Restrictor Plate Racing Under Spotlight After Talladega Crash

Matt Kenseth took first place in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, with Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch coming in at second and third place. But it was the twenty-something car pileup caused by Tony Stewart that took all the attention, with drivers blaming restrictor plate racing for the mayhem, and a number voicing their concerns regarding this NASCAR rule which results in cars bunching up and unable to get away from one another. As the field headed for the finish line, it was four lanes deep with no place for maneuverability when Stewart moved in front of Michael Waltrip, triggering the pileup.

Initially implemented for safety reasons, restrictor plates are used at superspeedways such as Talladega and Daytona, and more recently New Hampshire, to effectively slow cars down. Consisting of a square aluminum plate with four holes drilled into it, the size of which is set by NASCAR, a restrictor place is placed between the carburetor and the intake manifold with the aim of reducing the flow of fuel and air into the combustion chamber of the engine, thereby reducing horsepower and speed. With improved aerodynamics and technology of racecars over the past ten years or so, they have become capable of reaching speeds exceeding 225 mph (362 km/h), which experts believe is too dangerous for both drivers and spectators. When Bobby Allison crashed into a retaining fence at Pocono Raceway on 19 June 1988, he was traveling at a speed of 210 mph (338 km/h). The crash nearly killed him and endangered the welfare of hundreds of fans.

While traveling at slower speeds may be to increase safety, it also levels the playing field to an extent, causing all the cars in the field to be bunched up and leaving little space for top drivers to pull away from the pack, or to work their way out of the bunch. Having all the cars bunched together traveling at speeds of 190 mph around a track presents safety issues of its own, as one poor decision can cause multiple-car crashes – and this problem was resoundingly illustrated in Sunday’s race at Talladega.

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