CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR’s top division will race without engine restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega next season for the first time in 32 years, instead relying on a smaller tapered spacer and increased aerodynamic downforce to reduce speeds at the circuit’s largest speedways.
The total effect of the smaller spacer, larger spoilers and splitters, plus aero ducts is expected to reduce horsepower and increase drag to replicate the current brand of racing in the patented tightly woven packs at those two superspeedways.
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Current restrictor-plate engines make an estimated 410 horsepower. Tuesday’s rules increase the target horsepower to 550, but the aerodynamic devices are expected to offset that potential gain in the speed column. The change will not be in place for the 2019 Daytona 500, instead taking effect April 28 at Talladega.
“We wanted to keep the Daytona 500 as-is,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer. “There was a lot of engine inventory already out there. Teams had already begun preparing for the 500, so we wanted to hold the line there for 2019. And then as we started the season again from a superspeedway standpoint at Talladega, going to that 550 (horsepower) tapered spacer, we think will produce exactly what we’ve seen in the past, the side-by-side racing that fans love. So certainly we’ll learn some things along the way, but believe you’ll see very similar styles of racing at those tracks.”
NASCAR has used restrictor plates to decrease speeds at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway in every race since Bobby Allison’s airborne crash into the Talladega catch-fencing in May 1987. Bill Elliott’s qualifying speed for that event was a record 212.809 mph. By contrast, the pole-winning lap for the most recent Talladega race was 194.448 mph, posted by Kevin Harvick in April.
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Restrictor plates and tapered spacers have common purposes. Both restrict the passage of air through the engine to reduce horsepower, but the tapered spacer’s funnel-shaped design allows for a slightly more efficient flow and throttle response.
O’Donnell said that discussions with engine builders were critical in the development of the forthcoming rules package, especially with the considerations made for Daytona and Talladega, but added that competition officials are positioned to make slight alterations if necessary. NASCAR did so at Talladega last May, opting for a smaller restrictor plate to curtail horsepower and speed after Jamie McMurray’s car left the ground in a crash during practice.
“I think in terms of the racing and speeds, they’ll be very similar,” O’Donnell said of the contrast between the 2019 rules package and the current restrictor-plate setup. “We’ve got the ability obviously to dial that up or down as necessary, but we’ll certainly keep an eye on that as we roll out in practice as we always do, but to have the ability to make some tweaks if we needed to once that race weekend starts.”