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New Cars Won’t Take Sting Out Of Plate Racing

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 15 2012

A lot of drivers have found that life in the Talladega hornet's nest could be quite painful. The 2013 cars will not solve plate racing's problems. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – NASCAR’s retooled-for-2013 Sprint Cup cars, with their emphasis on showroom-style bodywork and mechanical grip, will not necessarily change what Greg Biffle calls the “hornet’s nest” that is restrictor plate racing.

“You’re always going to have plates. I don’t think it’s going to change it an ounce,” Biffle said after testing a 2013 Ford Fusion at Texas Motor Speedway last week. “Really be the same, even if it had more grip it’s not going to change. Still going to be bumper cars.”

Biffle, of Roush Fenway Racing, was responding to a question about the combined four races run each season with horsepower-reducing carburetor restrictor plates at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. The season’s final plate race at Talladega on Oct. 7 ended with a grinding, 25-car wreck during a green-white-checkered flag finish that saw Biffle maneuver through the debris to a sixth-place finish.

“The only way to fix it is to make it where you’ve got to let off the gas…you got to slow down for the corner,” said Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford. “It’s got 33-degree banking, the car’s got a ton of grip, you don’t ever have to slow down. So you got a plate on to slow the car down, but then you just hold it wide-open all the time. That’s the only way to get rid of a plate, or whatever, is to get it to where you’ve got to let off the gas. And I don’t know how you do that.

“The fans love to watch the restrictor plates. They love to see those cars in a giant pack. And let’s face it, there’s a

Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle and NASCAR's Robin Pemberton at last week's new car test drive at Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

pretty good percentage of ‘em that love to see those wrecks. Know what I mean?”

Talladega’s “Big One” unfolded between Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap when three-time/reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart was tapped from behind by Michael Waltrip as Stewart tried to move down toward the bottom line.

“Here’s the other thing that you got to stop and think about,” Biffle said. “I’m a Tony Stewart fan, but the wreck was not three-wide or four-wide or whatever. The wreck was a two-car tandem, the No. 13 (of Casey Mears) and No. 55 (of Waltrip) were by themselves. There was nobody outside of ‘em, nobody inside of ‘em. They’re all by themselves, and the No. 14 (of Stewart) was by himself. And he tried to block the No. 55, so it was really a two or three-car wreck – but the problem was you had all these cars together. So the wreck didn’t happen in the middle of this hornet’s nest. It didn’t. So can you blame it on that? I go back to what caused the wreck.

“And we all make mistakes and we’ve all been in that spot and nobody wants to be ‘that guy.’ The fact of the matter is that may not have happened _ that big hornet’s nest may have made it past the start/finish line and it may not have. I don’t know that. You just don’t know, but we made it that far.”

The two-day 2013 NASCAR session at TMS, held in conjunction with a Goodyear tire test, was the third this season and the first on a 1.5-mile speedway. The 2013 Chevrolet Impala SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry previously were tested in August on the half-mile Martinsville Speedway and at Talladega prior to the race. The rigorous testing schedule will continue at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway on Oct. 23-24 and at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway on Nov. 6-7.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said NASCAR has been working “hand-in-hand” with Goodyear Racing engineers to build tires specifically for the new cars in a bid to optimize mechanical grip and reduce the aerodynamic dependencies of the current version of the Car of Tomorrow. The cosmetic changes approved for 2013 are the first makeover for the COT since its introduction in 2007.

Biffle said the 2013 cars could put more of a premium on driver talent. “You say the (current COT) cars got easier to drive and that’s not really the case,” Biffle said. “The case is the cars, you can do less to them and couldn’t get them to do what you wanted to do, so then it became you’re kind of squeezed into this box and you couldn’t do anything to it. Where the old car, the driver could make some difference.

“This car kind of put everybody in a box where we couldn’t really get the car to turn any better, you couldn’t drive the car a little bit looser than the other guy or it seemed like you couldn’t. The car goes into the corner and slides, you give it gas, it kind of slides the back and front…well, everybody else’s car does exactly the same thing. So, to me, it became kind of vanilla or easy and we all got crunched sort of together. I think the new car quite possibly could make the driver’s ability get in there a little bit more, maybe a little bit.”

Still, Pemberton said NASCAR will continue to break out the plates at its two biggest tracks. “These cars make a

Jimmie Johnson crawls out of wrecked car at Talladega. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

lot of horsepower,” said Pemberton, who was on-site at TMS for the test. “You will always have to restrict them at Daytona and Talladega. We work towards more of an emphasis on handling at those racetracks, but with them both being repaved recently there’s so much grip there that handling is almost a non-issue and handling has a tendency to separate the field a little bit.

“But drivers have the ability to steer one way or brake one way or be on the accelerator another way. Rules packages may put them in close proximity of each other, but a choice that is made inside the driver’s compartment, more times than not, is the cause of the accident.”

Cup superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. was especially critical of the current plate package and pack racing following the Talladega wreck, which saw Stewart’s No. 14 momentarily get airborne. Junior, who was among those swept up in the carnage, blasted plate racing as a concession to “bloodthirsty” fan elements. A five-time winner at Talladega where his fan base worships his every on-track maneuver, Junior added that given the choice, he never would race in another plate race.

The issue became even more polarizing when Earnhardt announced on Thursday he had been advised to sit out the next two Chase for the Sprint Cup events because of a concussion initially suffered in a wreck during a tire test at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway on Aug. 29. Earnhardt, who exited Talladega after a 20th-place finish nursing concussion-like symptoms from the multi-car wreck, consulted with neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty on Tuesday.

“We are sort of in a danger zone when these cars are upside down on top of other cars,” Biffle said. “That’s not a good situation to be in, it just isn’t. I mean, logically, think about it. You could get over top of that fence or get a fence post through the cockpit…could be upside down with the driver’s side (facing) oncoming traffic…there’s water and oil and smoke and you can’t see anything and you get hit in the roof…you get hit in the roof and it’s over. There’s a roll cage there but the bodywork’s going to go around that roll cage, right? You can think of a hundred things that can happen. It’s weird stuff that happens just right is when a guy gets (injured).”

Even with all that, Biffle said he doesn’t dread competing in plate races. “They’re fun to race, they’re fun to do. But the last five laps of the race isn’t fun. It’s just not,” Biffle said. “Actually, I had a good time racing Talladega, probably the most fun I’ve had restrictor plate racing in a while. And not a lot of people were riding around. We were pushing each other and we raced the whole day, really. A lot of people.

“But the last four-five laps of these things…the problem is the cautions. When you go green-white-checkered or you’ve got four to go, what are you going to do? You got 40 cars, four-wide and this deep and we’re all holding it to the floor all against one another. The thing is all of us are very talented, but something’s going to happen.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 15 2012
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Raymond Saloomey says:

    Should read no way they’ll run wide open without the spoilers.

  • Raymond Saloomey says:

    Remove the plates and all the aero appendages – no spoilers front or rear – then go with all the horsepower the driver can handle to separate cars a little. No way they’ll run wide open with the spoilers. Might even look like a ’stock’ car.

  • doc g says:

    The only “fix” for the cars at ‘Dega would be a six cylinder, 250 hp engine to do away with the plate and keep speeds manageable. Of course this won’t happen. The track is the real problem, not the car. Cut it down to two miles, reduce the banking to 15 degrees and let a super-speedway race happen instead of the wildly dangerous four wheeled freak show we get now.

    Or more simply, tell the current France family members that Ol’ Bill is still dead and can’t cut them out of the inheritance anymore. Then drop Talladega from the Cup schedule altogether and build a track near Seattle or some other underrepresented major metropolitan area.