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Put the restrictor plates back in the box? Hey, wait a minute -- maybe plate engines would make for more excitement in California

   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.
   Tony Stewart is always glad just to make it out of Daytona, and after losing three cars during SpeedWeeks, he sounds happy to have wheels-up westward.
   "Everybody's pretty worn out after being in Daytona for so long," Stewart says. "California means a normal routine…  
    "Daytona is a restrictor-plate race, and, unlike Daytona, four guys can't get in a line at California and go to the front.  With the draft being so important at Daytona, it's more of a team deal than an individual deal. 
   "But what happens at California, and the races after that, has to be done on our own. You can't help each other at California. You just have to go race.
   "Daytona does overshadow California and Vegas (next week's stop) and some of the early tracks on the schedule.  Once you get through Daytona, these next two or three races really set the tone for your season. It gives you an accurate assessment of where your program is.
    "Once we get away from Daytona, everything settles into a groove, we're back in the weekly grind.  Once you leave California, you feel like the season has officially started.
     "I enjoy going to California because I really feel that's where our season starts. That's a track where you don't really worry about what everybody else's car is doing, you worry about what your car is doing. You're racing the track, not racing everybody else."
   But there may be some pressure building for NASCAR to put plates on engines at California's Auto Club Speedway, because the drivers tend to get so spaced out that there's little real racing. Few if any of the races at this two-mile track have been very thrilling, unless your idea of thrilling is watching cars run out of gas.
  Putting plates on these engines would do several things:
  -- First, it would slow corner-entry speeds, which currently are about 208 mph, much quicker than at Daytona, on a track with much less banking
  -- Second, it would tighten up the racing. Instead of cars racing 20-lengths apart, they might actually get side by side.
  -- Third, it might help engine life. This track is one of the big engine killers on the stock car tour.
  -- But most importantly putting plates on the cars might boost crowds….and California crowds have been much smaller than they should be in the nation's second-largest market. NASCAR needs to do everything it can, especially this season, to provide fans with a reason to go the track.
  So restrictor plate racing might be an idea whose time has come for this track.

    Despite all his Daytona problems and complaints, Stewart really didn't have a bad SpeedWeeks, particularly for a first-time owner-driver: Third in the Bud Shootout, second in the 150, eighth in the Daytona 500 itself, and a dazzling win in the Nationwide 300 over Kyle Busch.
   Darian Grubb, Stewart's new crew chief, and teammate-crew chief Tony Gibson had to work overtime at Daytona, with three crashed cars to deal with. And this operation is almost brand-new.
   "It's been a lot of headaches, and a lot of work, since we came to Daytona with all new equipment,  and working out the bugs that go along with that, and still having to get everything ready for California and Vegas," Grubb says.
   "We're going to do a turn-around between those two races because the trucks won't come home -- so we have to make sure we have extra stock of everything we need to survive for two weeks…after two having two weeks of ravaging the whole truck in Daytona.
   "There was a lot of restocking Monday: The engineers were sending lists back to the shop, the truck drivers were sending lists back to the shop, the car chiefs were keeping track of all the car parts we used as we switched things back and forth. 
   "Thankfully there's not a whole lot of difference now with the current generation car between a superspeedway and an intermediate track, so there's not as much stuff that you have to stock.  But there's a whole list of parts we used while we were in Daytona that we had to restock."
   Chalk up some good stuff, then, for this controversial car-of-tomorrow.
   For Grubb and Company, California and Las Vegas offer welcomed relief from the strained two weeks at Daytona. "It's a routine now that we're used to, as opposed to Daytona, which is so long and drawn-out," Grubb says.
   "At California we unload in race mode, do a quick 'qualifying' run in qualifying setup and get Tony comfortable in the car. Then practice.
   "Hopefully there are no issues and we keep moving forward with a good start to our season." 

Long term need

I agree there is a need to improve the racing at California. I also agree that restrictor plates would bunch the cars together. However, I'm not a fan of restrictor plate racing. Too much of the racing is out of the drivers' and teams' control. Drivers get shuffled back and forth based more on who they partner with rather than how fast their car is.

What is the best long-term solution to make the races more competitive: different tires, aero/chassis changes to the COT, smaller engines, something else?

Make All The Tracks Restrictor Plate Tracks

I know, there will be people who will point to New Hampshire in 2000 when they ran restrictor plates and Jeff Burton led wire to wire - they'll cite the plates as why there wasn't much passing in that race.

They're wrong. The reasons for lack of passing had to do with the weakness of the draft (which can kick in at Loudon as evidenced by the Modifieds which run there and run restrictor plates) as well as the general poor handling of the cars then and the tire issues Goodyear had (and obviously still has).

Adding restrictor plates at Fontana could indeed help the racing by slowing overall speeds and also allowing the cars to run open throttle more safely. If they can do that the draft can have some opportunity to kick in - everyone forgets the draft used to mean a lot at Michigan, Fontana's sister track, as well as Charlotte. People also forget that when the Trucks debuted at Fontana in the late 1990s the draft worked and there was a lot of passing.

Adding restrictor plates probably won't be enough, but it's a long overdue start.

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