Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Who is the Best Restrictor Plate Racer in NASCAR Right Now?

This weekend marks the third restrictor-plate race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series of the 2018 season. The previous two races have had their share of wrecks, action and excitement too. When it comes to these types of tracks, a lot of fans, drivers and media would all have classified Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the best racer at Daytona and Talladega.

However, since his retirement, there have been a few other names who have peaked as being the top gun when it comes to plate racing. One name is Brad Keselowski, who has six wins at plate tracks in his career. Team Penske, in general, has been strong in the plate races throughout the last three or four years too.

The previous race at Chicagoland provided us with one of the most exciting races and finishes that we have seen in a long time. One of the many discussions that have been going around is whether it was fair game for Kyle Busch to retaliate against Kyle Larson in the final corner on the final lap.

Larson went into Turn 1 on the final lap and, as Earnhardt made it known, attempted to pull the “slide job” on Busch. Larson got into Busch and put him into the wall while Larson took the lead. Busch came back in Turn 3 and punted Larson, spun him sideways and went on to win the race. Was it a fair move?  Many will argue it was, while others may say it was a dirty play, but either way, it gave us an amazing finish. 

Q: Heading to Daytona, who would you classify as the best restrictor plate racer in NASCAR right now? Amy P., Athens, GA

A: We have a lot of great restrictor-plate racers in NASCAR right now. It’s hard to pick who the best one is today, but I would have to go with Keselowski.

It’s close between him and teammate Joey Logano, but Keselowski has the slight edge right now. Team Penske overall is the best team when it comes to plate racing, including Ryan Blaney, who has improved in plate races the last two years. Leading the most laps in the Daytona 500 this year and having a few top-five finishes to his resumé, I believe he is only going to improve.

Right now, Keselowski’s statistics prove him to be the best in the sport right now. His most recent win on a restrictor plate track came last year at Talladega in October, which made five wins for him at the track. To begin his Cup career, he was not the best on these type of tracks, but over time, he definitely learned how to race them. His first win came in that memorable finish in 2009 when Carl Edwards was turned into the catch fence on the final lap in the tri-oval.

Not only has he won at Talladega, but he has a pretty good record at Daytona too when it comes to wins. He won the night race at Daytona before, back in 2016, which gives him six restrictor plate wins in his career. It seems that he is always the guy to beat when it comes to Daytona or Talladega, along with his Penske teammates. Going into this weekend, he’s a favorite to win, although it’s hard to pick a winner anytime at these types of tracks.

Keselowski could have had one or two more wins in his career at plate tracks had it not been for a bit of bad luck too. He seems to always have the most speed when it comes to racing in the pack and he knows how to work each line when leading the race. His knowledge of this type of racing is incredible, and he will eventually win a Daytona 500, along with more wins at Talladega throughout the rest of his career.

Q: What is your opinion on Sunday’s finish and what does NASCAR need to do to provide more exciting finishes like that? Andrew T., Minneapolis, MN

A: I will start off by saying there is unfortunately nothing NASCAR can do at the moment to continue to provide these great finishes like we saw on Sunday at Chicagoland.  The way the race played out was everything we could ask for, which made for a perfectly exciting race, something we have not seen much of this season.

Sunday’s race was easily the best race we’ve seen at a mile-and-a-half track from start to finish in a long time. I do not want to jump this far but it kind of reminded me of NASCAR back when I started watching in the early to mid-2000s. Those were the days when there was not a clear cut favorite every week and the field was close with several different leaders throughout the race.

That was exactly what Sunday was. We did not have that clear cut favorite beforehand and throughout the race, and there were probably about five to six different cars who legitimately had a shot at the win. Yes, near the end Kevin Harvick seemed to have had the dominant car before Kyle Busch got out front, which has basically been the story all year, but this race did not feel the same. 

Larson is the perfect example of what NASCAR’s future is all about. Young, loads of talent, not afraid to be aggressive, basically everything you look for in an up-and-coming superstar. He already has five career wins, but he has established himself as a star in this sport, and a star for a very long time. It was clear to many that Larson did have the faster car at the end of that race, but hitting the wall with three or four laps to go halted his momentum to catch Busch. Lapped traffic was the reason he even got to him, but once he was there, he did not hold back.

Now, I have no issue with Sunday’s finish at all. That was amazing, hard racing between two stars in the sport. It was fair game what Busch did to Larson. Larson attempted the “slide job” but put Busch in the wall. Busch came back and punted him into Turn 3 which was fair.

Payback is part of the sport and Larson did not have an issue with it either, even though he did not win.

Sunday’s race was a perfect example of the drivers going 100 percent all day. With no dominant car, realistically, anybody in the top 10 throughout the race felt like they had a shot to win. The drivers made that race incredible on Sunday, along with the extremely hot conditions.  The high temps made the racing surface slick, which leads to the kind of racing that was displayed.

Will we always see a race like this at Chicago? No, unfortunately, probably not. But Chicago has aged well, and if it keeps the summer date, it should normally be hot and create racing like this every year, or at least we could hope. Yes NASCAR could change the cars to make them more like they used to be when we saw the best racing, but that would not be until a new design comes out, and that may be a while if it happens at all.  

The point is, NASCAR needs more races like Sunday to bounce back. We know ratings are low, as well as attendance, but more races like Sunday, no matter who the drivers are, could help the sport. Personally, I would like to see the horsepower back in the cars like we had in 2014, and see what we would have for racing.

As for what NASCAR can do right now, there is not much. Like I said, it helps when there is not one dominant driver and the race is unpredictable. If, somehow, we have more races with no clear cut favorite throughout, we will see NASCAR improve overall and the racing will be much better at the front of the field. That is basically the idea. Heading to Daytona, it should be a good race, but being a restrictor plate track, it’s wide open as to who can win.

About the author

Brandon is a 22-year-old from NY and has been a passionate follower of motorsports for 14 years now. He recently graduated from Molloy College on Long Island with a BA in Communications. Working within NASCAR has been a dream for Brandon for a while, and he hopes to be able to live out the dream in the very near future.

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