Sunday, January 12, 2014

COMMENTARY: Drafting Rule Needed, But Will It Work?

NASCAR implemented a new rule Sunday, banning tandem drafting in superspeedway events on the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.  

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.



  1. Robert G7:43 PM

    did they do the same as sprint cup? make radiator opening smaller and lower pressure? understand the safety aspect, but don't like umpire call? or the fact, as stated, that someone can get another driver flagged by drafting against their will. can you say Richmond all over again if one teammate does it to help another?

  2. We both grew up racing for promoters and sanctioning bodies that were pretty smart; they didn't write rules that couldn't be easily enforced. I agree that the tandem deal needs to go away, but a nose/rear cover redo that would make the big push impossible might have been a better solution, or in concert with the new rule. But what do I know.........

  3. Although I understand the safety concerns it is going to lead to a boring single lane race.

  4. I guess NASCAR is going for a hat trick by empting the rest of the grandstands ! When the TV contract is up, It will be "The End"

  5. You're 100% wrong, Dave. The Kyle Larson crash happened because a driver swerved sideways, bottled up the field, and Larson plowed in and hit the crossover gate. Tandem drafting had nothing to do with it.

    Tandem drafting is the biggest power to pass the sport has ever seen, and NASCAR's opposition to it has never been credible, because they can't make a case that taking away passing is good for the sport in any context. Hiding behind a wholly mythical fan opposition is dishonesty on NASCAR's part.

    NASCAR needs to do the right thing. If the trailing driver in a tandem is "driving blind," then mandate the rear spoiler be made of clear-vu material like we've seen used on the sharkfin of the cars. Moreover, as the Truck race at Talladega last October showed, the tandem draft has been evolving back toward pack racing because the push-driver in a tandem has stopped just staying there pushing the leader; now the push-driver has been passing the lead car once a tandem gets in the clear. And regular drafts have been keeping up with tandems.

    NASCAR needs to give us back 60-lead-change racing and otherwise leave things alone - let the drivers tandem draft all they want.