"It's not a knee-jerk reaction. It's an end result of a lot of thought process and elimination of other options," Mike Helton, NASCAR's senior vice president and chief operating officer, said at a news conference.
So far, the change will be in effect only for next weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway, affecting the Dura Lube 300 Winston Cup race on Sunday and Saturday's NASCAR Busch North Series event.
The accidents that killed Petty and Irwin in almost the same spot in Turn 3 on the 1.058-mile track have been blamed on stuck throttles, and Helton said NASCAR looked into several options before making its decision.
The process included placing material on the walls at the raceway and then crashing cars into it in the hope the substance would lessen the impact on drivers and cars, and other mechanical options, Helton said.
"We still walked away with a lot of unanswered questions," he said. With the race fast approaching, restrictor plates became the answer.
"It might be one of those cases where the track hasn't changed in 10 years," Helton said. "What has changed is the speed of the cars going around the race track, and so if that's a relative issue for next weekend, we know how to slow cars down. We've done it at Daytona and Talladega."
Bob Bahre, owner of New Hampshire International Speedway, said NASCAR officials told him their decision Friday night.
"NASCAR certainly knows what they're doing for safety. So if that's what they want, that's fine with me," Bahre said.
"I don't think it has anything to do with the track," he added. "They had these throttles stick lately.
"So how the hell do you blame the track or me or anybody else for a stuck throttle?"
Restrictor plates have been used only at Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR's longest and fastest ovals. The plates restrict airflow to the carburetor, sapping horsepower from the engine and slowing cars down.
At New Hampshire, the plates are expected to reduce speeds by about 10 mph, said Gary Nelson, director of NASCAR's Winston Cup series.
When it was suggested that engineers and others working on teams have eventually managed to find more speed from other sources when racing with the plates, Nelson said "it would almost take magic" in this case.
Some wners and drivers reacted angrily to the news, but others like defending series champion Dale Jarrett agreed something had to be done.
"I applaud NASCAR for doing what they can do," Jarrett said. "I realize that they tried to make a lot of different things work and just because it sounds like a simple solution, there is no simple solution."
Jack Roush, the owner of five teams, said the race would be "a crapshoot" because teams would be trying to figure out how best to get more speed, a dicey proposition under new conditions at the speedway.
Bahre suggested drivers were overreacting to the conditions on a track that has hosted a variety of races over a decade.
"Drivers should be raising hell about their own cars. It's their cars with the throttles sticking," he said.
Helton agreed that the competitors universally don't like restrictor plate racing, but said making a decision to please them "is not as big an issue to us and being sure we take the time to do the right thing.
"We're big boys," he said. "We'll take the heat."
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed