NASCAR drivers will no longer be able to get out of their cars to angrily confront another driver in a moving vehicle.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton made the announcement Friday morning. The rule is in effect immediately, but no specific penalty was announced for violation of the rule.
"During an event if a race car is involved in an on-track incident, and/or is stopped on or near the racing surface, and unable to continue, to make forward progress," Pemberton said, reading from the new rule. "Unless extenuating circumstances or conditions exist with the race car, example on fire, smoke in the cockpit, etc, the driver should take the following steps: shut off all electrical power and if the driver is uninjured, lower the window net. Do not loosen, disconnect or remove any driver personal safety equipment until directed to do so by safety personnel or a NASCAR official. After being directed to exit the race car, the driver should proceed to the ambulance or other vehicle or as otherwise directed by safety personnel or a NASCAR official."
"At no time should a driver or crew member or members approach any portion of the racing surface or apron. At no time should a driver, crew member or members approach another moving vehicle. All vehicles not involved in the incident or that are able to continue afterward should slow down to a cautious speed as outlined in [NASCAR rule] 10.4: yellow flag rules."
The rule is in response to the incident with Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park Saturday night. After Ward hit the wall, he unstrapped himself from the car and walked down the track to confront Stewart. He was hit by Stewart's car and killed.
"It was one of those that was obviously, everybody paid attention to and [the rule] is on the heels of that," Pemberton said.
The rule will be applied on a case-by-case basis and drivers will likely have to show significant intent of a confrontation to be penalized.
Stewart is not racing at Michigan this weekend. Jeff Burton is driving in his place. The investigation into the incident is still ongoing and Stewart is not currently facing any criminal charges. Ward's funeral was Thursday.
After being involved in an incident, NASCAR drivers have not been prohibited from exiting their cars – angrily or not – before safety workers arrive. Many times if a driver is unhurt and even without circumstances like a fire, smoke or other factors, drivers quickly unbuckle their safety equipment, and begin the process of removing themselves from the vehicle before safety equipment arrives. That no longer is allowed.
And yes, this rule does eliminate the possibility of a helmet-throwing confrontation at the risk of severe penalties. Brad Keselowski admitted Tuesday that those type of confrontations had become a big part of the sport.
"I would say it has become that way, there's no doubt about that," Keselowski said. "I think if you look at the highlight reels that are shown, you think of Bristol, you think of Tony, other drivers at Bristol that have been known for it, Danica, whatnot. It certainly has become common, accepted practice."
Pemberton said Friday that safety trumped everything though it may take some time for fans to realize that the possibility of confrontation no longer exists. However, with what happened on Saturday night, our view of on-track confrontations had already been significantly altered.
"This rule is really put in place for the safety of all our competitors and it's safety first right now," Pemberton said.
Following the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, NASCAR made closed-face helmets and head and neck restraints mandatory for all drivers. (Earnhardt was wearing an open-faced helmet and no head and neck restraint.) After ARCA driver Eric Martin was killed in a practice crash at Charlotte in 2002 in an incident that could have been prevented with spotters stationed on top of the grandstands, NASCAR made it mandatory that spotters were perched up high in spotters stands for all race-weekend sessions.
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