Vito Pugliese · Wednesday April 11, 2007
Last week was our first installment in our new series detailing the NASCAR rulebook. Much like John Goodman's character Walter Sobchack from "The Big Lebowski," we really DO care about the rules, as does NASCAR...really, they do. The sanctioning body that is often maligned regarding its discernment over who gets a copy of their laws and by-laws does indeed have a comprehensive set of rules and regulations in place. Our initial look into the details behind those rules has been the most recognizable one to most fans, Section 12-4, more commonly known as "Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing." As we left off last week, we detailed the beginnings of Section K, but did little to expound on it. I know what you're thinking…“Vito, you little tease." Well, much like a Crunch Wrap Supreme from Taco Bell, this is going to get messier the further we get into it. So, let's get started…
K. “When NASCAR Officials mandate inspection during the Event, if any car, car parts, components, and/or equipment which have been used in the Event, are taken from the racing premises without permission of a NASCAR Official, or are tampered with by any member of the team or anyone associated with the team; a fine and/or disqualification, and/or loss of Championship points, and/or loss of finishing positions in the Event, and/or probation, and/or suspension will result, unless the Competitor proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the violation was caused by circumstances which the Competitor could not control.”
Phewâ€¦got all that? In short, if NASCAR wants to take a look at a competitor’s car, or a component from the machine and inspect it for legality, you must surrender it and relinquish control of it immediately. NASCAR often confiscates parts and puts them on display for other competitors to see, and so they know what NOT to try in the future, or what to remove from their cars. NASCAR has also confiscated entire race cars in the past, such as when Tony Stewart's No. 20 Monte Carlo did not conform to its X-template for body positioning at Texas. The last part of the rule allows exceptions from punishment for instances beyond a competitor's control. For example, if NASCAR wants to inspect a set of tires or rims from a car, but they have been removed by Goodyear in error, then the team would not face admonishment from the sanctioning body.
L. Without writing it all out, this is an extension of the above section, stating that if a competitor does not yield to a NASCAR official who has instructed the team to tear down their race car or the drivetrain, they will be subject to the same fines stated above. When you compete in a NASCAR event, your car, parts, and equipment are subject to become property of NASCAR.
M. This rule pertains to officials refereeing action on the racetrack. Any driver who intentionally disobeys the flag rules will be subject again to fines of finishing positions, points, money, and also face probation or suspension. We usually hear this rule enacted during a point in the race when a driver is black-flagged for being too slow, leaking fluid, emitting smoke, or for a pit road violation, and he refuses to heed the order to come to pit road. The driver has up to 5 laps to answer the call in those cases; if he still refuses to pit, he will be disqualified from the event. Often drivers that are laps down to the leaders are shown the move-over flag (blue flag with yellow slash), but will not move out of the way. Not heeding this flag often does not result in a penalty, as this is kind of a self-policing rule to keep racing in check. Most drivers will give a slower car a couple of laps to move out of the way; if they don't, they usually will find themselves being moved against their will.
N. This section deals with drivers trying to influence the pace of the event by intentionally bringing out a caution by spinning out or stopping during the race. At the Spring event at Bristol in 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. intentionally spun his struggling machine in an effort to bring out a caution flag so he could pit. After a post-race investigation, NASCAR determined that Dale, Jr. had intentionally spun the Budweiser Chevrolet, and fined him $10,000 and 25 driver and owner points for doing so. With the advent of the "Lucky Dog" rule for the first car one lap down, drivers who are the cause of a caution that would otherwise qualify for the free pass, will remain lap(s) down.
O. Pushing a car past the flag person at the end of pit road once the race is underway is also punishable by fines, probation, or suspension. While a bit of an obvious rule, it’s enacted to help protect crew members who are vulnerable once they are beyond the protection of pit wall. We often see a car that has stalled in the pits and will not refire get pushed down pit road; once that happens, the team will push the car while the driver attempts to restart, but they always pull it back as they get to the pit road exit line. Ryan Newman's crew was driven to the point of exhaustion in 2003, repeatedly pushing the No. 12 Alltel Dodge up and down pit road trying to get it to start after Newman inadvertently bumped the kill switch during a pit stop.
P. We've all seen cars having to come back to pit road following a pit stop, usually when a crewman fails to secure all of the lug nuts to a wheel. That usually entails a return trip to pit road to install the missing lug(s). However, if this becomes a habit after a series of stops, more drastic action will be taken; again, it’s a safety measure to ensure cars don’t lose wheels either on the track or leaving pit road.
