Bumping? That's just racin'. Wings? Who needs 'em? With a few key tweaks to the rule book, NASCAR hopes to rev up the on-track action and stoke fan interest
Imagine this scenario: Two drivers running nose to tail during Sunday's Daytona 500, banging into each other in every turn—hard. As the tension ratchets up and the laps wind down, one driver, let's call him Tony Stewart, slams so violently into the rear bumper of the other driver, let's call him Kyle Busch, that it causes Busch to crash into the wall and triggers a multicar wreck. The next week in Fontana, Calif., Busch, seeking retribution, intentionally dumps Stewart into the wall at 190 mph, causing another big pileup. And what does NASCAR do to punish Busch for this blatant act of retaliatory aggression? Absolutely nothing.
Welcome to the new NASCAR system of justice, where boys will be allowed to be boys, with officials no longer punishing drivers (at least not severely) for payback wrecks. That shift in policy is one of several rule changes instituted this off-season to encourage more aggressive driving and—NASCAR hopes—more exciting racing. Certainly the sport could use a shot of adrenaline; TV ratings and attendance have been falling for the last two years. "We're putting things back in the drivers' hands," NASCAR chairman Brian France said when announcing the rules changes in January. "We want to see drivers mixing it up. This is a contact sport and you're going to see more contact."
In the past NASCAR handed out penalties for rough driving that ranged from an enforced stop on pit road to being black-flagged from the race. But now it will be up to the drivers to police themselves "within reason," according to the new rules. "This is the way it should be," says Denny Hamlin. "We can take care of things ourselves, which is what they did back in the day."
Other rule changes include the following:
• Go ahead and bump
Bump drafting will be allowed all the way around the track at Daytona and Talladega. NASCAR previously had banned bump drafting—one car slamming into the rear of another to catapult both forward in an aerodynamic draft—in the corners because it often leads to wrecks.
• Let it flow
The carburetor restrictor plates used at Daytona and Talladega—which reduce airflow to the engine, thus limiting power and reducing speed—will have the largest air holes since 1989. The bigger openings will give the drivers increased horsepower, added speed and more throttle response.
• Taking wing