Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Restrictor Plates needed for Monster Mile?
By Frank Ryan
September 19, 2000

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Last weekends use of restrictor plates was a success, of sorts. The reduction in horsepower effectively limited the top speed of the cars making the race safer, but the lack of power also took away the drivers ability to pass, which severely changed the complexion of the event. Instead of competitive racing, we had 300 laps of follow the leader. While this was good news for Jeff Burton, it was tough for everyone else who was trying to play catch up.  Looking forward to this weekend's race in Dover, the Winston Cup tour will visit another one mile racing facility, but why aren't restrictor plates mandated at the Monster Mile?

When comparing New Hampshire International Speedway to Dover Downs International Speedway, the similarities are far and few between. Other than both tracks being approximately a mile in length, they are quite different in almost every aspect.

Not only is Dover banked much more than New Hampshire, the straights are shorter.
(Click to enlarge)

The prospect of a stuck throttle at Dover can be a harrowing experience, but it shouldn't be a life threatening one. In contrast to NHIS, the Monster Mile has twice the banking in the turns, 24 degrees compared to 12 degrees. This degree of banking helps guide the car entering the turn, making the probability of a more direct crash minimal. Most crashes at Dover, even those under full power, are glancing blows and not at severe angles. During the head-on collisions in NHIS, most of the energy was dissipated in the fraction of a second that it took the car to impact the wall. The steep banking at Dover is instrumental in avoiding this situation. Since the car impacts the wall at more of an angle, the energy is dissipated slowly, putting much less stress on the vehicle and ultimately the driver.

The shape of the tracks is also slightly different. NHIS has longer straightaways and tighter turns than Dover. Some people have said the track is like having two, quarter mile drag strips with a tight turn on each end. This generates a lot of speed down the straights, heavy braking, then sharp turning for the return trip. In contrast, Dover has shorter straightaways and wider radii turns. In essence, the turns at Dover make up a much larger percentage of the overall track length. When you combine the steep 24-degree banking with the shorter straightaways and longer turns, it allows the drivers to carry their speed with them all the way around the track. The qualifying speed at Dover is about 155mph, while at NHIS the qualifying is about 125mph. While the increased speed at Dover would seem to necessitate the cars using restrictor plates, it is the difference of the speed of the cars in the turn compared to the speed on the straightaways that commands the use of restrictor plates. Obviously, a stuck throttle at NHIS would be much worse that at Dover, simply because the impact angle into the wall would be more direct, and less glancing than it would be at Dover.

Another difference in the tracks is the racing surface. NHIS is the standard bituminous (asphalt) used on most racing surfaces, but Dover is concrete and has distinct characteristics. As a dry surface, concrete has a slightly lower coefficient of friction than normal asphalt, meaning it has slightly less grip for the cars.

When thinking of the term superspeedway, Daytona and Talladega immediately comes to mind. However, both NHIS and Dover are classified as speedways since they are a mile or more in length. Maybe there should be a new criteria that NASCAR needs to establish. This new criteria would be for tracks that require fairly heavy braking where, i.e. where average turn speeds are less than 'X'% (where 'X' is to be defined after adequate research by NASCAR) of the straightaway speed and a stuck throttle can result in heavier than normal impact with the outside retaining wall.  For all future events, NASCAR could then mandate that a track owner install an approved soft wall system or NASCAR can mandate the use of restrictor plates during the event.

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