Photo: ASP, Inc.

Throwback Thursday Theater: Restrictor Plates Come to New Hampshire

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After the tragic passing of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin in separate incidents earlier in the year due to stuck throttles at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NASCAR made the decision to implement horsepower robbing restrictor plates that are normally used at Daytona and Talladega for the September 2000 race on the flat one-mile oval.

Broadcaster Dick Berggren set the scene prior to the race, highlighting the unknown territory that teams and drivers were venturing into that day.

“In the wake of two fatal accidents here, NASCAR mandated the use of restrictor plates to slow the cars down. Restrictor plates have never been used on Winston Cup cars at New Hampshire or even a track like this and that has opened wide the gates of the great unknown. Teams have struggled with engine combinations, chassis setups, transmissions, and gear choices. Engines are down 300 horsepower. As a result, fuel mileage is up. Some teams can go 25 laps further than ever before. Some adapted Daytona engines to here; others adapted unrestricted engines to a plate. Everyone is running a combination they never ran before.

“The talk in the garage today is that the race could go to someone experienced and successful in cars with less power, NASCAR Busch Series cars, someone like Mark Martin. The advantage could go to those who have expended extraordinary effort, like Steve Park and Jeff Burton, who tested at a similar track in Milwaukee. All hope that their car will be fastest, but mostly, all hope that the race will be safe. Just let them race safe.”

Points leader Bobby Labonte would score the pole after qualifying was washed out and would be joined by Jeff Burton on the outside of the front row. When the green flag dropped, Labonte stumbled, allowing Burton to jump into the lead and from that point on, he never looked back.

Though Burton dominated throughout the race, which turned into a big game of follow the leader, his clean sweep of the day almost came undone in the closing laps. After the final caution and a red flag with 10 laps to go for a five-car pileup, Bobby Labonte had his best shot to get by Burton and spoil Burton’s perfect race.

With six laps to go, Labonte was able to get his No. 18 Pontiac out ahead of Burton momentarily, but Burton was able to rocket right back by him to lead the final six laps and complete his sweep of the day, leading wire-to-wire to win for the first time since Cale Yarborough did so at Nashville in 1978. The win also marked the fourth straight year that Burton won a race at New Hampshire.

“To lead every lap, never knew you could do that in any form of racing,” said Burton. “It’s a great day for us. The guys worked real hard. They earned it. They worked their butts off all week. We went to Milwaukee, spent a full day testing, and put a lot of effort into this when they announced the rules. We went after it and went after it aggressively.

“I need to say thank you to Bobby Labonte. He drove me really clean there at the end. I pinched him off pretty tight and he let me go. He could have stayed in there. Would have easily been able to say it was my fault. I appreciate him doing that for me.”

Meanwhile, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt was not amused with the use of the restrictor plates at New Hampshire after he finished 12th.

“It’ll take me a while to put it into words. They just overreacted,” Earnhardt said. “It was just sorry racing to me. I hope to hell we don’t do it anymore.”

“Race cars are race cars, not late model stock cars. They put late model stock cars on short tracks for kids to learn how to race. I guess NASCAR knows what they want. If they want sorry racing for the fans, that’s what they want. If I was a race fan, I wouldn’t buy a ticket to a restrictor-plate race on a short track.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.