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Why I Can No Longer Defend Restrictor Plate Racing

Long live restrictor plate racing.

Let me rephrase that before I’m looking at an email overflow: long live safe restrictor plate racing. Yes, those races are entirely possible to witness and they have been in the past. But following Monday morning’s violent wreck involving Austin Dillon, we’ve again been in the midst of a media firestorm, some of which call for restrictor plate racing to be removed from the NASCAR schedule.

So as I sit not even 48 hours removed from weathering the storm in Daytona, quite literally and figuratively, I’m tired.

Tired of those who would rather take the easy way out and get rid of it instead of focusing on the positives. Tired of trying to point out what goes right at Daytona and Talladega each year instead of getting swept up into the consensus of writing and producing television segments that focus on the bad.

Simply put, I’m tired of defending restrictor plate racing.

The high speeds of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway have long been fascinating to me. There’s intrigue to what appears to be a mental chess match between 43 drivers, inches apart four times a year. It’s different than what takes place most of the season, and that’s needed.

Unfortunately, when fans or media proclaim to like restrictor plate racing they’re looked at sideways and labeled as crazy individuals who like crashes and seeing people hurt.

Why? Because restrictor plate racing has become synonymous with nothing but carnage and injuries. It’s become a foreign concept to accept some individuals can like restrictor plate racing because when violent accidents aren’t occurring, great racing is.

Jeff Gluck of USA Today put a poll up on social media Monday afternoon looking for votes on whether Daytona and Talladega should be kept on the NASCAR schedule. A large majority voted yes, and even Gluck admitted he felt the same way.

But then he tweeted what backs up my opinion, that some are receiving an unfair reputation for wanting to see restrictor plate racing. Tweeted Gluck, “we’re all a little nuts.”

At that point, I had to shake my head. Not because Gluck was wrong but because by society standards its right and that’s the problem. Trying to change that opinion seems forever a losing battle.

I’m not naïve, Daytona and Talladega are unpredictable, and they elevate the level of danger NASCAR drivers face every weekend. However, not every Daytona or Talladega race needs have the big red disaster label attached to it on Monday morning.

And for the record, true NASCAR loyalists (which even as media member I like to include myself in) don’t like restrictor plate racing for the carnage. No one wants to see wrecks and cars flying into the grandstands like Dillon’s did this weekend.

Before that occurred though, meaning when the cars were screaming off Turn 4 came to the finish line to conclude the Coke Zero 400, Daytona had put on a great race. Just as Talladega had in the spring, and just as the Daytona 500 did this past February. In those events there were no massive wrecks in which over 20 cars were destroyed and the fence torn down.

No, we saw drivers put on a masterful display of driving, particularly in the Daytona 500. For a portion of the race, lap after lap they went three-wide, leaving us all waiting for something to happen, but it didn’t.

I sat in the media center where there were repeated “oohs and ahhs” at the control of the best drivers in the world. At the thought of a threat looming around every corner but watching the nerves of steel win out instead.

I followed all the compliments flowing on social media, which used the words, “unbelievable,” and “great race,” or “this is awesome.” And in the end, it seemed all, except those debating how it ended, went home happy and satisfied. The Daytona 500 featured seven cautions, three of which were for actual accidents.

What should be remembered from February while serving as the iconic image of restrictor plate racing is the picture from the flag stand looking at Joey Logano coming to the line late the event with the entire field three-wide behind him.

That is what restrictor plate racing should be and what those watching are looking for. What took place in February is what fans want to see when we head to Daytona and Talladega twice a year. Except if you read social media and watch the mainstream media the day after a multi-car wreck occurs, you would think plate racing does nothing more than injure and kill.

It’s disappointing, and it makes it tiring to defend.

But here I am, trying to. Trying to express why I feel comfortable when NASCAR goes to Daytona and Talladega. Why I want them on the schedule. Since I was a kid, Daytona and Talladega have made me excited. They also make me sweat, but keep me interested and amazed.

Not fool proof by any means, the advancement of NASCAR safety since the death of Dale Earnhardt has resulted in no loss of life on track since 2001. It’s a great stat, but it doesn’t mean we stop working, and it’s a continued effort between the sport and its tracks in doing everything possible.

Safety has no end point, and I’m confident NASCAR is getting closer and closer to eliminating injuries of its drivers and fans. Monday morning, in my opinion, was the best-case scenario for a car going into the catchfence with it – and its engine – remaining inside the track, and all fans being treated and release. Even the individual taken to the hospital.

