Thursday, January 21, 2010

NASCAR Issues Rule Changes for 2010 Sprint Cup Series

Photo Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images

Emphasized as a 'back to basics' approach, the NASCAR press conference confirmed some of the growing rumours which had been surfacing the past week in auto racing media.

The headlining announcement regarded a monumental rule change to the Car of Tomorrow-style Sprint Cup stock car. In the 2010 season, the older-style rear spoiler will replace the symbolic wing which had adorned the truck lid since the vehicle debuted part-time in 2007. While the rear wing is remaining in place for the Daytona 500 as well as for many of the first races of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, some speculation had pointed at the short track of Bristol Motor Speedway being the launch pad for the reintroduction of the spoiler. However, NASCAR indirectly dispelled that rumour since a test date for the rear spoiler is set three days after the Bristol race on March 23 and 24th at Charlotte. "Over the last couple of years, there have been dozens of changes to this car, with this being the most visible change," said NASCAR's Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton. While Pemberton acknowledges the COT was a work in progress even after two seasons of full season competition, this recent change goes against the grain of the leadership of NASCAR which had remained stubborn to making adjustments to the new Sprint Cup vehicle. In fact NASCAR Chairman Brian France, in a November 2008 interview, had once commended their stance than saying "..we got a lot of pressure back in May to make changes on the Car of Tomorrow because it wasn't driving as well as it could and all those things. And we're very pleased that we didn't cave to that pressure..". Concerned with adding additional cost to the Sprint Cup teams in adapting their race vehicles to new rules, NASCAR's more recent intervention into improving the competition on-track has likely caused the sanctioning body to reexamine the criticized Car of Tomorrow.

Another rule change dealing with the mechanical aspect of the Sprint Cup cars see a larger restrictor plate between the carburetor and intake manifold of the engines at Daytona and Talladega. Propping up horsepower, this move is also going to allow drivers to gain throttle response which translates to better acceleration control by drivers.

In the final issues of NASCAR's press conference about the Sprint Cup series of 2010, the division will no longer institute special driving rules at the restrictor plate races starting with the season premiere Daytona 500. For Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR had for years set measures meant to tone-down aggressive bump-drafting and passes made in potentially risky areas of the race track. For many years, the yellow lane running along the lower part of the speedway of those two ovals were also considered the "Out-of-bounds Line" or "No Passing Zone" by NASCAR. Aimed to prevent cars from racing and potentially losing control on flat, slippery parts of race tracks, cars passing another competitor below that line were subjected to penalties.

One of the most popular incidents relating to this line occurred in the fall Talladega race of 2008 where Regan Smith ran his vehicle just under the line to pass Tony Stewart before the start/finish line. Smith was penalized in the end results falling to 18th place for the pass deemed illegal by NASCAR Sprint Cup officials. Smith protested his penalty after the race saying that he was forced down because of Stewart cutting off the legal race line. Whether Stewart had forced Smith below the yellow line, leaders of restrictor plate races often used the yellow line rule out of the spirit of the initiate in protecting their position. In the spring race at Talladega this past season, the yellow lane rule actually demonstrated itself as a liability when Carl Edwards protected the bottom of the legal racing zone. Brad Keselowski, running second and full of momentum thanks to a push from Earnhardt Jr, chose to go through the #99 Ford Fusion. The result was a dangerous crash which saw Edward's go airborne and crash down the front stretch. Catching some other cars including Ryan Newman, a NASCAR spectator also required medical attention cause of flying debris. This incident repeated again at the July race at Daytona as Kyle Busch led to the checkered flag before receiving a punt from the #14 Chevrolet of Tony Stewart. Stewart came out the victor while Busch received a rough ride and a hard shot from the #9 Dodge of Kasey Kahne. In effect, the No Passing Zone had created accidents.

Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR

More recent and even less popular driving rules had NASCAR policing where bump-drafting could take place on the racetrack. Acknowledging NASCAR as a contact sport, Chairman Brian France removed the no passing zones and no bump-drafting zones from being concerns for the drivers. Regaining full movement on the track, drivers new freedom comes with responsibility racing with some common sense. NASCAR Sprint Cup officials will wisely remind every competitor that while some restrictor plate racing rules have been relaxed, racing at 200 miles per hour is no reason for drivers to relax their responsibility to themselves and 42 other drivers.

As the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season nears, fans can almost hear the push rod-driven V8 engines circulating the 2.5 mile of Daytona International Speedway promising to be the first of 36 unique races. NASCAR's new rules could become a game changer to conventional wisdom which had guided us through 2009 Sprint Cup season.

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