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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.”

ARCA changes overtime rules for Daytona, Talladega races

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The ARCA Racing Series announced Tuesday it will implement changes to its overtime rules for races held at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

Gone are unlimited attempts at two-lap green-white-checkered finishes when the white flag had not been displayed and unlimited “green and white together” attempts if the white flag had been displayed and the caution flag was necessary prior to the checkered.

In their place will be one attempt at a one-lap finish when the green and white flag are displayed together.

Once the green and white flag are displayed, the next flag – either a caution flag or checkered flag – ends the race. All means will be used to determine the running order at the time of a caution.

Overtime procedures will stay in place at the series’ 18 remaining races.

The moves come after last year’s race at Daytona stretched 12 laps beyond the scheduled 80-lap distance due to cautions.

“We feel it’s more fair to the teams and to the fans to finish the race closer to the advertised distance,” said Grayling Call, Senior Director of Competition for ARCA, in a press release. “Teams work on their fuel strategy throughout these races and when you have several overtime finish attempts it throws that strategy off for everyone. You could have cars running out of fuel on a restart that causes another crash.”

The ARCA season begins Feb. 9 with the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona.

Five can’t-miss NASCAR Cup races in 2019 beyond Daytona 500

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We’re 32 days out from the biggest NASCAR event of the season in the Daytona 500, a race of such importance that needs no explanation.

But what else is there to look forward to?

There are 35 other Cup points races this season and they’re not all created equal.

Here are five races to pay closer attention to this season.

– Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on Feb. 24 on Fox)

The second Cup race of the season will probably have its biggest spotlight in recent memory when the 1.5-mile track is the first to host the 2019 rules package.

Derived from the 2018 All-Star Race package, it includes a tapered spacer and is intended to provide closer racing. Cars will run 550 horsepower at all tracks 1.33 miles and larger, which includes Atlanta. At tracks less than 1.33 miles, cars will have 750 horsepower.

Combine the hopeful intent behind the package and a rough track surface that’s being kept in place by the “most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C.,” and you have no excuse to not tune in and see what happens.

Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET on June 30 on NBCSN)

The race that marks the start of NBC’s portion of the NASCAR schedule set an incredible precedent in 2018. The 1.5-mile track debuted in its new spot on the schedule with Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch’s dramatic last-lap battle and Busch’s win.

Was it a result of the drivers involved? The hot Chicagoland surface? Lapped traffic?

Yes.

Can it be topped?

We can only hope.

Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on Aug. 4 on NBCSN)

From the green flag last year, the Cup race on the New York road course was a barn burner, ending with a duel between Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. that resulted in Elliott’s first Cup win as Truex ran out of gas.

Races on the road course have had increasingly memorable finishes over the last seven years (beginning in 2012 with Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose). WGI shows no sign of providing a snoozer in the near future, especially as long as pit strategy is involved.

Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 29 on NBC)

The final lap of last season’s inaugural Cup race on the Charlotte Roval  had enough drama for three races on the new road course.

From Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson‘s contact in the final turn giving Ryan Blaney the win; Kyle Larson hitting the wall twice and passing a stalled car at the checkered flag to advance in the playoffs; and Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance himself.

Do teams have the oval-road course hybrid figured out after one year? It’ll be fun to watch that question answered.

First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Oct. 27 on NBCSN)

We’re starting to run out of fingers to use to list memorable events in Martinsville’s recent history of hosting a playoff race.

You could argue it started with Dale Earnhardt Jr. banging doors with Tony Stewart to win his only Martinsville clock in 2014.

Since then?

We’ve seen Matt Kenseth’s retaliation against Joey Logano in 2015, which resulted in Jeff Gordon’s final Cup win.

Two years later, Denny Hamlin wrecked Elliott from the lead near the end of regulation. Kyle Busch then won in overtime as Martinsville’s version of “The Big One” unfolded. Afterward, an angry Elliott confronted Hamlin on the track as fans filled the air with cheers and boos.

Last year Truex and Logano provided a thrilling battle over the last six laps. Logano performed the bump-and-run on Truex in the final turn to win the battle in the “damn war” (which Logano also won in Miami).

 

Dale Jr. Download: Jeff Gordon recalls 2004 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega

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“Oh, I remember that one.”

It would be hard for Jeff Gordon to forget the 2004 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

It was the race where Gordon celebrated a win under a torrential shower … of Budweiser.

“Well, I don’t remember a whole heck of a lot about the race itself, I do remember the finish,” Gordon recalled on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download.. “That was one of those days were I so glad we didn’t have to race back to the line. That they froze the field.”

Beer-filled cans and cups rained down on Gordon, thrown by angry Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans in the grandstands upset that NASCAR had declared Gordon the winner in a controversial finish.

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Minutes before, Earnhardt had crossed the finish line ahead of Gordon to a happy roar from the fans who thought he was in first.

Earnhardt had passed Gordon on the outside out of Turn 4 as they came to four laps to go in a nine-lap shootout to end the race.

But the shootout effectively ended when Brian Vickers wrecked in Turn 3, the caution came out and the field was frozen by NASCAR.

“I was sitting there going, ‘I think I was ahead, I think I was ahead!’” Gordon said. “When they told me I was, I was like ‘Yeeeees!’

“Then all of sudden I realized, ‘Uh oh, there’s going to be a lot of pissed off people in the grandstands.'”

MORE: The time Dale Jr. got Jeff Gordon out of a speeding ticket

MORE:  Rick Hendrick wants Jeff Gordon “in my place” when he steps away

Four laps later, Gordon took the checkered flag. The beer storm began during Gordon’s cool down lap.

