As this photo sequence shows, restrictor-plate racing can quicky create chaos.
Eliminate double-line restarts and go to single-file restarts at all plate races. It's recognized that caution flags generate caution flags. When you bunch up 30 or 40 cars in two rows, it takes only a tiny mistake to make a big wreck.
So at NASCAR's plate tracks, line 'em up one after another and let the drivers battle for position right where they were when the caution flag came out or in the order they exited the pits.
The fast cars will still pass the slow cars, but it will take a bit longer. And what you won't have is a lapped car becoming sideways and taking out some of the leaders. The leaders can fight for position among themselves, without having to worry about cars they wouldn't normally have to contend with until they were ready to lap 'em.
Nelson doesn't like this idea at all. It just isn't the way NASCAR does things. Exactly our point.
Here's the real answer: a new generation of race car that will be fatter and taller. It will push more air, which will create more aerodynamic drag. Don't be surprised to see them riding on tires much wider than those used on today's Cup cars.
Nelson and the researchers at Concord have been working on this design for about two years. From the outside this new car will be more evolutionary than revolutionary. It will still look as little like a street car as today's Cup cars, but they will be larger all around.
NASCAR wants to make them bigger to make them safer. That means they'll be easier for drivers to get in and out of and still contain all the safety gear they use today. Expect to see the driver sitting closer to the center of the car, which will create more "crush room" on the sides for increased safety. "Whatever we come up with will be much less aero dependent," Nelson says.
Nelson knows what he wants to do. The challenge has been to incorporate as many existing components as possible in the new chassis.
"Our team owners have a huge inventory of parts," he says. "What we don't want to do is make those parts obsolete." That means trying to retain the current engines, suspension components, steering gear, and rear end assemblies while melding them into a wider, taller chassis. It will create a nightmare for engineers who will ultimately have to throw away their notebooks and begin anew with a car that has totally different aerodynamic numbers, a different roll center, spring requirements, and more.
And NASCAR will try to retain as many common templates as possible to ensure competitive parity among manufacturers. Nelson defends the look-alike cars, saying they reflect what's seen on the streets today.
"I grew up in an era when you could look down the street and recognize one brand from another, [because] they all looked so different," he says. "And the style changed almost every year. That doesn't happen anymore."
Simply keeping the restrictor plates isn't an option. Since the death of Dale Earnhardt at the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR has embraced the long-ignored concept of making the sport safer. It has improved the cars and the tracks, and drivers are now "encouraged" to use the best safety gear available.
Restrictor-plate racing simply runs contrary to those efforts. Just like major wrecks the plates often contribute to, solving the problem is no longer a question of if NASCAR car will do it, but when.
There is an urgency to find a solution. NASCAR has been very public about its efforts to develop and adopt ways to make competition safer. Yet, the problem with racing on superspeedways is one it has been, so far, unable to come to grips with. It hasn't been for lack of trying.
NASCAR recognizes that the next major superspeedway wreck that ruins a career or takes the life of a driver will show every race fan and critic alike that finding that fix has simply taken too long.