Pemberton announces on-track incident rules
August 15, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
RELATED: NASCAR official statement on changes
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- NASCAR expanded its rulebook Friday, barring drivers from leaving their cars until ordered to do so by series, track or safety officials.
NASCAR Vice President of Competition and Racing Development Robin Pemberton made the announcement Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway, saying the bulletin was intended to formalize procedures after on-track crashes.
"As we have demonstrated in our history that we are willing to react quickly to different incidents ... this morning we are formalizing one of ... our at-track regulations," Pemberton said.
The move was made following last weekend's sprint car accident involving former NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and New York short track driver Kevin Ward Jr., who left his car to confront Stewart during a caution period before he was fatally struck.
The rules take effect immediately, ahead of race weekends for all three national series -- the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series at Michigan and the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
"Through time you have to recognize when you get a reminder or tap on the shoulder, something that may need to be addressed," Pemberton said. "This is one of those times where we look outside our sport and we look at other things, and we feel like it was time to address this."
Drivers are reminded to stay in their vehicles during the drivers' meeting held before every NASCAR national series race, a practice that Pemberton called "informal, but just an understanding over the years." Friday's addendum -- Section 9-16: On-Track Incident Procedure -- outlines and expands upon that reminder, adding that potential penalties for violations of the new rule would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Exceptions to the rule would be made for instances of fire, smoke in the cockpit or other emergency situations that would require expedited egress. The rule also cautions both drivers and crew members from approaching any part of the racing surface, apron or any moving vehicles.
"It's a behavioral penalty," Pemberton said. "We'll acknowledge it when it happens."
Ward was killed last Saturday night when he was struck by the passing car of Stewart during a sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Ward, 20, crashed after a collision with Stewart during the 25-lap feature, prompting Ward to quickly dismount to confront the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion during the yellow flag.
Ward walked toward where the cars were circling under caution and gestured at Stewart before he was fatally struck.
Drivers have a long history in NASCAR of expressing displeasure toward their rivals after crashes, ranging from mere hand gestures up to thrown heat shields from driving shoes or hurled racing helmets. In doing so, they have either delayed or disregarded directives from series, track or safety officials.
In last Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen International, JJ Yeley exited his car to show his disdain for Trevor Bayne after a midrace crash. Yeley delayed walking to the ambulance and safety crew, instead opting to gesture at Bayne's car during the caution period before making the mandatory trip to the infield care center. Under the new rules, such a display would result in a penalty.
Early reaction fromdrivers to the change was positive, with veteran Jeff Burton -- Stewart's fill-in this weekend in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet -- offering his commendations.
"As we all know, NASCAR has been unbelievable in regard to safety, I believe has led the industry as it relates to safety for the last 10 years or so," Burton said. "I think NASCAR does a really good job of looking at all the information and making the best decision they can make. So I support the decision that they feel like it's what they need to do. It's pretty simple. I'm proud that they want safety to be on the forefront and that's what this rule is all about."
Flamboyant displays after on-track disagreements, however, have typically resulted in highlight-reel footage, including Stewart throwing his helmet at Matt Kenseth's passing car during a caution period at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2012. That video clip stoked fan interest and was used on a promotional basis by tracks, the series and its broadcast partners.
Burton simply said going forward that "safety overrides entertainment" and Pemberton dismissed the notion that the new rule would diminish the sport's glitz.
"This rule is really put in place for the safety of all of our competitors," Pemberton said. "It's safety first right now."