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Talladega plate change may limit two-car drafts

September 21, 2011, , NASCAR.com

Packs of tandem drafting have ruled the day recently at superspeedways; will a rule change at 'Dega eliminate that? (Autostock)

New rules for Oct. race include larger plate, less pressure in cooling relief valve

NASCAR will implement two rule changes for the Oct. 23 Sprint Cup event at Talladega Superspeedway that may limit the amount of time vehicles will be able to spend hooked up in the two-car drafts that have come to define restrictor-plate racing during the past year.

The size of the restrictor plate that teams will use for the race will increase by 1/64th of an inch, and will now be 57/64ths-inch in diameter. This will provide the teams with an additional 7 to 10 horsepower. Additionally, the pressure relief valve on the cars' cooling systems will be re-calibrated to reduce the pressure by approximately 8 pounds per square inch from this past April's race at Talladega.

"After the last few superspeedway races, we've heard many drivers express their desire to open up the size of the restrictor plate some and we thought the time was right to do that," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition. "We anticipate these revisions in the rules package for Talladega will help continue to provide competitive and exciting racing for the fans."

Taken together, the changes may limit the amount of time cars can stay linked in tandem drafts. Cars are able to run connected together until one shows signs of overheating, at which time the pushing vehicle must either slide out from behind the lead car to refresh the front grille with clean air, or the two vehicles must switch positions. Either tactic forces the cars to slow down.

"The new rule on the pressure release valves at superspeedways is just going to limit the time that you can push nose-to-tail," said Chad Johnston, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr. "It's going to make you switch more often, which could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing. The chances of something going wrong on a swap are going to go up obviously, but hopefully it will eliminate or lessen the two-by-two racing."

Rodney Childers, crew chief for David Reutimann, said the changes will probably limit the two-car drafts to a half-lap to a full lap on the 2.66-mile Talladega track. "It should make it more racy, where you can pull out and pass," he added. "If they are wanting to make it where people can't draft as long, it's going to do that."

Not everyone is so certain. "As far as breaking up the two-car draft, it probably won't," said Derrick Finley, competition director for Front Row Motorsports. "Cars have already been running with the lower PSI pressure relief valve and have been able to make it work. So, dropping it 8 PSI probably won't have a lot of effect on it. But as far as more horsepower, these guys are paid to go fast and that's what they do. It won't stop them from hooking up. I think they'll just go faster."

NASCAR said it wasn't certain how the drafting would be affected. "We believe this rules package for next month's Talladega event will help continue to provide competitive and exciting racing for the fans," spokesman Kerry Tharp added. "The teams will have a little bit more horsepower to work with -- which is something they've been asking for. How it impacts the drafting style remains to be seen."

Tandem drafting, a by-product of changes to restrictor-plate track surfaces and cars' front ends, has produced decidedly mixed reviews among spectators and competitors alike. Some love the often-thrilling finishes it produces, but others have issues with how strange the style itself appears. NASCAR has made attempts to curtail it before, mandating lower water pressure in the cooling system and a smaller opening in the front grille prior for this year's Daytona 500.

Track officials were pleased with the latest moves. "We applaud NASCAR's efforts to continuously monitor the competition at Talladega Superspeedway and be willing to make changes when necessary," Talladega chairman Grant Lynch said. "Being open to suggestions that improve our sport is beneficial to everyone involved."

* Tickets: Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega