Monday, February 24, 2014

COMMENTARY: NASCAR Fumbles Tandem Drafting Rule

NASCAR set an ambitious goal for itself prior to the start of the 2014 season, saying it would attempt to eliminate tandem drafting in restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega.

The sanctioning body informed teams last month that drivers who attempted to execute tandem drafting maneuvers during Speedweeks 2014 at Daytona would be summarily black flagged, in an effort to improve competition by eliminating the nose-to-tail, two-car drafts that gained competitors more than four miles per hour over traditional drafting formations in recent seasons. 

“It’s a simple rule,” said Nationwide Series director Wayne Auton at the time. “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.” 

Unfortunately, NASCAR’s “simple rule” proved difficult – if not impossible – to fairly enforce.

On Lap 85 of the scheduled 120-lap event, RAB Racing driver James Buescher became the first driver to run afoul of NASCAR’s new tandem drafting ban. Running behind former Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, the 2013 Camping World Truck Series titlist was black-flagged when officials said he locked bumpers with Keselowski in attempt to navigate Daytona’s tricky outside lane.

Despite ESPN in-car footage that showed the cars bumping repeatedly, but never locking bumpers, Buescher was summoned to pit road by NASCAR to serve a pass-through penalty. Keselowski was not sanctioned, leaving Buescher baffled, confused and angry.

Buescher (99) busted.
“(NASCAR) said if you bounce off the car in front of you, there’s no call,” said Buescher after a disappointing, 16th-place finish. “As far as I’m concerned, there was only bouncing. I never locked the bumper. We had been bouncing off of everybody’s bumpers all day. Everybody had.”
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton disagreed, insisting that ESPN’s cameras had failed to capture the entire incident. He also explained NASCAR’s decision to penalize only Buescher, saying the Texas driver "was more the aggressor in the situation.”

That explanation ran contrary to every utterance made by the sanctioning body since the rule was introduced on January 12. Not once since their initial announcement has NASCAR made any mention of “aggressors.” 

Instead, a parade of NASCAR officials has insisted – one after another -- that it takes two to tango. NASCAR repeatedly pledged to penalize both drivers for violations of the tandem drafting rule, doggedly insisting that the technique only works when both leader and pusher work together, as one.  

NASCAR talked the talk, but they failed to walk the walk.

The sanctioning body blew the call -- first time out of the box – by convicting Buescher on sketchy evidence, while letting Keselowski go free. They then compounded the error by missing (or overlooking) several more egregious violations in the race’s final laps. Keselowski, Kyle Busch and others locked bumpers for most of the final two laps in an effort to overhaul eventual winner Regan Smith, yet somehow failed to incur the wrath of NASCAR.

“They had to make an example out of somebody,” said a steaming Buescher afterward. “I saw people that actually had their bumpers locked and didn’t get penalties, so I’m still a little bit baffled by it. We were running solidly in the Top-10 all day and probably would have had a Top-5 finish, if not a shot at the win. It really is unfortunate.”
One month ago, I wrote in this space that, “on the final lap of next month’s “DRIVE4COPD 300” at Daytona, someone will absolutely attempt to – excuse the verbiage – push the envelope. NASCAR will 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. 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.” 

Those words seem sadly prophetic today, as NASCAR scrambles to explain how such a clearly stated rule could be so poorly -- and unfairly -- implemented.

Pemberton pledged to speak with drivers and teams after the race, to solicit opinions on the new rules package. The feedback he received cannot have been positive.

Photo: Mike DiNovo - USAToday


  1. Completely agree. Felt so bad for 99 car when it was called, especially as a potential season points contender. Then later actual "violations" were overlooked - and by non points contenders - which could / should have been a better target to display their seriousness of the new rule.

    1. Not to mention the fact that less than a half a lap prior to the 99 getting penalized, TV coverage showed Kyle Busch actually pushing the car in front of him for about 3/4 a lap...yet no penalty for KB.....

  2. SPOT ON. Nascar continues to screw up and who suffers.

  3. How, lets let the drivers drive their cars to the best of their ability in an attempt to win the race? This rule is just stupid, any fool can see it is stupid. Instead of admitting their mistake in drafting, then executing this rule they go back to the typical denial. No matter what the actual video evidence shows they will insist they were right and it happened. This alone with the attempt for contrived outcomes, aka, the new Chase format is truly pushing this long time fan away from the sport. I am a fan they want, one who attends races, listens to SiriusXM, watches TV, etc. But, instead of pulling me into the sport they are pushing me away from it.

