Drivers debate plate change at Talladega practice

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- A smooth surface leads to increased speeds, and Busch Series teams showed that Talladega Superspeedway hadn't lost much speed after a track repaved last summer had some time to cure.

Mike Wallace hit 197.342 mph in the draft during Thursday's first practice session for Saturday's Aaron's 312 and NASCAR was quick to react. By the time the second practice session started, the carburetor restrictor plates had been changed from 15/16 of an inch to 29/32 of an inch, lessening speeds by more than 4 mph.

Mike Bliss paced the second session with a speed of 193.162, followed by Ward Burton (192.684), Brent Sherman (192.305), Martin Truex Jr. (192.072) and Greg Biffle (191.723).

In the first session, Wallace was followed by Tony Stewart (197.195 mph), J.J. Yeley (19.435), Jon Wood (195.804) and Marcos Ambrose (195.329). In that session, Truex' speed of 191.954 was only good for 30th.

NASCAR said the change was made in the interest of safety, and while some drivers didn't necessarily think it was needed, they didn't argue the decision, either. Truex, winner of the past three Busch races here, understood the decision and said it didn't matter to him since all the cars will still be running the same sized plates.

"I didn't think [it was too fast], but it's hard to tell," Truex Jr. said between practices. "We only had about 10-car drafts. And when you've got all 43 cars out there, it gets a whole lot faster. The bigger the pack, the faster it goes. I guess we were kind of flirting with speeds where if we got in a bigger pack we probably would have got going too fast."

Clint Bowyer, who won last week at Phoenix, was 21st in the first session and 31st in the second session. Prior to the second session, he said he wished they'd mandated the smaller plate from the outset.

"I was kind of expecting it, it's no big deal," Bowyer said. "It's a shame because you go out there and chase what gear to run and we changed it two or three times [during practice] and now they changed [the plate], and now you're going right back to what you knew [from the past]. So I wish they had just done it before we came here."

Wallace, who ran the Nextel Cup and Craftsman Truck Series races at the track last fall, said the new pavement makes it easy on the drivers.

"So easy a caveman can do it," he said, paying a nod to his sponsor. "It didn't seem fast at all. I was shocked [to hear they were changing the plates]. I hope they didn't overreact. The cars drove very good, they were very stable and the race track's very fast."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN