DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- James Buescher knew someone would have to be the first driver penalized under NASCAR's new rule against tandem drafting in the Nationwide Series -- he just hoped it wouldn't be him.
But that's what happened Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, when the RAB Racing driver was black-flagged for apparently staying hooked up too long with Brad Keselowski, and forced to make a pass-through penalty as a result. Buescher was running eighth at the time of the penalty, and was able to stay on the lead lap and finish 16th, but afterward was unclear as to what he had done wrong.
"When they made the rule at the test, NASCAR said no locking of bumpers, front or rear," said Buescher, who won this race two seasons ago. "? They said if you bounce off the car in front of you, there's no call. As far as I'm concerned, there was only bouncing. Never locked the bumper. I haven't seen a replay, so I don't know exactly what they're saying was the time I got called on, but we had been bouncing off everybody's bumpers all day. Everybody had."
In a move to eliminate tandem drafting, NASCAR told Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series teams during January testing that locking bumpers would henceforth be a penalty at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, the sport's two restrictor-plate tracks. Buescher became the first driver to receive a penalty under the new rule.
"We felt that the 99 was more the aggressor in the situation," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, referring to Buescher's car number. "That's why the 99 got the penalty."
Although NASCAR has the option to penalize both drivers in a tandem drafting situation, Keselowski did not receive a black flag. "I believe we said we could penalize both if we wanted to, or either one," Pemberton added. "And we chose to do the 99."
In the immediate aftermath of the penalty, Buescher was dumbfounded. "I never locked bumpers," he told crew chief Chris Rice over the radio. "I thought I was doing a legal thing." Buescher pointed to the evidence from the television camera mounted on the rear of Keselowski's car, which appeared to show the No. 99 bumping rather than pushing. But race control at Daytona has 36 different cameras at its disposal, and what viewers saw and what NASCAR deemed worthy of a penalty may not have been the same thing.
"It all depends on what lap you were looking at, and where you were looking at in the lap," Pemberton said. "That wasn't the camera we had, and I don't know what lap or where on the race track that was taken."
Added Buescher: "There was a lot of bumping going on out there, and there's no telling which time they're saying I'm black-flagged for," said the former Truck Series champion, who moved into Nationwide this season. "It's really unfortunate, because we had a solid, solid car."
The rule against tandem drafting forced many drivers to adapt. Given there was only one black flag in the event, "everyone handled themselves pretty well," said race winner Regan Smith. Still, the change required an adjustment.
"We were being very intentional about not hooking up," said Trevor Bayne, who finished third. "I really had to think about that. There are a lot of times that I just wanted to get to somebody's bumper and stay there, or have someone pushing me. Just like at the end of that race on the backstretch, when the 11 car (of Elliott Sadler) was bumping me, it would have been very easy to stay on the back of that 7 car (of Smith), but I had to have at least a paper-thin air gap between us, or we could be in trouble."
Buescher was able to stay on the lead lap after making his pass-through, and got back up to 15th. He was aiming to get back in the top 10, but he was in a low line of traffic that became stacked up at the end. Afterward, Buescher said he planned to seek out Nationwide Series director Wayne Auton and ask for further explanation on the penalty.
"Obviously, they're going to make calls," he said. "They had to make an example out of somebody. I saw people that actually had their bumpers locked on and not get penalties. I'm still a little bit baffled by it."
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