NASCAR’s New Policy: Is NASCAR Making Steps In The Right Direction?

NASCAR announced on Wednesday on its website that a new damage vehicle policy will go into effect for the 2017 Season. These rule changes apply to all three of NASCAR’s top tier series (Cup, Xfinity, and Truck).
NASCAR.com’s Kenny Bruce explains the new changes in policy: 

Under the guidelines, teams no longer will be allowed to replace damaged body parts that are the result of accidents or contact. Repairs, such as fixing damaged sheet metal, will be allowed; however, teams will be given five minutes to fix damage once they enter pit road. If the damage requires the car to go behind pit wall or to the garage for repairs, the car will not be allowed to return to the race. Also, if the repairs take longer than the five minutes allowed, the car will not be permitted to return to the race.”

In simple terms, it means that a race car that sustains a significant amount of damage that needs to go “behind the wall” (to the garage area) to repair some or all of the damage will not be allowed back onto the racetrack, thus giving the team and driver a DNF.

Kenny Bruce explains more about the policy: 

Once repairs have been made, a car is still required to maintain the minimum speed determined for that event. Once that has been accomplished, the five-minute clock is reset in case the car needs to come back down pit road.”

This means that if a race car sustains any type of damage during a race, teams who decide to have their driver bring the car down pit road to repair the car, whether it be under green flag conditions or during a caution period, have a total of five minutes once the car stops in its pit box. 

If the car’s damage is not repaired in five minutes, or if the car leaves the pit box late, they will be deemed ineligible to compete in the rest of the race. If the driver is able to return to the track before the allotted time is up, they must run at the minimum speed that NASCAR allows for that racetrack. 

If they are able to successfully complete this, then the clock is reset for the next time they need to make repairs on pit road. If they are not successful, then they will not be allowed to continue on in the race.

But what about drivers who suffer mechanical or electrical problems during the race? Not to worry. Kenny Bruce explains: 

Teams will be allowed to correct mechanical or electrical failures that aren’t the result of an accident or contact without penalty. Such repairs may be done on pit road or in the garage area, and the five-minute clock will not be in play in those instances.”

In other words, teams can take all the time they need to ensure their mechanical/electrical failures and/or Issues are fixed. They will be allowed to go to the garage to make those types of repairs without fear of being penalized. 

However, they will still have to maintain minimum speed once they return to the racetrack, or otherwise they will be forced to either try to find another way to fix the problem, or maybe even they will not be allowed to continue on in the race. 

So, are there any changes or modifications to penalties that occur on pit road? Yes. Kenny Bruce stated: 

Any driver receiving a pit-road speeding penalty (entry or exit) will lose 15 seconds from the five-minute clock. Any team sending too many men over the wall will result in that car being removed from the race.”

This means that at least two penalties have been altered thanks to the new policy, and maybe more could be changed during the season or after the season. A speeding penalty will reduce time from five minutes to four minutes and forty-five seconds. Those fifteen seconds could mean the difference between finishing a race, or taking an early exit. Will there be a “penalty limit” in which if a driver speeds on pit road multiple times in a race, will they be forced to park the car for the rest of the race?

Another penalty noted was that if a team sends more than six men over the wall (and one to service the driver and clean the windshield), they will be disqualified from the race. This rule is in place at all times during a race, even under a caution period.

Teams and drivers will have to be very careful this season, as drivers cannot be as aggressive as we have seen in previous seasons. Drivers will have to be more cautious and patient, as keeping their car clean and out of trouble will be a even bigger priority to winning a race, or even a Championship. Team members will have to be quick and careful while making repairs and serving the car during pit stops. Their actions could determine a driver’s finishing position more than ever with the new policy in play.

What can we expect from this change? Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, said this during an interview with NASCAR.com: 

“What they won’t see is stuff we don’t like to see, cars running around out there with stuff flying off. We don’t like that because it creates yellows, it creates debris for other cars to run over, it creates a dangerous situation. That’s what they won’t see. What they will see are quality cars on the race track racing one another.”

To summarize what Scott said, the changes were made to reduce the amount of cautions and to ensure the safety of the drivers, team members, and officials. He also mentions that this could lean toward seeing more competitive racing between “quality cars on the track.”

From a perspective of a member of NASCAR management, this move can be seen as a positive step in increasing the safety of the officials, drivers, and team members. Reducing the amount of work in the garage area going on during a race will lower the injury rate in which a team member gets hurt fixing a race car. 

It also makes the racetrack workers safer, as less cautions mean less times they would have to drive onto the racing surface and clear the racetrack of any debris and/or terminally-damaged race cars. There’s even a chance of seeing more cars finishing each race and races being more competitive with every position becoming more important than ever. 

If the goal for NASCAR was to improve safety overall, then this policy change is just what NASCAR needed. NASCAR did a great job in terms of increasing safety for everyone, not just for the officials, but for the team members and drivers too.

From a fan’s perspective, we are tired of seeing so many rule/policy changes by NASCAR after the end of every season. Can they just find a system that works and stick with it? We enjoyed the sport more when there were less rules and the drivers were able to “have at it.” 

We feel that like the NFL, NASCAR is becoming a shadow of its former self. We miss the days where “rubbin’s racing” and new driver rivalries were formed almost every other week. It is not completely gone yet, but we fear that one day drivers may not even allowed to make conatct with one another. 

While that won’t happen, we think less of safety, and more in terms of whether or not our favorite driver wins, or if we feel entertained. Who can blame us? We pay to watch/see live a race full of competitiveness, wrecks, and the occasional fight/argument between a couple of drivers. Our hard earned money go in to fund these events thirty-eight weeks a year, and we expect to get our money’s worth. All we want is NASCAR to listen to us and give us what we want once in a while. 

Even if it’s just the smallest thing. That goes a long way to regaining the popularity NASCAR once had. We want NASCAR to be taken seriously as a sport, but we don’t see it possible with all the changes every year. Make less changes and listen to us fans more, and maybe we’ll be taken more seriously again.

While I find it annoying with the constant changes NASCAR is making to their rules and policies each year, it it sometimes necessary. I honestly agree with NASCAR on this change of policy. I believe the racing will still be intense, while at the same time increasing and keeping everyone safer from potential dangers that come from damaged race cars. 

While I can understand completely where the NASCAR fans are coming from, not all of them, but some of them or even most fans need to be more open minded about the changes with the cars and safety (no offense to any NASCAR fans). As technology and the race cars continue to advance, so should overall safety of the drivers, team members, racetracks, and officials.

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