The last time a driver went into the catch fence, we had a major rule change. Why not today?
In order to understand the reason behind restrictor plates, you have to put yourself in Bill France Jr.’s shoes. NASCAR was dominated by mostly General Motors. The Wood Brothers had success in their Mercury, but they were only on a limited schedule.
In 1985, Chevrolet had NASCAR’s biggest car owner, Junior Johnson, and the defending cup champion, Darrell Waltrip.
However, little did they know, there was a young family from Dawsonville, Ga., ready to steal some of Waltrip’s fire.
We first heard of Bill Elliott when he won at Riverside in 1983, and he would win four races in 1984, opening eyes for the first time in his young career.
It was 1985 however, that would put Bill Elliott on the map. He dominated the 1985 season, winning three (Daytona 500, Winston 500, Southern 500) of NASCAR’s big four (Daytona 500, Winston 500, World 600, Southern 500) and winning a million dollars, giving him the nickname “Million Dollar Bill.”
In 1985, Elliott and his No. 9 team would sail to 11 victories in 29 races. It was clear that Bill would be on everyone’s radar for several years to come.
Elliott’s success on superspeedways would continue. Bill’s Brother Ernie would make a very fast engine and added to Bill’s patience, they would be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
The Harry Melling racing team would dominate the Superspeedway races. Winning 10 poles and four races with 6 top 2 finishes in 12 starts.
However, it was one May afternoon that gave NASCAR a warning that something needed to be done.
Bill Elliott fell two laps down and the whole field thought that Cale Yarborough now had the car to beat. They were right; Cale was fast.
However, Bill showed his skill and his power when he passed the whole field and went one lap down. Surely, no one could come from two laps down to win.
However, when Bill passed the leaders again to get back on the lead lap, people became concerned. Now, the best team had their lap back.
When Bill passed leader Cale Yarborough, people thought he might be making up another lap. That was until they looked up at the leaderboard and saw “9” was in the first position. Awesome Bill had made up two laps under green.
He was down five miles and won. It was clear to everyone, that Bill Elliott was too good on Superspeedways. When Ernie’s engines would become more durable, no one could stop him.
NASCAR, however, tried to. During several races during that span, NASCAR made Bill and Bill only raise his roof 1/2 inch, trying to slow Bill Elliott down. They made him run a carburetor plate and he’d still win. It was just a matter of time, NASCAR would fix this “problem” they had.
So in 1987, when Bill Elliott set the fastest lap ever created, NASCAR was thinking of a way to change the racing at Talladega and Daytona.
Then, unexpectedly Bobby Allison’s No. 22 Buick went flying into the stands and breaking the catch fence. Fans were injured and NASCAR had an excuse to slow the cars down.
So the next time we came to Talladega, NASCAR issued the whole field to run a smaller carburetor. The speeds were down from 212.809 mph to 203.827 mph. The smaller carburetor worked.
However, the pole sitter and winner did not change. Bill Elliott dominated that event, leading 72 of the day’s 188 laps. The smaller carburetor worked on slowing the speed down, but not Bill Elliott.
So NASCAR created a new idea. In 1988, they issued a restrictor plate to slow the cars down. Since that day, the racing at Daytona and Talladega have been more dangerous then ever before.
(Exerts By Clayton Caldwell, Correspondent – Apr 30, 2009)