News & Media

Drivers hope Talladega rule changes are enough

September 24, 2011, David Caraviello,

LOUDON, N.H. -- NASCAR changes restrictor plate, pressure valve in effort to end two-car drafts

Breaking up is hard to do -- particularly when it comes to breaking up the two-car drafts that have become such a polarizing part of restrictor-plate racing the past year.

Apparently toward that end, NASCAR this week revealed two rules changes -- a larger restrictor-plate opening and a recalibrated pressure-relief valve -- that will go into effect for the Chase event at Talladega Superspeedway next month. But drivers aren't sure if the modifications will be enough to break them up for good.

"I know that a lot of people don't like us running nose to tail like that, but it's far more dangerous doing more swaps. It causes far more chances to have crashes when you're swapping ... so I'd rather us not have to swap."


"It's a step to make us pass more. I don't think we are going to be able to stay connected as long. Any time you put a bigger plate on the cars, it allows for a larger closing rate with more opportunities to pass with more power," five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, who won at Talladega in the spring, said at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"With that said, I don't think the changes are large enough to have us not push. That threshold for pushing, the grip level is still so high at the race track that I don't think it's going to separate us yet, but it should make for more passing. We see that more with a larger plate, and then the fact that we can't stay together ... we'll be changing out more often, which could lead to us being in a big pack like some of the fans want to see. We'll get down there and see what happens. I don't care what the rules are. I learned a long time ago to stop worrying about that stuff. I just go."

The larger restrictor-plate opening will provide cars with about seven to 10 additional horsepower on the big 2.66-mile Alabama race track, while the pressure in the cooling systems will be reduced by about eight pounds per square inch compared to the April event. Theoretically, it would seem the changes will force drivers to break from the tandem drafts more often, since the trailing car risks overheating if it doesn't switch positions or duck down to force air through the front grille. How much the cars will have to switch could depend on conditions in Talladega on race day as much as the rule changes, Ryan Newman believes.

"The biggest change of the two changes was the pop-off valve deal," he said. "Just trying to get the cars to not push as long, basically is NASCAR's objective there. Whether they want it or the fans want it, I don't know. To me ... that eight pounds is a decent change, but the actually ambient weather conditions can be a bigger change than what that change was. In other words, if it is a 60-degree day versus an 85-degree day, that plays a big factor in how effective that change is. We will not know how much we can tandem draft distance-wise until we get the ambient conditions, and obviously the horsepower is going to add a little extra heat. The pressure release value is going to take a little bit of time away from our push from a water pressure standpoint but we will do what we have to do to win."

Although tandem drafting has produced some edge-of-your-seat finishes, the practice has its critics in both the grandstand and the garage area. Many fans simply don't like the way it looks, given that it's such a departure from the pack racing seen so often on plate tracks the past decade. Jeff Gordon doesn't like it because of the two-car position switches the practice demands, which can get hairy in traffic at a place like Talladega.

"I know that a lot of people don't like us running nose to tail like that, but it's far more dangerous doing more swaps," said Gordon, a six-time winner at Talladega. "It causes far more chances to have crashes when you're swapping, especially at the end of that race where you are in the middle of a pack and all of a sudden two cars just swap. So I'd rather us not have to swap. I think the racing would be better and it would be safer."

In the garage area, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is among the more vocal critics of the two-car draft, which arose from a combination of the race cars' reconfigured front ends and recent resurfacings at Daytona and Talladega. Under those conditions, drivers found the two-car hookups to be the fastest way around. Given the new rules, Earnhardt is certain of one thing -- the larger restrictor-plate opening will allow the cars to go faster, something he feels is necessary if tandem drafting is ever to be left behind for good.

"I like the different style of racing that we used to have -- where you did not have to have a partner, you didn't have to be pushing each other every lap," he said. "[Tandem drafting] is just not what I prefer, and that is my own personal opinion. I think we will go a little faster. I am not sure it will break up the two-car drafting or not, but I hope it does. I think it was a great move. The track has new asphalt, new surfaces, the cars were making qualifying runs ... around the 187-185 [mph] range. That is just way to slow. We are drafting at 195 to 198 mph, so to have such a big difference between what a car will do by itself and what a car will do in the draft is a little bit dangerous, because the closing rates are kind of crazy when you come up on cars that aren't hooked up. Hopefully that will even that out, and make it a little more fun too."

Regardless, Denny Hamlin said drivers will still be pushing, even with the changes. The only way to eliminate that, he said, is to allow drivers to go even faster. "The truth is that if we still go out there and push, we're going to be running faster than we would be in the pack," he said. "I would like to see [NASCAR] open it up more. It would eliminate the push quite a bit. Right now you're just relying on so many different factors to finish well in those types of races. I would like to see a change, and don't mind the change."