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Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman share thoughts on restrictor plates at Brickyard

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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.”

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Aerodynamic changes announced to accompany restrictor plates for Xfinity at Indianapolis

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NASCAR is following one unprecedented move with another at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In the wake of the news that restrictor plates will make their debut at the 2.5-mile track for the July 22 race, NASCAR announced Thursday that it will equip the cars with “aero ducts” for the first time.

The ducts are designed to improve the airflow through the front wheel wells, theoretically enhancing the opportunity for passing on the flat track (which notoriously has been difficult to navigate for stock cars).

NASCAR also will use a taller spoiler and wider splitter (with the same dimensions as 2016) and the 7/8th-inch restrictor plate, which cuts horsepower by reducing airflow to the engine.

NASCAR tested the plates last Oct. 11 with Blake Koch (Kaulig Racing), Ryan Reed (Roush Fenway Racing) and Brandon Jones (Richard Childress Racing).

RCR director of competition Dr. Eric Warren said this week on SiriusXM Satellite Radio that the plate would need to be combined with some aerodynamic tweaks.

Using restrictor plates at Indianapolis dovetails with aerodynamics, team official says

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NASCAR’s efforts to improve the racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway stretch well beyond the restrictor plates that will be used for the Xfinity race July 22.

In an interview with SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel Tuesday morning, Richard Childress Racing director of competition Dr. Eric Warren said NASCAR has been working with teams on aerodynamic enhancements for the 2.5-mile track.

“There’s been a lot of work with the teams, the aero guys with all the teams, and working with NASCAR on different things,” Warren said on “The Morning Drive” program. “Lots of collaboration. Different aero items of how you create drag and an intermediate-type car at Indy to kind of draft almost. How can you make that work?”

Kyle Busch led 62 of 63 laps in last July’s Xfinity Series main event at IMS, highlighting the difficulty in passing at the front.

“The way the cars are, the rules are, it’s a single-groove racetrack,” Warren said. “The speed of that track and the entry and layout with stock cars, it’s really difficult to pass. Even with the perfect situation. Even 15 years ago, it was difficult to pass.”

NASCAR held a test with the Xfinity cars of RCR, JR Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing to try the restrictor plates after last year’s race.

“We were trying different aero devices and things,” Warren said. “It certainly is an alternate view of what can be done. Time will tell with getting into Turn 1 and what other problems get created. You can say, ‘We’re going to do restrictor-plate racing and bunch everybody up.’ There are other items to consider. You have to get a feel for how this works out. I’m more on the interest side than convinced either way.”

A high-drag package was tried at Indianapolis in 2015 with suboptimal results.

“Unfortunately, everyone learned lessons there that were undesirable features,” Warren said. “You add a lot of drag, but the aero behavior didn’t make it easier to bunch the cars up and draft. You have to address both at the same time. They’ve done a really good job of combining the two. The question is going to be when the end product happens, is the race better or do you end up with something like Daytona with a lot of wrecks and crashes, which maybe is exciting for some but not for others.”

In a separate interview, JRM driver William Byron said using the restrictor plates, which reduce horsepower by cutting airflow to the engine, is “worth a try.

“I really kind of race whatever we’re given, especially being a rookie,” he said. “I’m trying to adapt to whatever it is. I think restrictor-plate racing there is going to be an interesting thing. I think that when they don’t have restrictor plates, it seems like it’s gotten really spread out, and it’s tough to pass. It’s worth a try. I don’t know if it is the right thing. We’ll see what happens. It could be a really good race.”

NASCAR America: Dale Jarrett on restrictor plates at Indy — ‘An awful idea’

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett makes no bones about his feelings that NASCAR is expected to use restrictor plates in July’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s an awful idea, in my opinion,” Jarrett said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America.

Jarrett knows what he’s talking about. He’s a two-time winner (1996, 1999) of the Brickyard 400 at Indy and a seven time top-10 finisher at the 2.5-mile IMS in 13 career Cup starts.

MORE: NASCAR will use restrictor plates at Indy, could Michigan and Pocono be on the horizon?

However, if NASCAR likes how plates work in the Xfinity race at Indy, don’t be surprised if NASCAR also uses them in the Cup race there in 2018.

Again, Jarrett disagrees.

“Taking horsepower away, that’s the one thing a driver can utilize to make passes at a racetrack that is so flat,” Jarrett said. “We tried restrictor plates one time at New Hampshire. Jeff Burton led every single lap of that race and went on to win.

“It was a terrible race except for Jeff Burton. He was the only one that thought it was good that day.”

Jarrett is definitely a proponent of keeping cars plate-free at Indy.

“Taking power away, I think is a bad idea,” he said. “There are other options, I think. Open the aerodynamic rules some, that’s where you’re going to get more passing involved. But let them have the horsepower trying to do it.

“I just don’t like this idea, as you can tell.”

Ryan: NASCAR will use restrictor plates at Indianapolis . . . are Michigan and Pocono next?

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NASCAR’s latest track makeover was on display last weekend at Phoenix Raceway, which was under construction during a $178-million renovation that will completed by November 2018.

But the series-wide overhauls aren’t stopping there, and they aren’t limited to facility facelifts, either.

