NASCAR de­bates restric­tor-plate rac­ing at Indy and other venues

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Jeff Gor­don liked what he saw at last week­end’s NASCAR’s Xfin­ity Se­ries race. By re­duc­ing horse­power and keep­ing cars closer to­gether with a spe­cial restric­tor-plate pack­age on each car, pass­ing played a more prom­i­nent role and helped set up a rare dra­matic fin­ish on the 2.5-mile track at Indianapolis Mo­tor Speed­way, once of the long­est in NASCAR. Many, in­clud­ing Gor­don, thought the over­all show was far more en­ter­tain­ing than the stretched out, sin­gle-file rac­ing that had be­come rou­tine on the big oval.

While it cer­tainly wasn’t per­fect, the change pro­duced some in­trigu­ing re­sults and se­ries of­fi­cials are con­tem­plat­ing us­ing the pack­age for next year’s Brick­yard 400 and per­haps other venues. “I think it’s a re­ally nice step for­ward,” said Gor­don, the re­tired star and the only five-time win­ner of the Brick­yard. “I’m ex­cited about it. I think flat tracks are a big chal­lenge for NASCAR. If you take a big car like we have, you’ll see it’s more suited to a high-bank oval. So I think it’s im­por­tant to find a so­lu­tion to where you’re pass­ing and that was a good step.”

Restric­tor plates are al­ready used at su­per­speed­ways such as Tal­ladega and Day­tona, lead­ing to more pack rac­ing and big crashes. Fans who pre­fer driver skills and team strat­egy might not care for the wrecks, but there is no doubt that the restric­tor-plate races have an el­e­ment of un­cer­tainty that makes them stand out from the rest of the sched­ule. That’s a valu­able fea­ture as at­ten­dance lags and tele­vi­sion rat­ings sag, and as fa­mil­iar names like Gor­don, Tony Stewart and, soon, Dale Earn­hardt Jr. say good­bye to a se­ries that was once de­scribed as Amer­ica’s fastest-grow­ing sports league.

In­sid­ers in­sist the se­ries re­mains on solid ground, point­ing to an ex­pand­ing pool of young stars and its pas­sion­ate fan base. At the same time, NASCAR must find new ways to get more fans to the tracks even af­ter adding stage rac­ing and the rel­a­tively new play­off for­mat. So is plate rac­ing on the ta­ble for other venues - and for the top Cup se­ries?

“It’s too early to spec­u­late on other tracks (where) this aero pack­age could be used go­ing for­ward,” NASCAR se­nior vice pres­i­dent for in­no­va­tion and rac­ing de­vel­op­ment Gene Ste­fanyshyn said in a state­ment to The As­so­ci­ated Press. “With the tremen­dous rac­ing and record num­ber of lead changes we saw in Indianapolis, it’s safe to say we feel like we have ad­di­tional tools in our tool chest that we can use as needed. We look for­ward to con­tinue the col­lab­o­ra­tion with our in­dus­try to de­velop the best pos­si­ble rac­ing prod­uct for our fans at ev­ery track.”

Ticket sales for NASCAR’s Brick­yard week­end have dropped since 2008, and fans have not re­turned in big num­bers. The two most com­mon com­plaints are the mid­sum­mer heat and bor­ing races. The 400 moves to early Septem­ber next year, which IMS Pres­i­dent Doug Boles be­lieves will solve the heat con­cerns and cooler tem­per­a­tures also could change the race.

But the track also presents its own chal­lenges. “This place is so unique with the 90-de­gree cor­ners,” Dale Earn­hardt Jr. said. “We fight a lot of the same is­sues ev­ery time we come here re­gard­less of what the pack­age is, the spoil­ers on the cars or what­ever.” The an­swer could be a three­p­ronged plate-pack­age - restric­tor plates to slow down cars, aero ducts on the lower front bumper that cre­ate larger wake and a taller split­ter and rear spoiler pack­age. Xfin­ity driv­ers used it last week­end.

“Cer­tainly pleased with what we saw to­day on the race track,” NASCAR ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief rac­ing de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer Steve O’Don­nell said af­ter 19-year-old Wil­liam By­ron held off Paul Me­nard by 0.108 sec­onds. “From an eye test, def­i­nitely passed. When you look at the met­rics, it’s the most lead­ers we’ve had, the most lead changes, the clos­est fin­ish.”

Not ev­ery­one buys it. Joey Logano thought the Xfin­ity race was too slow, and Kyle Busch com­plained the changes kept the best car off the pole and out of vic­tory lane. Less than an hour later, Busch eas­ily cap­tured his sec­ond straight Brick­yard pole. “I’m not a fan of it, I’m not a fan of much these days,” Busch said. “I thought what you did was take the fastest car and the fastest guy and brought him back to the pack.”

Still, lack­lus­ter rac­ing on tracks like Indianapolis and New Hamp­shire and per­haps Po­cono could make them can­di­dates for a change. “I think on this pack­age, you’ve got to look at what’s a re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion, right? We never thought this would be Day­tona or Tal­ladega,” O’Don­nell said at Indy. “You know, the first ob­jec­tive to us was could you close that gap from first to sec­ond? We cer­tainly saw that, you know, with the leader re­ally not get­ting out that far (Satur­day) all day long. “

Gor­don thought it worked last week­end. Now he wants to see what the se­ries can do to make the rac­ing more en­tic­ing ev­ery­where. “I think the chal­lenge be­comes how do we in­cor­po­rate that (Indy) pack­age for a one-off?” he said. “Or maybe just here and Po­cono or some­thing. But I thought it was ex­cit­ing.” — AP

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