It’s not perfect, nor will it ever be and any fan worrying about their well-being at the racetrack is not acceptable. Safety, however, did prevail on Monday morning and the crash will lead towards more improvements in the future.

It’s what they do; it’s what NASCAR has always done. And we should continue to show up at Daytona and Talladega and hope for more racing like we’ve seen in the past, such as February.

In the meantime, I’m not going to defend restrictor plate racing anymore.

It’s better to do what Austin Dillon has done since climbing from his mangled car near 3 a.m. on Monday: enjoy the racing we saw before his crash then thank the good Lord everyone is all right and we can go racing next weekend.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

By Popular Speed

POPULAR SPEED is a Social Media driven website featuring exclusive content, photographs, news and pointed editorials. It’s makeup consists of veteran motorsports journalists as well as the unique voice of developing young talent. POPULAR SPEED was launched in 2013 under the direction of former Sprint Cup Series spotter, Mike Calinoff.

7 replies on “Why I Can No Longer Defend Restrictor Plate Racing”

I encourage continued work on making things safer…but it will never be completely safe for drivers, crews, or fans (especially those who insist on sitting close to the action). I loved the race at Daytona, especially the skilled way Junior claimed the checkered flag. Yes, I was damned worried when I saw Austin Dillon’s mangled car sitting on the track, and was greatly relieved when all those thumbs turned upward. However, it is a dangerous sport with people doing things most of us can not, or won’t even attempt. That is its appeal. That is why we watch and they get richly rewarded. We are drawn to it like a highwire act or winged suit fliers or those who work the high steel, to see someone do what to us is impossible. I can not drive 200 mph with my eyes glued to my mirrors making lane changes to stall the charge of challengers. Any damn fool can attempt it and fail disasterously, but we watch to see them succeed and leave us in wonder.

I’ve never been a fan of restrictor plate racing but not for the reasons people give. I don’t like it because winning is not entirely in the hands of the driver. It depends on who your friends are and who wants to play with you. I think they should make the engines much smaller and let them race unrestricted. One of my favorite memories is watching Bill Elliott make up 2 laps under green at Talladega.

Seriously? It leaves me in wonder how stupid some fans are. The drivers are PAID to drive at high speed without hitting each other. The fact that they only make 4 or 5 potentially fatal mistakes per race is hardly a cause for celebration.

Ken nailed it. The problem with plate racing besides the obvious fact that it makes huge wrecks inevitable and some of those wrecks will inevitably lead to injury and death, is that plate racing is BAD racing. Smaller unrestricted engines would remove all the negatives of plate racing, such as the absurd and patently boring pack racing, and would put driving skill, drafting and car control on the high banks back at a premium. Then we would have people like Bill Elliott winning races, instead of speculation that “Danica could win here.” Hello? In what parallel universe does Danica Patrick belong in the same sentence as Bill Elliott? Only the universe of plate racing where luck and team racing reign supreme and individual talent and expertise are nullified at the drop of the green flag. Kelly, DON’T attempt to defend the indefensible. Plate racing has been a failure from Day One and at the 27-year mark it is worse than ever. Too bad you are such a newbie you never saw a REAL race at a superspeedway, but don’t foist your own ignorance on the rest of us.

leave on the plates but take off the rest of the rules about gear ratio, left side weight and spoiler angle so the cars will all not be so close in top speed. let the fast drivers get away from the pack. the problem is that all the cars are the same and have the same top speed

As someone old enough to remember the first restrictor plates used in NASCAR, (Michigan 1970), as well as the even more controversial carb sleeves used in 1971, the different plates & different carbs used for different engines during the 70s, & the return of plates to the series after Bobby Allison’s 1987 Talladega crash, (much like the crashes both Dillon & Larson had), I understand there is no easy answer. But, (& this admittedly has less to do with the safety aspect of them, whatever it may be), it has ruined the racing at those tracks. It’s not the only thing that has, since technology changes & other advances made since 1987 have all contributed to the downfall of actual competition much of the time, however at Daytona & Talladega plates are the main culprit, nerve wracking, edge of the seat packs of 35-40 cars bunched together & unable to make a move might be “exciting” to some, but it takes away the ability to actually race each other & winds up looking like 200 MPH gridlock after a while. I’d personally recommend higher walls, moving the fans further back & getting rid of the plates & most all of the rules packages in effect at those two tracks. That would improve actual competition at them.

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