Initial reports out of the tire testing going on at the recently repaved Daytona International Speedway are not encouraging. According to Jeff Burton it's Talladega style, for sure. One reason that racing at Daytona has been better than at Talladega is due to the older pavement. Cars couldn't bunch up there because they didn't have the grip to do so. Now, with new pavement, Daytona is going to be one big boring pack of cars rubbing and bumping at around 190 MPH until the big wreck happens sometime after the halfway point of the race. How can NASCAR possibly think this is a good idea? I was very disappointed when it seemed like they didn't even consider whether or not to redesign the track in order to bring speeds down without having to continue resorting to the ineffective band-aid of restrictor plates. As Burton just said accoring to Terry Blount "They didn't change the banking or the angles." We have been guaranteed years and years of more big ones. Burton just was quoted by his team's Twitter feed as saying, "There is going to be a constant pack, I don't know how you will get separated. Its going to be a big pack all the time. That is exactly what I am talking about. That's not racing, that's gambling at 190 MPH.
Every few months when I really think about restrictor plate racing I just get really depressed. I think of all the great racing we are missing at Daytona (Talladega is another story). For NASCAR to not even consider seriously finding some way to race at Daytona without plates tells me they like the restrictor plate and the "racing" and giant wrecks it creates. Plate racing is the NASCAR equivalent of a football or basketball game. In football and basketball all the action is focused on the ball and that translates perfectly to television, unlike baseball and most NASCAR races. In a race the "ball" is the first place car. With a plate race all of the 42 other cars can be in the picture with the "ball." Sure, it makes for exciting television. Especially when 10 to 20 cars start spinning, smashing, rolling and flying into the air when tempers run short late in the event. Which, of course, is another reason plate racing translates so well to television. By the time the network finishes showing you the forty-eleven angle of the crash they have recorded the debris is cleaned up and we are back to racing. It doesn't matter if 10 to 20 cars are no longer in the race because a 20 car pack isn't any less exciting that a 43 car pack.
And don't go telling me that you can't redesign Daytona because of 50 plus years of tradition. Tradition didn't help Rockingham. Tradition didn't help North Wilkesboro. Like the fiasco of the BCS in college football, it all comes down to money. Honestly, when did anything in this sport not come down to money? It's not coincidence that the Talladega race on October 31st this year had the highest cable rating of any race on cable in the last two months of the season. In fact, was on a couple hundred thousand viewers behind the October Charlotte race that was seen on ABC. We do love our flying race cars, don't we?
What is most frustrating is that NASCAR could fix Daytona if they really wanted to. You can't tell me that they couldn't hire a group of engineers and tell them, "We want you to find a track configuration similar to what we have now that will naturally create speeds of around 205 mph at the end of each straightaway." It could and should be done but it'll never happen because restrictor plate racing is now the norm and it's not going away. And, by the way, if you love restrictor plate racing, you are not watching your television for the competition. You are waiting for the big one. That's fine, because wrecks are part of the sport. Wrecks aren't everything and we are missing out some fine racing that an redesigned and unrestricted Daytona International Speedway could give. Shouldn't the biggest race of the year at least be a good race?