The upcoming Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will serve as a testing ground for the future use of restrictor plates at the historic 2.5-mile track.
NASCAR announced earlier this week the July 22 race would be raced with plates, which reduce horsepower by sapping airflow to the engine, that have previously were used only at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and a September 2000 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Depending on the effectiveness of the plates, they could be used in future Cup Series races at the track.
On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was “up for whatever” in hopes of improving the racing at a track that seen drastic declines in attendance in the last decade.
“That race is really suffering as far as the show and how entertaining I think it is to watch,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t really know what the answer is to make it more exciting, but I think this is a great opportunity to find out if this is the direction to go. I am all for it. And I like the idea of trying it in the Xfinity Series or the (Camping World) Truck Series or what have you whatever track it is at to try it in that feeder series.
“That is an opportunity to see if we can get it right without ruining anything for the Cup guys.”
NASCAR has been visiting IMS since 1994 and will return for the 24th Brickyard 400 weekend in July. But the competition in the race pales in comparison to what usually is produced two months earlier in the Indianapolis 500.
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing has produced at least 30 lead changes for five consecutive years, including a record 68 in 2013 and 54 in 2016).
“I think NASCAR watches the Indy 500 and they see those guys drafting and passing and they are competitive,” Earnhardt said. “They have to try to put on that type of show if not better at that racetrack. It is not good in conversation to have the IndyCar race be more exciting to watch than the NASCAR race there. That is just business. I think it’s great for them to be aggressive.”
Earnhardt referenced the big swing NASCAR took in the Brickyard 400 two years ago when Cup cars were equipped with a “high drag” aero package that included 9-inch spoilers in an attempt at creating pack racing. The result was disappointing and widely panned.
NASCAR held a three-car test at IMS last October to try eight configurations with restrictor plates that included various splitter heights and gear ratios. The plates also will be used in the July 22 race with the NASCAR debut of “aero ducts.”
Xfinity teams also will use the 2016 specs for splitters and spoilers.
When it comes to the restrictor plates, 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman said his view is they are used where there is a need for “a balance there on speed and safety.
“I don’t know what their sim results are or what their testing has been to validate what needs to be done, but I believe it’s all based off of safety,” Newman said of the decision to use restrictor plates. “Indianapolis is unique in the fact that the corners really are kind of 90 degrees. You never really hit at 90 degrees, but you’re hitting more so at a sharper angle than you are at a place like Fontana or Michigan or even at 1.5-mile race tracks.
“But given the driver’s throttle response and acceleration and the ability to pass people is equally important. And we’ve seen some racing that gets pretty spread out at Indianapolis. I don’t know if a restrictor plate would make that the same or worse; or even better for that matter. To me, I think the restrictor plate, or at least the term restrictor plate, is usually more about safety and top speeds than it is anything else.”