Tom Bowles
Tuesday April 27th, 2010

Count me among the minority who weren't awed by NASCAR's restrictor plate show on Sunday. Yes, a record-breaking 88 lead changes combined with the type of photo finish that leaves everyone cheering was entertaining -- there's no disputing that.

But as the race unfolded, I sat there scratching my head at the inability of anybody to break away from the pack. The "yo-yo" effect of the new handling package left leading a matter of timing, not speed, and three green-white-checkered finishes made the end of the race look like an awkward demolition derby, the type where someone could end up hurt. More than ever, the plates at Talladega have turned the show into an awkward "lottery," as Dale Jr. dubbed it on Sunday. And don't lotteries last 60 seconds, not four hours?

But what I think pales in comparison to the fans, and they've spoken emphatically with their remotes. Talladega ratings were up nine percent, scoring an overnight of 4.9, the largest increase we've seen for any race since Richmond last September. What does that mean for the future? We'll get right into it with the winners of this week's mailbag lottery. But if your number didn't get called, don't give up! Keep trying through e-mail at or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.

I am completely frustrated with NASCAR and restrictor plates. Restrictor plates have been a disaster from the start and completely illogical. NASCAR was concerned about stability and safety, so they put a plate on. Now, millions of dollars in cars have been wrecked, and it's a miracle that more drivers haven't been killed. So they thought there was a problem, and their solution is to create a bigger problem with plates?

Despite the plates, yesterday's race was fun to watch for the first 150 to 160 laps; and then, as usual, the drivers lost their minds. It's so anti-climatic to know that with about 20 laps left that the drivers will do something stupid and cause wreck after wreck, making the end of the race intolerable to watch. Winning a race now is more about luck than it is about skill, strategy or preparation. With these plates, drivers seem to have no choice but to be bold, and for me, it just spoils the whole race.

-- Ed Swift, King of Prussia, Pa.

Ed's opinion sums up the minority opinion of fans out there. But drivers spoke up against plate racing as well Sunday, in particular Ryan Newman, who was distraught after a third straight 'Dega wreck left him sitting in the garage.

"I was thinking about that when I was out there, these shouldn't be points races," he said after getting knocked out by an ill-timed Joey Logano bump. "If they want to have these races for the fans, just let us come here and do this, but don't let it affect our championship, because it's not racing. If this is NASCAR racing, we should be here for Talladega Event Marketing or something like that. Something different besides racing [for the championship]."

Several others have echoed Newman's sentiment, with many wanting to ditch the plates. For them, their concerns are twofold: competition and safety, with Dennis Setzer's wreck into the turn 3 wall in the Nationwide race the latest ugly incident where a car's gone airborne in 'Dega's final laps.

Is there a way to make everyone happy? Fans try to come up with them all the time ...

If NASCAR wants to keep the speeds down, they should force some body change for these tracks that would make the cars slower and leave the engines alone. Since every team has "special" cars for the Daytona and Talladega races, it wouldn't be difficult for them to use the superspeedway body for those cars. Perhaps the cars would feel more "natural" in that they would have a more even response throughout their power range, but would be slower because their new bodies would restrict them.

Maybe that would silence everyone, and we can get back to focusing on racing?

-- Tom Leonard, Holly Springs, N.C.

Sorry, Tom, it wouldn't work. The whole problem with restrictor plates is the cars are running too slow; they don't have to touch the brake throughout Talladega's 500 miles, making them all run wide open, equipped with equal horsepower so they're unable to pull away from each other.

In truth, the only solution is to make the cars fast enough they'd have to lift in the corners. But no plate means the cars are running 230 miles an hour, not 200, creating a whole different set of safety concerns. You could also tear down Talladega and rebuild it, but you're talking millions in renovations for a sport that's not exactly overflowing with extra cash right now. Plus, the racing isn't going to automatically produce the type of side-by-side, heart-pumping action that leaves fans begging for more. Combine that with the ratings increase, and there's no way this package is getting touched anytime soon.

So for those who share my opinion on these races, find comfort in the fact there's only two Talladega races a year (and four plate ones overall). Every time we have them, just join me in taking a little extra TUMS, then keep your fingers crossed and wait patiently for that 5-minute payoff at the finish -- while hoping no one gets killed in the process.

In your column on Monday you blame Dale Jr. for missing an opportunity. All day, he worked with different drivers. He would push them around the track, then they would dump him. He tried to work with Tony [Stewart] at the end and he dumped him also. Junior does all the giving, and the drivers he works with do all the taking. He is still the best driver at a plate track, but with the 3 GWCs the best car usually doesn't win. Then, you have the drivers who hang out at the back like cowards and only show their face at the end. Not a man among them.

-- Denise, Dallas, Texas

Reason No. 457 why I hate restrictor plate racing: drivers can just hang out at the back of the draft and then magically come up to lead whenever they feel like actually racing (Jamie McMurray didn't touch the front of the field until lap 147, then led 28 of the final 53 laps after lagging back to stay out of the "Big One.")

But I digress ... far too much bashing of plates today. As for Earnhardt's finish, I was shocked he came out of the car smiling, because a 13th-place run at his best track has to feel like a loss. All day, Earnhardt was pushing drivers to the front at will, testing the waters in how he'd time his winning move later. But when push came to shove, he got stuck in traffic and never worked his way to the front at the end.

Yeah, Stewart and others seemed unwilling to work with him at the finish, but didn't Junior just build up all those relationships in the first 450 miles? Couldn't "dumping him" also be a case of Junior failing to make the right move when it really counted? I feel like the man behind the wheel has to take responsibility on this one.

By my count, despite a handful of top-10 finishes, Earnhardt's left almost 100 points on the table over the last month, shooting himself in the foot with his traditional late-race fade behind the wheel of the No. 88. That's going to come back to bite them.

Very insightful column about the Hendrick/Penske maneuvering and how it affects the sport. You don't paint a pretty picture, but I think you're mostly right.

As a longtime NASCAR follower, I just can't see any way out of this. Gone are the days of Dave Marcis and Joe Nemechek, guys we pulled for even though we knew they had no chance of winning. They raced because they loved racing, but they can't even afford that anymore. I remember fans cheering when Richard Petty blew up, not because they didn't like him, but because they knew with Petty out, a bona fide race would ensue.

Big money rules, always has, I just wish NASCAR could find a way to let the underfunded teams still participate.

-- Rick Shoaf, Memphis, Tenn.

One way it could help, Rick, is by better purse money distribution. For example, Bobby Labonte finished 23rd on Sunday but made just $8,500 more than the 43rd-place finisher. Is that enough of an incentive to run the distance? NASCAR's payment structure is a full column topic for another day, but it needs to fix purses so there's a true incentive to not only run the distance, but also advance your position at the finish. Right now, there's not enough money for the underdogs to pool together and compete without sponsorship; and until that business model gets fixed, NASCAR's little people will simply keep getting snuffed out.

Tweet of the Week

"Bad news @KyleBusch ... So your grandma's dog bit Amanda in the leg, and well, long story short, we gotta sue you!" - @scottspeed teasing best friend Kyle after his wife had a little incident with the Busch family pet during Talladega weekend.

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