There have been nine races so far on the NASCAR circuit and Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have won six of them. Neither, however, is the favorite to win this Sunday’s Geico 500 at famed Talladega Superspeedway, and even more drivers might be in the mix because of a decision by officials on Friday.

McMurray crash
Jamie McMurray’s car goes airborne in Friday’s practice, but the was unhurt and will race Sunday. (Image: YouTube)

The iconic 2.66-mile Alabama track requires drivers to use restrictor plates, and after a crash on Friday, officials reduced the plates from 7/8 of an inch to 55/64th of an inch in an effort to slow the cars down even further.

That device is a square aluminum plate that has four holes drilled into it and is installed between the carburetor and the intake manifold. What that does is reduce the air flow and fuel into the engine, thus reducing horsepower and speed.

Restrictor plates have been around since 1988. NASCAR officials required their use to promote driver and fan safety. Drivers and pit crew chiefs argue they have had the opposite effect. They say it bunches drivers together and can actually produce crashes that involve more cars.

Daytona also uses restrictor plates for the two races it hosts.

More Facilities May Opt for Device

Brett Griffin, spotter for Clint Bowyer, said on his podcast with fellow spotter, T.J. Majors of Joey Logano’s team, cars in races at Charlotte Motor Speedway will now be required to use that equipment.

Griffin said on his show that it will adversely affect the sport.

“Let me just tell you this, if they’re trying to accomplish pack racing at mile and a halfs, you’re getting ready to see a bunch of guys retire,” Griffin said. “Everybody over 35 years old is gonna go, ‘Hey, I’m done. I’ve made my money. I’ve had my fun. I’m not pack racing every week. I’m out.’”

But restrictor plates appear to be staying, at least at Talledega, and on Friday NASCAR officials announced they were making a rules change for Sunday’s race. They announced that they reduced the size of the engine restrictor plates from 7/8 of an inch to 55/64th of an inch in an effort to slow the cars.

This was in response to Jamie McMurray’s crash on Friday during the last practice race. McMurray’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet went airborne before tumbling end over end. McMurray, who is 40/1 to win on Sunday, walked to a waiting ambulance, but said he was not hurt.

“I think I blew a left rear tire out,” McMurray said. “When you’re going that fast and you go sideways you kind of know someone is going to hit you.”

Race Could be Wide Open

Brad Keselowski is the favorite at 6/1, followed by Denny Hamlin and Logano at 8/1. Harvick is at 10/1 and Busch is 12/1. Keselowski is the favorite partly because of his success here. He won the race in the fall at Talladega and has finished first there four other times, including 2016 and 2014.

One driver to think about is Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won the race last year and also won the summer race at Daytona. He is at 12/1. He told Motor Racing Network that he feels this could be the race that helps him out of his 2018 slump.

“We’ve had a really bad start to the season,” Stenhouse said. “If I look at where we are in points versus how I feel we’ve ran, we’re in a pretty fortunate position right now.”