Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR

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.”

Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

R. Kevin Butts photo - Courtesy of COTA
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The Cup Series will do more road course racing in 2021 with the addition of the Circuit of the Americas to the schedule, the track announced Wednesday.

The Cup race will be held May 23.

The 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, has hosted Formula One and IndyCar races, among others since its debut in 2012. The track also has a 2.2-mile, 15-turn short course. Announcements regarding race length, course selection and the full weekend schedule will be made at a later date.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

A NASCAR event has never been held at Circuit of the Americas, but Tony Stewart piloted a Stewart-Haas Racing car there last year in a demonstration run.

COTA is located roughly 220 miles south of Texas Motor Speedway. Speedway Motorsports will be the event’s promoter.

“Our company is proud to have a 60-year history of fabulous firsts in motorsports entertainment, and we are honored to bring America’s premier racing series to one of the world’s most renowned entertainment venues and cities for the very first time,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith in a statement. “I’d like to thank COTA CEO Bobby Epstein as well as NASCAR’s executive leadership for supporting us in an endeavor to do something that we believe will be spectacular for race fans, not only in Texas but around the world. We work and challenge ourselves every day at Speedway Motorsports to create amazing experiences that will last a lifetime, and we know NASCAR at COTA will deliver in 2021.” 

“I’m grateful for Marcus Smith’s vision and determination to make this event possible,” said Circuit of the Americas CEO and Chairman, Bobby Epstein in a statement. “His teams in Charlotte and at Texas Motor Speedway have created a spirit of partnership that will make for a spectacular weekend of fun and competition. Speedway Motorsports, along with the leadership at NASCAR, have a ‘Fans First’ attitude and have responded to everyone who has long desired to see a Cup Series race at COTA. Fans who’ve been here before will witness stock car racing at its finest for the first time, and first-time visitors will be amazed at the views and friendly experience. It will be our pleasure to write another chapter of motorsports history alongside Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR in 2021.” 

The complete 2021 schedule will be announced this afternoon by NASCAR.

Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

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The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2021 but will race on the road course for the first time instead of the oval, track officials announced Wednesday.

Cup will race on the road course on Aug. 15. That race will be held a day after the NTT IndyCar Series races on the Indy road course.

“Our first NASCAR-IndyCar weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants involved,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and IndyCar together during this exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

MORE: Atlanta to have two Cup dates in 2021

MORE: Darlington to run Cup races on Mother’s Day, Labor Day weekend in 2021

The Cup Series has raced at Indy since 1994. But as the racing there has been questioned and the sport has made a push for more road course races, NASCAR moved the Xfinity Series to the road course this year as a trial. The event was well received, creating the opportunity to move next year’s Cup race to the road course as well.

“Indy is Indy, no matter if you’re on the road course or you’re on the oval,” Joey Logano said of what a win there would mean. “It doesn’t matter. If you’re on the dirt track, I don’t care, it’s Indy. It’s that big deal to win there. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Cup car, IndyCar or a tricycle, you want to win at that race track.”

Indy’s road course is 2.439 miles and features 14 turns. Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race there after a four-car battle for the lead in the final laps.

The full Cup schedule will be announced Wednesday afternoon. The Xfinity schedule will be announced at a later date. Boles said on a media Zoom he was unsure of the Xfinity plans but talked with Logano about an interest Logano would have in running in a Xfinity race there to get more track time for the Cup race.

 

Darlington Raceway gets second Cup race for 2021

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Darlington Raceway will have two races in 2021, marking the first time since 2004 that the track has been scheduled to hold multiple Cup races in a season. The track announced its schedule Wednesday with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at the Governor’s mansion.

“Congratulations. Thank you. Hallelujah,” Gov. McMaster said after the dates were announced.

Darlington was scheduled to host one race in 2020 but added two more in NASCAR’s return to racing after the season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

MORE: Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021 for first time since 2010

The track will hold its first Cup race next season on May 9. That is Mother’s Day. It marks only the third time in the last 40 years the series will have run on Mother’s Day. The series last raced on Mother’s Day in 2007 when rain forced the Darlington race to be held that afternoon. The only other time NASCAR raced on Mother’s Day in the last 40 years was 1986 when the All-Star Race was held at Atlanta.

Darlington’s second date will be its Southern 500 event on Sept. 5, Labor Day weekend. That race will again open the  Cup playoffs.

NASCAR will announce the 2021 Cup schedule on Wednesday afternoon.

Darlington hosted two Cup races a season from 1960-2004. It held one Cup race from 2005-19.

The track stated that 2021 schedules for the NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be announced at a later date.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, tweeted that the Darlington races would be run with the low downforce package.

 

 

Atlanta to host two Cup races in 2021

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Atlanta Motor Speedway will host two Cup races in 2021, marking the first time since 2010 that the 1.5-mile speedway will have multiple Cup events in the same season.

Atlanta will host Cup races on March 21 and July 11.

The July 11 race will be the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart, moving sponsorship that had been with Kentucky Speedway. Kentucky Speedway will not be on the 2021 schedule. Its date becomes the second Atlanta date. The March race will be known at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

The July race marks the first 400-mile race at Atlanta since 1966.

The track announced its dates Wednesday morning. The full 2021 Cup schedule will be released Wednesday afternoon.

Atlanta Motor Speedway stated on its website that it plans to host fans in its stands and camping areas in socially distanced, limited capacity for each of its Cup races in 2021.

“We’re beyond excited to deliver what our fans have been yearning for: a second weekend of NASCAR action in Atlanta once again,” AMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison said in a statement. “Folds of Honor and QuikTrip continue to be phenomenal partners for our spring weekend of racing and we’re thrilled to have Quaker State and Walmart on board this summer as we put together two weekends of entertainment and excitement for race fans.”