Monday, July 6, 2009

On getting rid of restrictor plates, the finish, TNT, and The King's 1984 Pontiac

The Coke Zero 400 will be remembered for its thrilling finish. It certainly was exciting, but was it a "great finish"?

Petty vs. Yarbourough in 1984 was a great finish. Even Elliott vs. Wilson in 1988 was a great way to end stock car racing's Independence Day celebration. Where does Shrub vs. Smoke rate?

Unfortanately for those who believe today's style of racing to be more exciting than days gone by, I wouldn't rate it in the "great" category or even as "good". Exciting as it was, it merely highlights the need to change the way NASCAR handles racing at Daytona and Talladega.

Restrictor plates have long since outlived their usefulness. Sure, it's a low-tech way to manage speed. But with each of the four participating manufacturers having developed brand spanking new engines over the course of the past three years, shouldn't that development have been done on an engine that would allow drivers to run at Daytona and Talladega at speeds approaching 190 mph without a restrictor plate?

That development could have been done on a six-cylinder engine with a smaller displacement, similar to what each of the manufacturers run in the street versions of the racecars they put on the track. The biggest problem with restrictor plates is the same as it was when it was first introduced in 1988: there is no throttle response. Drivers have to run wide open all the way around, whereas in the pre-plate days drivers running in the draft could run at half or even three-quarters throttle and maintain speed.

I continue to believe the cars need to have less downforce, which will make them handle differently and will break up the packs that cause the big wrecks. Teams need to be able to choose their own shocks and springs, and they need to be able to work on wing angles and let the driver's butt and bravery determine what is best. Spec racing is boring, and with the COT and all of the NASCAR-mandated shocks, springs, wings, and tire pressures, that is exactly what we have now.

- As for the finish of Saturday's race, yes, it was exciting. But what have we learned from Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch and their failed attempts to block? I think we've learned that drivers running in second will give you one move, but the second one is going to end up with the leader going for a ride.

- I read one long-time writer's comments that Kyle Busch's crash was eerily similar to Carl Edwards' because Busch also became airborne during the wreck. It doesn't take a genius to see that Busch's car only came off the ground as the result of contact with the wall. There was no aerodynamic lift at all in Busch's crash. Sure, he "landed" on Kasey Kahne's roof, but only after Kahne drove underneath the rear of Busch's machine. It's not the same as Edwards landing on Ryan Newman at Talladega.

- TNT continues to set the bar very high for both Fox and ESPN's coverage of NASCAR racing. Ralph Shaheen has done an admirable job of taking over the play-by-play role for Bill Weber, and both Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach are among the best analysts in motorsports. All of the pit reporters are solid too (and kudos to Adam Alexander to hopping in and getting up to speed immediately). ESPN will take over in a couple of weeks and they definitely have their work cut out for them if they want to match TNT. Based on their Nationwide coverage, those who have gotten used to the way TNT does things are going to be somewhat disappointed.

- How cool was it to see the car Richard Petty won with at Daytona in 1984 on the grid before the race? Looking at that car and its similarities to a street version of a 1984 Pontiac Grand Prix, is there anyone who is glad all of today's current racecars look exactly the same?

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