Q. This is perhaps the most recognized subsection of the rule, used when dealing with crew chiefs who have pushed the envelope a little too far:
"Any determination by NASCAR Officials that the car, car parts, components, and/or equipment used in the Event do not conform to NASCAR Rules detailed in Section 20 of the Rule Book, have not been approved by NASCAR prior to the Event, or are not required for the normal functional operation of the race car, (instead) altered to detract from or compromise their integrity or effectiveness whether operational or not, a fine and/or disqualification and, and/or loss of finishing position(s) in the Event, and/or probation and/or suspension (will result)."
So, in effect, the adjustable rear window that Chad Knaus had rigged up to the jack bolts in Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Monte Carlo SS for Daytona 500 qualifying in 2006 was not normal operating equipment. Todd Berrier's rigging of the fuel door and plugging the system on the No. 29 car to allow only 5 gallons of fuel for a qualifying run in 2005 at Talladega was an effort to compromise the integrity of the fuel system. Both were penalized under section Q; the rule is worded to apply to mechanical devices and modifications such as those, as well as to include non-moving performance enhancers, such as drilling holes in the oil tank lid, or the type of infraction the No. 17 team and the Evernham Dodges had at Daytona this February.
R. Section R expands more on section K, the surrendering of pieces and components to a race car during inspection. If a NASCAR inspector wants to disassemble a shock to inspect it, you can't put it under your shirt and run to the hauler and hide it. You could, but you'd look ridiculous, and probably be suspended for a substantial length of time.
S. Any concealed pressurized-type containers, feed lines, or actuating mechanism, when found in the car on the person of a competitor, even if inoperable, is prohibited. Translation: Nitrous Oxide. The colorless, orderless gas is contained in a pressurized bottle, introduced to the combustion chamber through a lined system to greatly reduce the temperature of the mixture and greatly increase horsepower. Legendary car builder Smokey Yunick used this in the late ’50s and early ’60s to great effect. While a typical system found on a hot rod or drag car can add from 75hp to 200hp, a smaller system might allow a brief boost of 30hp to 50hp. That’s just enough to help get by someone on the backstretch of a superspeedway, get a jump on a restart, or just qualify to make the race if you're a little slow on time.
T. The next section of this rule pertains to similar pressurized systems used for the suspension. This prevents racers from utilizing some sort of air-assisted suspension device to get a car through inspection but lower it during competition. It also prohibits the use of other methods of lowering the car. The Wood Brothers and David Pearson would sometimes place a small rock in the suspension systems to help hold the car up during inspection. After it would hit a bump, the rock would dislodge itself and lower the car in the front, changing the rake and attitude of the racecar. This has also been accomplished in the past by using plastic bushings that would brake and lower the car. Jeff Gordon at Daytona in February was sent to the back of the field for the 500 after the No. 24 car failed post-qualifying race inspection for a height infraction. He was not fined or punshined by NASCAR with loss of points, as his car was determined to have suffered an unintentional parts failure. With the Car of Tomorrow's essential and delicate front splitter now adorning the front of the machines, this rule may soon be largely unnecessary; intentionally lowering a car below specified heights may no longer be in the team's best interests, or provide a performance advantage.
U. Section U prohibits the modification of the fuel cell and fuel cell area. Jimmy Fennig once noted there are two parts of the car that NASCAR absolutely forbids you to play around with: modifying the tires, and playing with the fuel system. In the days of long green-flag racing (i.e. – no roll bar padding, hot dog wrapper, or Gatorade cup inspired cautions), races would often come down to fuel mileage. Junior Johnson was legendary in being able to somehow fit 24 gallons of fuel into a 22-gallon fuel cell, somehow outlasting the competition to win every time.
V. This expounds upon the modification of the fuel cell to the fuel cans. Time spent on pit road is time lost on the racetrack, as a car traveling 200 mph covers just under 300 feet in one second. NASCAR discourages modified fuel cans and tampering with things that are flammable. With the Car of Tomorrow's new 18-gallon fuel cell down from 22 gallons, this should be less of an issue than it has been in the past.
W. Section W pertains to cars using weights other than the 5lb blocks that slide into the frame rails that run along the rocker panel area of the race cars. Stories abound of Neil Bonnett and Darrell Waltrip running along under the parade lap at North Wilkesboro or Richmond, only to have a stream of shotgun pellets streaming out of the side of the car. This helped the car meet minimum weight, but shed those extra pounds once the cars got onto the track. This is also used as a safety measure as well. We have all seen some of the violent wrecks that occur at the high-speed tracks. As the car is flipping, it is also flinging parts and shedding pieces of itself high into the air. To protect the fans and other teams from flying debris, the weights must be approved in design and secured accordingly.
That does it for our first installment of this series. In future editions, we will be profiling other rules and regulations found in the NASCAR rulebook. It certainly does both exist and serve a purpose, and we look forward to showing you that purpose in the weeks to come.
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