. He complains that fans never take into account their safety or the safety of those around them. Meyer notes that it usually takes something drastic to cause Nascar to change.
The safety improvements that occurred after the loss of great drivers such as Dale Earnhardt meant that, as Meyer writes, Kyle Larson could have “his car…torn apart by the catch fence, and [yet] he walked away from the crash.”
Best Option So Far
Restrictor plates are the best option Nascar has been able to come up with so far. Yet there seems to be much room for improvement.
The Sprint Cup race on the day after the Nationwide wreck was relatively boring given the restrictor plate issues that contributed to drivers being unable to pass each other.
Yet, part of Nascar’s advertising campaign involves showing previews of big wrecks and an exciting pack of drivers riding on one another’s bumpers.
Is there a good solution that makes an exciting race for fans and drivers yet keeps everyone safe?
Sports are inherently dangerous. Restrictor plates solve some issues and create others. No doubt there is serious talk about the next step for Nascar and whether or not they will stay or go away.