From Pit Road: Talladega

Brad Keselowski

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- On lap 21 of the of the May 3, 1987 Winston 500 here at what was then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway the car of Bobby Allison took flight in a terrifying crash that nearly put his car in the grandstands. From that crash the restrictor plate was introduced to NASCAR racing.

In its simplest terms the restrictor-plate reduces the amount of air into the “burn chamber” of the engine, basically choking it of oxygen. The lower horsepower generated by the engines keep the cars from speeds where they start taking flight. Ever since, NASCAR’s teams and drivers have tried to find advantages here and at Daytona International Speedway with these restrictions.

Fast forward to April 26, 2009 when the phenomena of two-car tandem racing evolved with Carl Edwards pushing Brad Keselowski in his Phoenix Racing Chevrolet to an upset victory. And for the next few seasons at Talladega and Daytona, teams worked to perfect tandem racing.

Prior to this season, NASCAR – in response to fan’s negative reaction to tandem racing – implemented three new restrictions to “discourage” tandem racing. Similar to the restrictor plate limiting the efficiency of engines; these rules limited the efficiency of the cooling systems on the cars.

  • NASCAR has cut the amount of water in the cooling system down dramatically. Radiator capacity is limited to two gallons of water with another half gallon in the overflow can. That compares to the standard five gallon radiator and one gallon overflow used at most other tracks.
  • Teams are required to have a pressure release valve into the cooling system set this weekend at 32 psi (pound per square inch). This is the equivalent to the radiator cap on a street car, releasing water (steam) in an overheating situation.
  • And, NASCAR has limited the maximum size of the air inlet to an opening on the front grill of two-and-one-half inches by 20 inches.

The intention of these rules is to limit the amount of time the cars can line-up in two-car tandems for the fear of overheating. Less water (radiator capacity), with less cool air (smaller inlet on grill), results in hitting the pressure point of the pressure release valve quicker risking loss of water (steam) from the system.In announcing these rules prior to Daytona, NASCAR’s vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said, “That will bring down the temperature to teams can’t run at 290 or 300 degrees on an extended push of 30 or 40 laps. This will put (the water temperature in the engines) back in the 250-degree range.”

The rules were in effect for both Daytona races and the event earlier this year here at Talladega.

“We actually feel pretty good from the Dodge camp,” said NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point-leading crew chief Paul Wolfe Wednesday on NASCAR Performance Live on Motor Racing Network. “They have done a good job on the cooling side.”

“I know some guys did struggle to keep their stuff cool, even running in the pack (in earlier races this season),” he continued. “The (outside air) temperatures look a little bit better for Sunday. I think we will see a lot of pack racing until it gets right down until the end; from there you might see some guys pushing.”

Weather forecasts are calling for temperatures in the mid-80s early in the weekend, but a drop to the high-60s on Sunday afternoon for the Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance 500.

“Obviously, with all the changes we saw this year, it’s made the two-car tandem a lot tougher to do,” continued Wolfe, who was the winning crew chief back in May here. “With all the regulations they have got now, and the pressure setting; it’s very risky to try to be pushing all day and put yourself in jeopardy of pushing that water out and overheating.”

So, for the 43 drivers in Sunday’s race it will mean the typical stressful racing associated with Talladega Superspeedway; and keeping an eye on the water gauges to insure the little amount of water onboard stays in the car.

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