“You (Earnhardt) always had an incredible following, but I look back at those days and where the sport was and the enthusiasm and the trendiness of NASCAR and how it was just blowing up and you were such a huge part of that,” Gordon said. “I played my role in it as well. But to have me and you kind of going head-to-head like that and for it to come down to a controversial finish, it was one of those times where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to win this race or not.’ I also wanted to get out of here alive.”

What was going through Gordon’s mind as his car was peppered with beer-filled objects?

“This is the greatest day of my life,” Gordon said on the podcast.

The moment reminded Gordon of the early days of his Cup career, when he and Dale Earnhardt Sr. enjoyed their own rivalry in the mid-90s.

“You have to understand, in 1995, people were cheering me at the beginning of the year and booing me by the end of the year,” Gordon said. “Because at the beginning of the year I was just starting to win more races and it was, ‘Ok, who’s this new guy? He’s on the circuit and he’s off to a good start.’

“Then it was me and your dad, right? We’re going for some of those wins and we were both winning a lot of races. But we were winning more. Then we were ahead in points. So once we were ahead in points, it was ‘Uh uh.’ They may have cheered for me the year before or earlier that year. They weren’t cheering for me then.”

The 1995 season saw Gordon win seven races and his first of four Cup titles as Earnhardt Sr. won five times and finished second in the standings.

“I went through a lot of figuring out why fans booed me or cheered against me or whatever,” Gordon said. “At first I didn’t get it or understand, but then I was like, ‘Ok. Their guy is Dale Earnhardt. I’m the opposite of that in competition at the same time.’ So, I got it, I started getting it. Leading into this moment at Talladega, I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to win this battle with the fans because they want (Earnhardt Jr.) to win.’ But I was still damn happy that I won the race.

“So when they started throwing stuff at me … I started realizing the boos were like recognition of what I had accomplished. When they started throwing (expletive), I was like, ‘Yes, this is awesome.’ Not that I encourage people to throw things out on the track, but that is the essence of NASCAR in those days. You wish you had moments today, that they cared that much for what is happening.”

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NASCAR Cup Series race start times announced for 2019

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NASCAR has announced its race start times for the 2019 Cup Series season, with a notable change in start time for the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After a start time of 3 p.m. ET this year, next season’s race will begin at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on NBCSN.

“Moving the start time for the September race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is fitting because it will deliver a better experience for our fans attending the race, and kick off the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in primetime,” said Steve Herbst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Broadcasting and Production in a press release. “Each race weekend, including Las Vegas, is unique, and we work collaboratively with broadcast partners, teams and tracks to ensure the ideal timing is selected for our events.”

Other notable start times:

  • The Daytona 500 is scheduled for Feb. 17 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
  • The March 31 race at Texas Motor Speedway will start one hour later, moving from a 2 p.m. ET start to 3 p.m. ET. The race also moves to FOX.
  • The start time for New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s July 22 starts one hour later, moving from 2 p.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET.
  • Martinsville Speedway’s Oct. 28 playoff shifts a half-hour later to a 3 p.m. ET start.

Here’s the full schedule with start times and TV and radio networks:

DATE

RACE

NETWORK

RACE START (ET)

RADIO

Sun, Feb 10, 2019

Daytona 500 Qualifying

FOX

12:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 10, 2019

The Clash

FS1

3:00 PM

MRN

Thu, Feb 14, 2019

Duel at Daytona

FS1

7:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 17, 2019

Daytona 500

FOX

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Feb 24, 2019

Atlanta

FOX

2:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Mar 03, 2019

Las Vegas

FOX

3:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Mar 10, 2019

ISM Raceway

FOX

3:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 17, 2019

Auto Club Speedway

FOX

3:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 24, 2019

Martinsville

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Mar 31, 2019

Texas

FOX

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Apr 07, 2019

Bristol

FS1

2:00 PM

PRN

Sat, Apr 13, 2019

Richmond

FOX

7:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Apr 28, 2019

Talladega

FOX

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, May 05, 2019

Dover

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sat, May 11, 2019

Kansas

FS1

7:30 PM

MRN

Sat, May 18, 2019

All-Star Open

FS1

6:00 PM

MRN

Sat, May 18, 2019

All-Star Race

FS1

8:00 PM

MRN

Sun, May 26, 2019

Charlotte

FOX

6:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jun 02, 2019

Pocono

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Jun 09, 2019

Michigan

FS1

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Jun 23, 2019

Sonoma

FS1

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jun 30, 2019

Chicagoland

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sat, Jul 06, 2019

Daytona

NBC

7:30 PM

MRN

Sat, Jul 13, 2019

Kentucky

NBCSN

7:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Jul 21, 2019

New Hampshire

NBCSN

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Jul 28, 2019

Pocono

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Aug 04, 2019

Watkins Glen

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Aug 11, 2019

Michigan

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sat, Aug 17, 2019

Bristol

NBCSN

7:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Sep 01, 2019

Darlington

NBCSN

6:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Sep 08, 2019

Indianapolis

NBC

2:00 PM

IMS

Sun, Sep 15, 2019

Las Vegas

NBCSN

7:00 PM

PRN

Sat, Sep 21, 2019

Richmond

NBCSN

7:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Sep 29, 2019

Charlotte

NBC

2:30 PM

PRN

Sun, Oct 06, 2019

Dover

NBCSN

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 13, 2019

Talladega

NBC

2:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 20, 2019

Kansas

NBC

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Oct 27, 2019

Martinsville

NBCSN

3:00 PM

MRN

Sun, Nov 03, 2019

Texas

NBCSN

3:00 PM

PRN

Sun, Nov 10, 2019

ISM Raceway

NBC

2:30 PM

MRN

Sun, Nov 17, 2019

Homestead-Miami

NBC

3:00 PM

MRN

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