Sunday, February 13, 2011

NASCAR rule changes are underway

    NASCAR wasted no time in making some changes to limit the abundance of two-car tandems that dominated much of Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout.
   Sprint Cup Series crews were issued technical bulletins on Sunday afternoon outlining changes to the size of the openings of the cars' front grills and the addition of a pressure relief valve to the water system.
   Both are designed to help limit the amount of time cars would be able to "hook up" together before engine temperatures get dangerously high.
   Jimmy Makar, vice president of racing operations for Joe Gibbs Racing, says the changes should decrease the distance drivers can maintain in the two-car tandems.   There could still be additional changes prior to Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying races or even Sunday's Daytona 500 if needed, NASCAR officials said.
   "Basically, they’re going to restrict the amount of air that’s going to flow through the radiator with a smaller opening in the grill so you’re going to get less cooling through your radiator,” Makar said. “That will tend to make your cars run hotter when you’re in the draft too long. It’s going to make you have to step out more often.
   “The valve is going to keep you from being able to run a pressurized water system to where you don’t boil water as quickly. You’re not going to have the ability to run a lot hotter than 220 to 230ish. It will drop that number down a little bit as to how hot you can run the motor before you start pushing water out.”
   Officials will continue to monitor speeds, which topped upwards of 206 mph by some drivers on Saturday night.

Yellow line rule: Here we go again

   It's become almost as much of a trademark of restrictor-plate racing as "the Big One."

   We can't get through a season without a controversy - or creating one - having to do with NASCAR's yellow-line rule.

   For those new to the sport - since the rule has been in place for nearly a decade now - that means drivers cannot advance their position on the track at Daytona or Talladega by passing below the yellow line (drivers can also be penalized for forcing others below the yellow line).

   So, here we are at the 2011 season's first event, the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, and on the last lap Denny Hamlin dives below the yellow line to pass Ryan Newman in hopes of winning the race. NASCAR calls him on it and black-flags him. Kurt Busch becomes the winner.

   Kurt Busch won at approximately 10:03 p.m. Saturday night. The first motorsports media member lamented about the finish and took up Hamlin's cause at 10:12 p.m. (I was shocked it took that long).

   The rule is silly when racing for the win, they say. Anything should go at the end of a race, they say. Hamlin eventually chimed in himself later, claiming he would have sent Ryan Newman's car airborne if he didn't duck under the yellow line at the last minute.

   Nice one Hamlin. Defending your actions by claiming you may have sent a competitor's car airborne - the greatest fear at tracks like Daytona and Talladega - was self-serving at it's best, but I digress.

   Back to the yellow line rule. In the 2008 Trucks season opener at Daytona, three trucks crossed the finish line three-wide, with one below the yellow line. All were allowed to keep their respective finishing positions because "they were racing for the win on the last lap."

   Months later, Regan Smith used that same move to pass Tony Stewart for the win at the conclusion of a Cup race at Talladega, Ala., but that time NASCAR said no. To help end the confusion, NASCAR President Mike Helton issued the following statement:

   "Since the end of the race there has been some confusion as to what is allowable during the last lap at Daytona and Talladega. To be clear, as we go forward, there will be no passing under the yellow line at any time during NASCAR races at Daytona or Talladega, period. This includes any passing below the yellow line near the start/finish line on the final lap."

   Folks, that's about as clear cut as it gets. And by the way, that's how rules should be - the less ambiguity the better.

   Because some fans and media didn't like the finish of the Shootout - or perhaps who won it - NASCAR is being prompted to flip-flop its rule again.

   I don't have any problem with people who think the yellow line rule itself should be changed. The fact it is, however, it exists and existed Saturday night, so that argument in respect to what took place in the Shootout is irrelevant.

   The only question is did NASCAR follow its own rules it has laid out in this case and it certainly did.

   Case closed.