NASCAR reduces size of restrictor plates

Published October 8, 2006

TALLADEGA, Ala. - With more than 30 cars surpassing the practice speeds from the spring race, and the top in excess of 198 mph in practice Friday, NASCAR changed to smaller horsepower reducing restrictor plates Saturday morning.

NASCAR director of competition Robin Pemberton said Friday that speeds were within acceptable limits because the smooth, freshly paved track - the reason it was so fast - was devoid of bumps and allowed drivers to recover more quickly after bobbles. Averages were higher because speeds were elevated in the corners. But Pemberton said fan and driver safety concerns became serious enough to prompt a change. The new plates will have four seven-eighth-inch holes, which is one-sixty-fourth of an inch smaller. Cars could lose 8-15 horsepower, dropping speeds, Pemberton said, into the mid 190s, roughly that of the spring race before the paving project. That would be enough, in theory, to reduce the risk of cars going airborne.

International Speedway Corp. and NASCAR had a chance to remedy the problem this year when the 2.66-mile tri-oval was repaved, many drivers said. Transitions were eased and the many bumps were eliminated, but the steep, speed-inducing 33-degree banks in the corners were untouched. Pemberton said NASCAR did not support changing the track configuration, somewhat contradicting safety as a main force in the decision. Part of Talladega's lure, after all, is the anticipation of "The Big One."

"It's Talladega," Pemberton said. "You come here for four- and five-wide racing."

Track president Grant Lynch was not about to alter his lucrative attraction either.

"I don't know if we'd have had enough time between races to do that," he said. "Secondly, I for one don't know why you'd change the most competitive racetrack in the world."

NASCAR officials denied rumors that a track insurance policy prohibiting cars to exceed 200 mph was a factor. Lynch said according to his risk-management staffers, "There are no speed guidelines within the policy at all." NASCAR confirmed it has its own insurance policy for each event, but declined to discuss specifics.

Drivers did not complain about speeds Friday, mainly because the new surface provided a false sense of comfort, Dale Jarrett said.

"It didn't seem too fast, but it doesn't ever seem too fast until you hit something," driver Kevin Harvick said.

Teams were unhappy they were not allowed an extra practice with the new plate, but were forced to qualify with it. Both practices were held Friday. Teams were not notified Friday, Pemberton said, to prevent larger teams from flying in new engine parts and gaining an unfair advantage.

UP FRONT: David Gilliland, who replaced Elliott Sadler in the No. 38 Ford at Robert Yates Racing, qualified on the pole for today's UAW_Ford 500 in just his ninth Nextel Cup start. Gilliland covered the track at 191.712, more than 3 mph faster than Sadler's pole speed in the spring race. Points leader Jeff Burton qualified 34th.

SPARK PLUGS: Shell Oil Co. announced that it will take over as the primary sponsor of Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet in the Nextel Cup series next year. The company sponsored the late Dale Earnhardt's car before it became the No. 29 after his death.

Other series

TRUCKS: Mark Martin won at Talladega, coming from a lap down and holding on after series leader Todd Bodine was penalized for passing illegally nine laps from the end.

FORMULA ONE: Felipe Massa earned the pole at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka. The race was not over at press time.

NHRA: The NHRA Nationals in Dinwiddie, Va., were rained out until next weekend.