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Restrictor-plate gamesmanship: Here’s how teams gained more speed

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Eyes dart and scan the surroundings. Satisfied we are alone, a grin emerges. Still, because of the sensitivity of the subject, the person speaks in a hushed tone. One does not loudly boast about outsmarting NASCAR inspectors.

But they do boast.

“Oh hell, I’ve got all kinds of stories.”

While NASCAR discourages rule breaking with more severe penalties — including the recent announcement that officials will disqualify any car that fails inspection after a race — the sport’s history and part of its charm stems from those who broke the rules.

This weekend’s Daytona 500 marks the final race with restrictor plates. Tapered spacers will control horsepower moving forward. And so closes a chapter of ingenuity by teams to find extra horsepower. The storytellers prefer to remain anonymous but are willing to share with NBC Sports their cat-and-mouse tales through the years with officials.

One person recalls a time in the 1990s in what was then called the Busch Series. This was back when nearly 10 cars would fail to qualify for the season-opening race. This particular team was in danger of failing to qualify.

The team’s luck changed when a garage veteran offered a tip on how to make more horsepower: Slip a couple of acrylic washer rings between the restrictor plate and the carburetor. That gap allowed more air to flow into the engine and create more horsepower.

“We got them in and our car qualified in the top 10 and we’re scared to death,” this person said. “We’re going to end up being checked (by NASCAR).

“We were hoping to be under the radar, come in around 20th or 25th and just be in the race and we’re being held and I’m like ‘Holy crap.’ ”

They were eventually waved by and didn’t have to go through inspection after qualifying. As they headed back to the garage, the driver told the crew member: “Make sure you get them out of there!”

They did. The team didn’t use the rings in the race because the draft was enough of an equalizer.

“Never did anything like that ever again,” the person said. “I’ve never shared that with anybody.”

The need for such creativity came after Bobby Allison’s car destroyed a section of fencing in the May 1987 race at Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR sought to slow the cars to keep them from exceeding 200 mph and getting airborne. That led to the use of restrictor plates. They also were used for a time in what is now the Xfinity Series.

With an inspection process less stringent years ago than it is now, teams found ways to harness more horsepower despite the restrictor plates.

Sometimes it was quite elementary. One person recalled asking inspectors for permission to tighten a nut after the restrictor plate had been inspected.

“You would have a mark on the stud and you knew that (the mark) had to be at 12 o’clock and you would leave (the nut) at 10 o’clock,” they said. “You would turn it and it would leak air. It was like a tunnel (of air).”

Anything to get air into the engine.

“They were all talking about air leaks … like somehow leaving the carburetor loose or get back in there and loosening nuts because if you could raise the carburetor up, then you sucked air underneath it,” another person said.

Someone else talked of making the plates slide along the carburetor.

“As you cranked (the engine), the vacuum would pull it and it would give eight or nine horsepower,” the person said of the widened avenue of air to the engine. “Enough to haul ass.”

Another person talked about having a bit of sandpaper on a fingertip and rubbing the finger around the inside of each four rings to smooth them and allow more air to seep through the restrictor plate into the engine.

And another noted how they would “offset the center of the baseplate to the restrictor plate so it wasn’t lined up anymore and that created more airflow. You misaligned it by creating a special baseplate on the carburetor. There was no rule against it. … It was worth about seven horsepower. It was a really big advantage.

“Finally people figured out what you were doing, and they came up with a rule.”

As so often happened, rules were added and the game of getting additional air through the restrictor plate became more challenging through the years.

Still, what was done, makes for some entertaining stories.

“There are so many great stories.”

Watch NASCAR Cup Awards Show at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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Get settled into your favorite easy chair, make sure you have plenty of snacks and beverages on hand and get ready for the last big event of 2019 on the NASCAR schedule: tonight’s NASCAR Awards Show.

The show will be broadcast on NBCSN from 8-10:30 p.m. ET from Nashville, Tennessee, for the first time. And if you miss some of the show, don’t worry, there’ll be a replay immediately afterward, also on NBCSN.

Kyle Busch will be the main attraction for tonight’s show, being celebrated for winning his second NASCAR Cup championship this past season.

Also, the 2019 NASCAR Cup Most Popular Driver award winner will be revealed. Will it be defending winner Chase Elliott, reigning champion Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Matt DiBenedetto … or someone else? You definitely need to tune in to find out.

And to get you in the mood, we’ll replay Wednesday’s Burnouts on Broadway at 7 p.m. ET, also on NBCSN.

