The sanctioning body informed Nationwide Series teams this weekend that drivers who attempt to execute tandem drafting maneuvers during Speedweeks 2014 at Daytona International Speedway will be summarily black flagged. A similar announcement will be made before Camping World Truck Series competitors hit the track on Monday morning. Nationwide Series Director Wayne Auton said the rule is intended to improve competition by eliminating the nose-to-tail, two-car drafts that gained competitors more than four miles per hour at Daytona and Talladega in recent seasons, compared to traditional pack racing.
“It’s a simple rule,” explained Auton. “If your bumpers are locked, you’re pushing. You can bump draft all you want, but don’t lock bumpers and push someone, or we’ll black-flag you both.”
Auton said NASCAR’s new decree was favorably received by Nationwide Series competitors this weekend. “I didn’t hear one single complaint from the drivers,” he said. “Everyone seemed happy with the rule, and comfortable with this weekend’s test. They say the cars are drivable and the race is in their hands now.”
Nationwide Series veteran Elliott Sadler said he believes the new rule boils down to a simple case of fan preference.
“NASCAR listens to its fans, and the fans have said they don’t like tandem drafting,” said the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. “The best way to police it is to outlaw it. It’s going to change the way we race at Daytona and Talladega, and it’s going to make pit stops more important. My only concern as a driver is that NASCAR needs to make the call the same way for everyone, every time.
|No more two-by-two drafting.|
“If I’m racing for the championship, I can’t afford to take a chance on the final lap by pushing someone,” he explained. “I can’t risk getting black flagged. But guys like Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick – who aren’t running for points -- don’t have to worry about that. They can take a chance and push away on the final lap.
“This only works if NASCAR is willing to make that black flag call.”
Brendan Gaughan, who returns to the Nationwide Series with Richard Childress Racing this season, said the sanctioning body’s new decree is a common-sense rule that should be easy to enforce.
“I know the difference between bumping and pushing, and so does everyone else,” he said. “We can get caught-up in, `How long does there have to be contact before a bump becomes a push?’ But we all know the answer. Bumping happens naturally when you’re running inches apart at 190 mph. Pushing – tandem drafting – is something that takes a good deal of concentration and effort to pull off.
“Personally, I won’t miss the tandem racing,” said Gaughan. “The trailing driver is essentially running blind, and that’s not a comfortable feeling. I prefer pack racing, where everyone makes their own move and drives their own car.”
In a perfect world, Gaughan is absolutely correct. Professional drivers – not to mention the officials who oversee their events – can differentiate between a simple bump and an attempted tandem draft. But in 2006, when NASCAR attempted to implement “No Bumping Zones” in the turns at Daytona and Talladega, the rule spawned a series of controversies as drivers, teams and fans bickered over just what qualified as “bumping,” and what did not.
I fear that this year may be more of the same.
On the final lap of next month’s “DRIVE4COPD 300” NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona, someone will absolutely attempt to – excuse the verbiage – push the envelope. NASCAR will then be placed in a position of deciding the outcome of the event, either by black-flagging a prime contender within sight of the checkered flag, or by swallowing the whistle and allowing the race to run to its logical conclusion.
|Too dangerous to continue...|
Either way, water cooler talk on Monday morning will center on the umpire, rather than the game. And that’s a bad thing, no matter how you slice it.
Finally, let’s discuss the 800-pound gorilla in the room. One year ago, the lead story on Daytona 500 Sunday was the previous day’s savage Nationwide Series crash that sent debris raining into the grandstands and injured a total of 28 fans; some of them seriously. That crash was directly attributable to tandem drafting, and a repeat could seriously jeopardize the future of the sport.
Fan and competitor safety are Job One, and NASCAR knows that superspeedway tandem drafting is too difficult, too volatile and too dangerous to continue.
Any move that increases safety, bolsters competition and pleases fans qualifies as a win/win for all parties, provided the umpire is able to remain a bit player.