NBC Sports has confirmed that NASCAR will use restrictor plates for the Xfinity race July 22 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The decision, which initially was reported by freelance journalist Michael Knight on Twitter last weekend, will take effect after NASCAR was pleased by the results of a successful Xfinity test with plates last year at the 2.5-mile track.

A NASCAR official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss publicly, said if the Xfinity race goes well, then restrictor plates would be used for the 2018 Brickyard 400 in the Cup Series.

NASCAR also is considering using the same plate-style rules package for Indianapolis, Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway.

Far less likely in the short term is the use of the IMS road course, which the Sports Business Journal reported last week was under consideration for usage in Cup. An IMS spokesman declined comment on the report.

Though discussions have been confirmed by NASCAR, it’s unlikely that it would be used unless as a last resort (and it definitely wouldn’t happen this season). The Indianapolis Star reported last week there is no NASCAR test scheduled for the road course, which plays host to IndyCar and was the site of Formula One races from 2000-2007.

From this corner, there are several reasons why attempting to move the premier series to Indy’s twisting circuit would be a massive mistake:

–The optics of running a road course at the world’s most fabled racetrack are brutal. It would seem extremely bush league to move NASCAR from the storied four-turn layout and strengthen the perception that stock cars are just another support series for the Indianapolis 500.

–While NASCAR needs more road courses (moving to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “roval” next year is smart), it’s uncertain if IMS would be a good fit (F1 drivers didn’t like it).

–If NASCAR and IMS decide that the flat rectangle isn’t suitable for stock cars, then the difficult call should be made to separate after the 5-year sanctioning agreement ends in 2020.

Take the date to a place that will pack its grandstands for Cup – Iowa Speedway and Eldora Speedway are two prime candidates. Stock cars always were ill-suited for Indianapolis, but it didn’t make a difference in the first 14 years that NASCAR raced the Brickyard because of its prestige.

Indy now is mired in a 10-year trend of declining crowds that can be traced directly to the tire debacle in the 2008 Brickyard. A similar controversy in 2005 led to F1’s permanent departure from the facility. NASCAR and IMS might face the same if plates can’t save the day.

A few other leftovers from the past week:

–The loss of a track like Indy would be a PR blemish for NASCAR, but there were signs this past week that stock-car racing can move the needle with mainstream media and in popular culture.

Along with replays of the Kyle BuschJoey Logano confrontation on countless national TV shows, there was a nice hit with the “edgy” Barstool Sports’ affiliation with Chris Buescher at Las Vegas.

And the visit to Hendrick Motorsports and the Charlotte Motor Speedway by Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg was simply a PR coup that couldn’t be reproduced with any sport ad buy.

Zuckerberg, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes at more than $50 billion, has explored NASCAR sponsorships with Cup teams before, and his obvious zeal about taking a thrill ride with Dale Earnhardt Jr. was validating.

As Jeff Burton said on NASCAR America last Thursday, Zuckerberg “got to drive with a real race car driver at 180, 190 mph. Whenever I’ve had the chance to do that, and I’ve driven some of the best professional athletes in the world, they have left with a completely different appreciation for what this sport is all about.

“You can play basketball, football and baseball in P.E. You don’t drive a race car in P.E. You don’t have an appreciation for it. (For Zuckerberg) to experience that is great for the sport.”

The point is well-taken. LeBron James visited Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2005 as part of a Powerade sponsorship with Bobby Labonte, but he shot hoops on the frontstretch and toured the garage without taking a ride (though filmmaker Quentin Tarantino got an opportunity the same day). Next time, NASCAR shouldn’t miss such a chance.

–Speaking of LeBron, it’s easy to juxtapose the NBA’s current controversy over championship-caliber teams choosing to rest their stars with NASCAR’s move toward exactly the opposite.

Stage racing added a new layer at Phoenix Raceway, particularly at the close of the first segment when Joey Logano had to fend off Kyle Larson.

The point of stages are to avoid situations similar to the NBA where stars routinely take nights off to rest for the playoffs. It can’t happen in NASCAR anymore if a driver and team want to avoid the risk of leaving points on the table to reach the championship round.

You can make an argument that the NASCAR regular season remains too long — just like the NBA. But at least NASCAR has ensured the first 26 races are more meaningful than ever.

–Phoenix was another strong showing for Larson, who has three straight runner-up finishes and four in the past five races. But as noted here two weeks ago, it also was another reminder that the Chip Ganassi Racing driver needs to learn to close out victories in NASCAR.

Larson should have outdueled Ryan Newman for the victory at Phoenix, but he allowed his No. 42 Chevrolet (which had two fresh tires) to be bumped by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (no tires) on the restart.

Larson consequently lost momentum and couldn’t mount a charge on Newman, who didn’t hesitate to clobber Larson on the final lap of the November 2014 races at the 1-mile oval to advance to the title round.

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” he said. “But I should have went a lane up in (turns) 1 and 2. I should have known to just stay close to Newman.  That’s what I wish I would have done.

“But, yeah, it’s weird running all these seconds.  It took me, like, three years to finish second in sprint cars.  Now I finish second like every week.  A little weird, but maybe we’ll turn them into wins soon.”

The bottom line is Larson needs more of a killer instinct to improve on his career victory total (one). He figured it out in the short feature races of sprint cars, but a three-hour race takes a different skillset.

In the past five months, Miami, Atlanta and Phoenix have proved he hasn’t perfected his yet.