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Will Daniel Suarez race for Richard Childress Racing in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The president of Richard Childress Racing said it is a “longshot” that Daniel Suarez will drive a third Cup entry for the organization in 2020 but said RCR would like to have Suarez drive its No. 2 Xfinity car next year.

Suarez has not decided where he’ll race in 2020 after losing his ride with Stewart-Haas Racing this year.

Suarez has been linked with RCR. A third Cup entry would require RCR to acquire another charter for that car. It also could mean that the organization would need to hire additional people if they expanded to three full-time cars.

“I think that would be a long shot in a Cup program,” Torrey Galida told NBC Sports about Suarez in a third RCR Cup entry. “We’ve talked to him about an Xfinity program. We’d love to have him in an Xfinity car, and we think we could win another championship next year with Daniel. He’s a very talented young man.”

Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Xfinity car will run the full season with multiple drivers in 2020. Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo have been announced to drive that car. Galida said the team is looking at Kaz Grala, Austin Dillon and possibly two-time series champ Tyler Reddick driving that car in select races.

RCR ran the No. 21 car in nine of 33 Xfinity races this past season. It ran the No. 2 car in every race.

If Suarez, the 2016 Xfinity champion, drove for RCR in the Xfinity Series next year, it would be with the organization’s No. 2 car.

“We could still do that and we would do that,” Galida said of a full-time Xfinity effort for Suarez. “That’s the kind of opportunity we would be interested in.”

Galida said it just is a matter of hearing what Suarez decides.

“I think he knows what we’ve got to offer, and I think he’s just weighing his alternatives and trying to determine what is best for him,” Galida told NBC Sports. “I’m sure that going back to the Xfinity Series is not his first choice. I think in the right equipment it could be a really good move for him.”

Galida said they could go into January before hearing from Suarez but noted that “the sooner the better. People are your biggest issue. You want to put the right people around him.”

Next April’s Xfinity race at Bristol to have new sponsor

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Bristol Motor Speedway announced Thursday that partner Alsco, along with Darden Restaurants and its Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen brand, will sponsor next April’s Xfinity Series race there.

The Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco will take place on Saturday, April 4, 2020.

Alsco is a global leader in uniform and linen rental services. In addition to its entitlement at Bristol Motor Speedway, Alsco will take part in Xfinity Series entitlements at three other Speedway Motorsports Inc. racetracks: Kentucky Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Alsco’s initial entitlement at BMS came this past April with the Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race, won by Christopher Bell, who earned a $100,000 bonus through Xfinity’s Dash 4 Cash program.

Alsco is also a sponsor for Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and JR Motorsports.

“Bristol is the place for historic finishes and close, hard-knock racing action,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Alsco and our new friends at Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen understand the reputation of racing at The Last Great Colosseum and we’re ready to show them an incredible experience. The Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco is a must-see event on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule.”

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Cup champion’s celebration painful to those who didn’t win title

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A year after being feted for his first NASCAR Cup title, Joey Logano returned to Champion’s Week with a different feeling.

“These banquets aren’t really the same after you’ve won it and you know what it’s like to see your car plastered everywhere and your team and everyone is having fun together,” Logano said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we’re in Nashville, there’s a lot of really cool things, but it really stinks for the competitor to come to the banquet because it’s just like another reminder that you got beat. That’s not much fun. I don’t really like that part.

“When you leave the banquet that night, you really wish you could race the next day because that’s about the most motivating thing you could do is go to a banquet that you didn’t win because all you want to do is change that. And you want to do it as quickly as possible but you’ve got to wait until Daytona to get going again.”

The sport celebrates Kyle Busch’s championship at 8 p.m. ET today on NBCSN. This marks the first year the NASCAR Awards Show has been in Nashville. Busch was a part of the WWE event in the city on Monday, was honored by the Nashville Predators before Tuesday’s NHL game and took part in the Burnouts on Broadway on Wednesday with many other playoff drivers.

While Busch basks in the celebration, teammate Martin Truex Jr. deals with the pain of finishing second in the championship for a second consecutive year. Logano passed Truex late to win last year’s championship. Truex’s title run this season was derailed, in part, by his crew putting the wrong tires on the wrong side of the car in last month’s championship race in Miami.

Had things gone a little differently, Truex could have won three consecutive championships, matching Cale Yarborough’s accomplishment from 1976-78.

“I’ll tell you when I get over it,” Truex said of the pain of finishing second again for the title. “It’s a  big deal. Work all year long to put yourself in that position. When it doesn’t turn out the way you hope, it’s tough.

“A lot of people put a lot of effort into it. It’s not something that goes away. It takes time. Honestly, I’m still sour about finishing second last year, too. Two years in a row finishing second hurts. you have to learn from it and move on, but you never forget it.”