Are Restrictor Plate Tracks Too Dangerous?: A Fan’s Take

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Some drivers are now expressing concern that restrictor plate races are getting too dangerous. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have all spoken out against the type of pack racing the restrictor plates cause. Both Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Raceway are very fast tracks. To prevent cars from reaching speeds that would make racing even more dangerous, NASCAR requires the use of restrictor plates at these tracks. The plates are designed to reduce the top speeds that the cars can achieve in the hopes that the races will be slightly safer. Without the restrictor plates, cars would be able to go well above 200 miles per hour which would greatly increase the danger involved for drivers. It takes a much higher level of skill and luck to be able to safely negotiate a race at those speeds. Unfortunately, drivers have discovered that tandem drafting will help the cars go faster but NASCAR worked to eliminate the tandem drafting as it made for a boring race that fans did not like. The alternative, it seems, is tight pack racing.

Recently, the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers raced in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. On the final lap, a small mistake by Stewart caused a huge crash that sent Stewart airborne and involved 25 cars. With the field bunched up, it is more likely that there will be a spectacular crash that fans always seem to love but drivers hate. It appears that drivers are looking to bring back tandem drafting which may have caused fewer crashes.

Unfortunately, it is the drivers that would likely know best. I cannot help but be reminded of the driver complaints and concerns about safety that occurred in October of 2011 just before the IndyCar season finale. That year, the drivers were concerned about the high banks at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. As it turns out, Dan Wheldon was killed in an accident early in the race and the track design was part of the cause of the accident. I would hate to see a serious accident in NASCAR, but the wrecks and spin outs are a reason why fans watch.

I would hate to see a return to tandem drafting but I would really hate to see someone hurt in one of the big wrecks. If the drivers feel that it is that unsafe, perhaps there is an alternative to the restrictor plates that could be used. If there is no other alternative to slowing the cars down and the drivers feel uncomfortable, then there may not be much choice other than finding a new track. Talladega and Daytona are fan favorite tracks, mainly for the same reason drivers don't like them. Unfortunately, it seems there is little NASCAR officials can do to make both fans and drivers happy in this case.

Kristin Watt has been a NASCAR Winston Cup, now Sprint Cup, fan for as long as she can remember starting way back when she was a little girl and her mother would sit on the couch with her every Sunday during the season to watch the races. Back then, they were fans of Bill Elliott and newcomer Davey Allison.

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