Thursday, January 21, 2010

NASCAR To Drivers: "Boys, Have At It."

NASCAR met with the media today as part of the annual Sprint Cup Series Media Tour. In stark contrast to past seasons when announcements were often few and trivial in nature, the sanctioning body announced a number of wide-ranging changes that are sure to have a major impact on the sport.

The most noteworthy of today’s announcements was the confirmation that NASCAR will become less involved in policing on-track activity this season.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France set the tone for the season, saying, “It’s a contact sport, (and) we’re going to have an eye on putting things back in the drivers’ hands. We’re going to loosen up a bit. We want to see what you want to see; more contact with drivers mixing it up. That’s the goal for 2010 and beyond.”

NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton added the specifics, confirming that the sanctioning body will lift its restriction on bump-drafting at Daytona and Talladega. “The bump drafting regulation as we’ve known it will be eliminated.

"`Boys, have at it,’ is all we are going to say.”

The so-called “yellow line rule” will remain in effect from green to checkered flag at both Daytona and Talladega.

NASCAR President Mike Helton said the “hands off” approach was already being implemented at the end of last season. “If you look at 2009 -- especially the last couple of races in the Nationwide Series with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski and the Sprint Cup Series with Montoya and Stewart -- we gave them a lot of latitude,” said Helton. “Eventually, we had to say `Enough is enough,’ but I think there was less of a reaction from NASCAR than you would have seen a few years ago.

“There’s the old saying that, `If you ain’t rubbing you ain’t racing, and I think that’s what our fans and stake holders have always bought into,” said Helton. “However, we also have to maintain order. There are a lot of steps we have to take to insure the safety of our fans and competitors. We know today that this car is much safer than it was five or six years ago, and the race tracks are too. That balances into our equation.”

Outgoing Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby said the drivers “will be their own governing body. They will have to help each other and police each other at the same time.”

NASCAR also addressed restrictor plates, with Pemberton confirming that a 63/64-inch restrictor plate will be mandated for this year’s Daytona 500, the largest in many years. “We think it’s important to give the drivers a little more horsepower and throttle response,” he said.

Pemberton also confirmed a test of NASCAR’s new rear spoiler package at Charlotte Motor Speedway on March 23-24, with implementation to follow as soon as practically possible. He said he expects the new spoiler to add stability and “a little bit of drag” to new Sprint Cup aerodynamic package.

France insisted that the change was not implemented as a result of Ryan Newman’s airborne crash at Talladega last fall. In fact, he said the decision was almost completely competitive in nature, adding, “If we didn’t think the racing would be improved by replacing the wing with a spoiler, we wouldn’t have done it."

In response to a media question, Pemberton said NASCAR has been developing and researching fuel injection systems for 6-8 months, and that teams have been testing early prototypes. “We are shooting for early 2011,” he said, “though that may be overly optimistic.”

NASCAR also announced the adoption of double-file “shootout style” restarts for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2010, along with a return to conventional, single-stop pitting with a limit of six crewmembers over the wall. There will also be a “spec engine” option for the trucks on tracks of 1.25-miles or less.

And finally, there will be a new title sponsor for the 2010 Regional Series. K&N Filters will replace Camping World, with the series’ now known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West. K&N’s sponsorship contract is for seven years.

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