No Plates Means Big Smiles

In what many labeled as a knee-jerk reaction, NASCAR mandated the use of carburetor restrictor plates in last September’s Winston Cup race at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin were killed at the 1.058-mile track last year, and NASCAR responded by trying to slow the cars down. But it was with the dreaded restrictor plate, and drivers’ reactions were understandably negative.

But for this weekend’s New England 300, the plates have come off. What do the drivers think?

Thank God.

“I’m glad there is no plate this weekend,” Johnny Benson said. “I think all of you know how drivers feel about restrictor plates. We don’t need restrictor-plate racing on short tracks. It’s good to go back there in a normal atmosphere and let us deal with all the horsepower. We will be fine.”

Jeff Burton won the Dura-Lube 300 last September, leading all 300 laps in becoming the first driver in 22 years to lead flag-to-flag. On a track that’s notoriously hard to pass, no one could get by Burton.

With no plates, however, throttle response will be better, and passing should be easier.

“I don’t think you will see anyone leading all 300 laps,” Benson said. “Passing there is still tough, but you won’t see what you saw in September. At least I hope you don’t – unless it’s us of course.”

Benson isn’t the only driver who is glad the plates have been packed away this weekend. Defending race champion Tony Stewart was no factor last September, finishing three laps down in 23rd. And that was after leading 166 of the 273 laps in July.

“Now that we don't have to run restrictor plates there, you can actually race,” Stewart said. “I'm looking forward to going there this time.”

Rusty Wallace said the plates actually made NHIS more dangerous.

“They were worried that they had a problem there, so NASCAR made us run the plates there last fall,” Rusty Wallace said. “What it did was create a situation where it was impossible to pass. I personally think that it was more dangerous because we carried so much speed down into the turns.”

Many of the concerns over safety have been quieted, perhaps because safety has been improved in Winston Cup cars and because speeds shouldn’t be as high as the most recent non-restrictor plate race at the track (last July).

Why won’t they be as fast? NASCAR eliminated bump rubbers from cars in May. Teams who used the bump rubbers could lower their cars, decrease drag and increase speed. Without the bump rubbers, cars won’t be as low to the ground.

“We’re not going to run as fast as Rusty Wallace’s pole was there last year,” Elliott Sadler said. “The bump stops are going to have a big thing to do with it. These Goodyear tires will have a big thing to do with it – unless the (track) sealer is that much better.

“The new sealer might make it seem like we’re running faster, but we don’t know until we get there.”

NHIS recently sealed its racing surface, which could increase grip in the turns. But the surface is untested, so how big of a factor the sealer will be is unknown.

Still, not having plates has everyone smiling.

“This is a good situation,” said James Ince, Benson’s crew chief. “We are back to being normal. The plate hurt the race last year. With the plate, you could take a nap during the race. It’s good we can go back racing there. NHIS is a good race track. I don’t think there was ever a problem there with the track.”

Plates or no plates, New Hampshire isn’t an easy place to get around. It’s a little like a bigger Martinsville, with long straightaways and tight corners.

“(Restrictor plates aren’t) going to change the way you get around New Hampshire,” Sadler said. “That’s always a tough place to pass, no matter if you’ve got a restrictor plate or not.

“That race got a bad rap because of Jeff Burton dominating so much, but it was still the same guys running up front that run up front every weekend at those short tracks.”

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