Wednesday, 17 August 2022

NASCAR VIEW: Austin Dillon's horrific ride must spur efforts to fix restrictor plate racing

Posted On Saturday, 11 July 2015 00:00 Written by
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"Good racing"

What does that mean to you?

Is it all about how many passes there are for the lead, or are you satisfied with tight racing through the field, even if the leader is zooming away?
Or is it better if the cars are packed together, like we get at Daytona and Talladega with restrictor plates?

And then there's the matter of crashes? Are there real racing fans who truly enjoy watching a bunch of cars getting wadded up? Is a race without any crashes "boring" by definition?

 


My take? The quality of a race has nothing to do with how many cars get destroyed.

A good race to me is one where there are strong battles for position throughout the day, not simply single-file racing, and I'm fine with nobody crashing as long as the competition is strong (actually, I prefer it, as I've seen too much tragedy on the racetrack in the last two decades.)

When it comes to Talladega and Daytona, finding the best way to get "good racing" is a tricky proposition.

In the late 1980s, as speeds rose dramatically, so did the danger of racing at these two superspeedways. And thus, the restrictor plate era was born, and pack racing was created. Without plates, the Cup cars will go to speeds that are not manageable (Rusty Wallace tested this at Talladega and reached a top speed of 228 mph and lap average of 221 mph, and that was 11 years ago).

But the alternative isn't much better, as Austin Dillon's near-death experience last week proves. Ironically, the safety measures inspired by the death of the last driver of the #3 car (Dale Earnhardt) probably saved young Austin's life, and I'm sure Richard Childress had a nervous moment or two after his grandson's horrific ride into the catchfence.


Dillon's flight was a byproduct of pack racing, which comes with restrictor plate racing. So NASCAR would have us believe that there are two options -- Plateless cars that are way too fast, or cars with plates that produce these ridiculous pileups nearly every race due to how close everyone is to each other.


I say this: There are enough smart people in the NASCAR world to come up with a happy medium here that will increase safety and decrease the carnage. After nearly three decades of plate racing, and no end to the nasty side effects, alternatives need to be explored.

And then there's the big truth about plate racing that no one really says -- it's not really racing. It's just a big chess game where you hope to stay in the right lane, avoid trouble and make it to the checkered flag in one piece.

All drivers are essentially equal, and you're just figuring out which line to get in and who to work with. This is why drivers who would never win at a non-plate track sometimes win at Daytona and Talladega.

Drivers generally hate plate racing, because they can't do what they want to do because of the plates. Fans may like the rush of seeing the pack race, but they also get that knot in their stomach after a big wreck hoping everyone is OK.

It's pretty disturbing to me, too, how much the TV networks hype "The Big One" as an effort to get ratings -- downright gruesome if you ask me to rely on such carnage as entertainment value.

All I ask, though I doubt it will happen, is that NASCAR looks at ways to get the cars more separated -- whether it's through variations on the plates, designs of the cars or other alternatives -- because it shouldn't be automatic that 20 cars get wrecked just because one gets sideways.


That's just common sense, and if they can solve this and keep the racing competitive it will be a huge win for the sport.


But I'm not crossing my fingers.

Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

 

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Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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