NASCAR institutes new rules

Updated: September 15, 2013, 2:00 AM ET
By Brant James | ESPN.com

JOLIET, Ill. -- After twice altering the composition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup field this week, NASCAR imposed a series of rules Saturday that could serve to allay the concerns of its fan base and sponsors, or at least curtail a seemingly endless spate of negative publicity entering the playoffs.

NASCAR's new dictates for the ethics of racing may ultimately be incredibly hard to enforce, at least completely and correctly. But perhaps the impression of propriety will be enough.

Central in the new rules is the attempt to "artificially alter" on-track outcomes, such as at what happened last weekend at Richmond.

Mike Helton
Sean Gardner/Getty ImagesMike Helton, president of NASCAR, holds a news conference following a meeting with drivers for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Chicagoland.

"NASCAR requires its competitors to race at 100 percent of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event," NASCAR president Mike Helton said, quoting the new rule. "Any competitor who takes action with the intent to artificially alter the finishing positions of the event or encourages, persuades or induces others to artificially alter the finishing position of the event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR.

"Artificially altered shall be defined as actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 percent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR's sole discretion."

The sports' power elite were shepherded away from Saturday's meeting in black SUVs and prepared for a news conference.

Sprint Cup team owners, drivers and crew chiefs whisked away on foot or in golf carts, almost completely without comment, digesting the impact of a 15-minute meeting in a cordoned-off section of the Chicagoland Speedway.

Helton deemed it an "open dialogue back and forth," but management clearly had a point to make after the on-track conduct of its drivers raised questions about the sport's integrity this week.

A technical bulletin that was set to be released Saturday was to codify the acceptable and unacceptable ways drivers compete, including the requirement that drivers attempt to advance themselves to their "100 percent" ability, taking into account the condition and quality of their equipment.

"We were very clear about that. That's our expectations," NASCAR chairman Brian France said. "It's an evolving issue in some ways because of historical things that have happened in the past and the subjectivity that may or may not be part of individual calls going forward. But that's the center of it, and that's what our fans expect, and that's what the drivers want to do, as well, so that was the centerpiece."

NASCAR earlier this week removed Martin Truex Jr. from the playoffs -- after it was ruled his Michael Waltrip Racing teammates manipulated the finish at Richmond to his benefit -- and replaced him with Ryan Newman.

On Friday, NASCAR also added Jeff Gordon to the Chase field after determining that the actions of MWR and collusion between Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports "altered the event" and presented Gordon "an unfair disadvantage," France said.

"I could see this is what they want," France said of the new rules, which are to take effect Sunday in the opener of the 10-race Chase. "They don't like team rules and they don't like some of the things that have gone on in the past."

Veteran driver Jeff Burton agreed, citing the need to protect the credibility of the sport in a way Formula One hasn't when confronted with the same race-altering team tactics, such as ordering drivers to cede positions to teammates.

"Getting everybody together and reminding everybody that working with teammates is fine, but there is a line that can be drawn," Burton said.

Whether NASCAR or any governing body has the resources to enforce such sweeping rules completely and judiciously is unclear, but NASCAR officials sounded a confident tone. Vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said technology and other resources will be added.

But in a sport of moving parts and persons, how can that be objectively determined?

"You can make that case about everything in any sport," Burton said. "Did a quarterback throw a ball intentionally in the ground? What we've got to be careful not to do as a sport and a group of fans –- and I'm a fan, too –- is to look at every situation and analyze it and say, 'Oh, my God, he didn't try.'

"What this is is a general overview about, look, you're here for you, your team and your sponsors. Make sure you keep it that way. You're always going to help your teammates. That's not going away. But the deal is, if you're adjusting the race, the way the finishing order of the race would change, don't do that. I think we have to be careful of starting to nitpick every little incident on the race track."

"Contact while racing for position; performance issues; drafting; pitting; tire management; fuel management; yielding to a faster car; alternative pit strategy; long fuel strategy; laying over, you lay over for one, you lay over for all, which is fairly common in our restart language when we get ready to go back to green" all remain acceptable conduct, according to Helton.

Among other changes will be the ban of digital radios –- which are not able to be monitored like their analog versions –- on the spotter stand. In addition, only one spotter per team, with two analog radios, will be allowed on spotter stands.

This would seemingly take away a frequent perch for team owner Roger Penske. A curious radio conversation between members of David Gilliland's crew at Richmond suggested a person in position of authority and his "cronies" were attempting to broker favor for Joey Logano from the spotter stand.

That's a concrete change. The more subjective ones could prove trickier, though Paul Wolfe, crew chief for 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski, said he thinks NASCAR made clear at least its intent.

"I think everyone should have a pretty clear understanding of what that [the line] is now," he said. "If you go out there and run 100 percent to your ability and run a normal race then everything will be fine."

Brant James

Contributor, espnW.com
Brant James has covered the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, a World Series and Stanley Cup for the big hometown daily, an NCAA tournament and a Super Bowl. He's walked to the paddock with Kentucky Derby horses before post, ridden to the top of Mount Washington with Travis Pastrana and landed on an aircraft carrier with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He once induced Danica Patrick into a dance number from Moulin Rouge by saying the word "Switzerland." It's been pretty interesting so far.

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