Time to take the plates off, eventually
Talladega Superspeedway is a fun racetrack - one of the greatest and fastest in motorsports. Its high banking and wide surface allow cars to travel wide open and bump draft each other. But this characteristic sent speeds past 210 mph and eventually almost put Bobby Allison's No. 22 in the grandstands in 1988. NASCAR reacted by adding the plates, which was the right move at that time. But unlike, say, the plates temporarily used at New Hampshire in 2000 after two deaths that year at the track, NASCAR has left the plates on the racecars and created utterly random races at two of its crown jewel tracks.
As the level of competition has increased in NASCAR, especially in the Sprint Cup Series, the drop off between the leaders and the losers is much less. So when teams strap on plates four races per year to lower the max speed for each engine, almost every car can hit that speed. The ensuing big packs make for exciting racing action, but also lead to big crashes caused by small errors or bad circumstance. Strategy in these races matters little, as a driver is more than willing to give up track position to ride behind the pack, because they know they can just as easily push right up to the front.
Most races see a smattering of strategy, handling, moves, and mechanical wear that affect the topography of the running order. A driver is working the entire race to put themselves in a position to win. At Daytona and Talladega, having a super-fast rig to keep one in contention is not even that important. Running in the top 15 the entire race matters little. Leading laps is only important to retain bonus points - not to build an advantage. So what looks to be an exciting 40-car, 500-mile mad dash, is really just a nervous waiting game. Driver skill and mechanical prowess mean so much less with restrictor plates on the cars rather than other races.
NASCAR needs to put a long-term plan in place to get the restrictor plates off. When last tested without plates, a Cup car could reach close to 230mph. To battle the inevitable case of crash debris injuring fans, NASCAR would need to eliminate 20-30 rows (just an estimate) of lower seating, which shouldn't be a big loss, because attendance isn't exactly overflowing these days. It also would need to re-enforce the fencing at the two tracks owned by its parent company, International Speedway Corporation. Goodyear would have to develop a tire that wouldn't blister at the high speeds. Tire durability is what caused NASCAR's biggest stars to sit out the inaugural Talladega race in 1969 - that would be an issue, but it is a fixable one. The NASCAR R&D Center would need to work on chassis and safety technology to bolster both for the high speeds. And that is why this would need to be a long-term plan - just like the kind of plan NASCAR would implement to introduce a new racecar.
Don't think that non-restricted races would be unexciting. I have watched older Daytona and Talladega races on YouTube (you should before you argue against this) and they are just as good…and much less random. Big crashes can still happen, but not ones that decimate the entire field. The lead changes quite a bit (remember the slingshot pass?), but drivers have to fight to get there and don't just end up there by chance. And drivers can't ride around in 30th and wait. They need to be in the lead pack the entire time, lest they get lapped and lose.
Making races less random needs to be an overall goal for the sport. Races need a plot and a story that only really matters in the last scene is not a good one. Fans would react in a negative way if the plates went away, but the racing would be better and would likely bring even more fans back to the sport in the long run. Drivers would be happier and the sensation of speed and danger would be unlike ever before. Even though the pack is dangerous, the middle laps of both Talladega races this weekend mattered little. All 188 laps should have an impact - not just the last one. And that is a problem for both the sanctity of racing and the good of the sport. Take the restrictor plates off, NASCAR; put a plan in place to do it. My instinct says it never would happen, because of the marketing problem it would cause. And, unfortunately, marketing is what drives the sport we love these days.