  4. I agree, but a short observation! Is Angie rubbing off on you... You had to errors.When officials he locked? Planned to peak with drivers? LOL ....Love the blog and the show

    1. "To" errors? Or two? LOL, none of us are immune, Steve!

    2. I know are the best radio announcer ever follow by a distant 2nd mike bagley :-)

  5. Anonymous2:32 PM

    I couldn't understand why NASCAR penalized one guy, then let the race finish with Smith being pushed by Bayne, and Busch pushing Brad for so long. It tarnished what was an otherwise good race.

    The saying in fighting goes... "Never leave it in the judges hands." Unfortunately, the drivers can't keep the judges sticking their hands into the result.

    Nobody pays hard earned money to come out and watch the ref. Just because people say after the race- "Did you see that call?!" -doesn't mean it was a highlight.

    Steve from Livermore

  6. You give the drivers an aero package to work with. Let them drive the cars any way they need to. NASCARs constant meddling is what is driving the long time fans away

  7. Anonymous3:07 PM

    All of the above is very typical of the enforcement of the rules over the last 10 years. You can’t treat one team one way and then turn around and treat another team differently when the same infraction occurs on the track. NASCAR wonders why people think the sport is fixed/rigged. It is calls like the one you wrote about when compared to your other example that provides fuel for the fire.

    On a side note, I know the 55-mile an hour rule on pit lane is set in stone. However, to penalize the 5 car for it when Kasey Kane was attempting to stay out of a crash was stupid. That would be like a police officer writing a ticket to a husband/wife driving over the speed limit to get his/her spouse to the hospital for a medical emergency. You have to think the totality of the circumstances through before attempting any enforcement action. NASCAR didn’t think it through and they looked foolish for enforcing something that the 5 car wasn’t attempting to gain an advantage from nor would have gained anything from. He was reacting to a car sliding towards him in an uncontrolled skid. Did NASCAR expect him to keep his speed under 55 and risk personal injury?


  8. Sorry NASCAR I watch the entire race you blew rule call on more than 3 times that I seen

  9. Thank you Dave. As soon as I heard that James had been flagged and NO mention of Brad, I knew NASCAR had exhibited another case of the "Consistent Inconsistencies" that plague them. After I had seen how well they handled the Richmond debacle, my shaken confidence in NASCAR's hierarchy steadied a bit. After what they did to Toyota and it's engine program (Restrictor plates for them and no one else) I had lost all respect for NASCAR's standing as a legitimate sanctioning body. Now, after the NNS race and what they did to James and NOT Brad, I find myself back in the same place. I'll continue to watch the races but, NASCAR's reactions to rules violations will not surprise me any longer. France, Auton, Pemberton et al had better not be surprised by the fans confusion.

  10. They indeed fumbled the No-Tandem rule because they never thought out that there is no need for one. The idea that NASCAR has to police this is wrong - it bears repeating that the way tandem drafting was evolving to now, the negatives associated with it were evolving out of it - all shown in the Talladega Truck 250 last October, where tandems were passing at will, but the push-vehicle of a tandem immediately bailed on the leader once a tandem got into the clear; conventional drafts were also keeping up with tandems and in fact catching up to them once a tandem or two got into the clear.

    If they'd simply left it alone for all the series, then what we saw in the Talladega Truck 250 would become the norm for all three series. The racing this Speedweeks was overall great, yet still would have benefitted from allowing more push-drafting.

    The bottom line remains - NASCAR has got to figure out the best way is to let go control of the racing; take control from the officiating tower and give it back to the racers, be it push-drafting, "out of bounds" lanes that have no business being there, etc.

  11. On top of the difficulty in officiating it, the new rule really didn't make for a better race either (in my opinion). Last year's Nationwide race had 34 lead changes amongst 20 drivers. 2012's race had 38 lead changes amongst 16 drivers. Yesterday's 'no pushing' race had 9 lead changes amongst 6 drivers.

  12. Anonymous10:33 PM

    So, next plate race, NASCAR will make the front opening so small no one can go within 10 feet of another car/truck. And, I feel for the 5. Someone needs to remind the announcers that NASCAR does use discretion when a car speeds on pit road during/avoiding a wreck if the driver is trying to slow. Kasey barely sped to avoid a wreck. They could have given him a pass. It is not "automatic" or "by the computer" as they said on the air.

  13. Travis Anderson4:50 AM

    buescher was the 2012 camping world truck series champ, not 2013