You really have to wonder if the executives at NASCAR headquarters feel a bit nervous lately.
Although the series responded to the death of Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint car race on Aug. 9 with a new rule to keep drivers in their cars after accidents, NASCAR lagged behind other major racing series when it came to prohibiting drivers walking onto a “hot” track.
NASCAR announced in a Saturday press conference at Michigan International Speedway (MIS) that it now requires all drivers to stay in their cars until told to exit by the safety crew, unless there is imminent danger, such as a fire or smoke in the cockpit.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development, said the new rule was “formalizing something” that has been understood over the years.
“It’s safety first right now,” he said during a press conference at MIS.
“Through time you have to recognize, when you get a reminder or tap on the shoulder, something that may need to be addressed. 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.”
Sprint car racer Ward, 20, was struck and killed by three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart’s car during an Upstate New York short track race. He had approached the NASCAR driver on foot to express his displeasure following an accident. Police are investigating the incident and no charges have been laid.
While it’s a positive that the stock car series reacted by changing its regulations, the new rule came too late for Ward, who no doubt watched many NASCAR drivers walk onto hot racetracks . We will never know if was emulating that behaviour when he died, but most seem to believe NASCAR set the example that the young driver followed.
The heat was on NASCAR because the kind of behaviour that it allowed.
In comparison, Formula One drivers must have a marshal’s permission to enter the racing surface once a grand prix begins. The IndyCar Series already had measures in place that are almost exactly the same as NASCAR’s new rule, and Germany’s Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Series instructs drivers exiting a car during to move immediately to a safe position.
Random Thoughts: Canadian Alex Tagliani put in another solid performance on Saturday, which will hopefully land him a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series for next year.
The Lachenaie, Que., native recovered from an early drive-thru penalty to guide his No. 22 Penske Mustang home in fifth place in the Children’s Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Along the way, he showed he’s a team player by helping his Penske outfit get back atop the standings in the owner’s championship. The car went into Mid-Ohio three points behind the Joe Gibbs No. 54 entry, but Tagliani ensured it left 21 markers to the better.
“I wanted to go out and win so bad and I felt we had a car that could fight for the victory, but today turned out to be big picture racing,” Tagliani said after the race.
“We needed a decent finish and we needed to bring the car home in one piece to capitalize on the 54’s misfortunate circumstance to gain ground in the owners’ championship. Overall, we had a great race and gained the owners’ point lead for Roger [Penske] and Team Penske and that is something I am very happy about.”
The turning point came when Sam Hornish Jr. took the No. 54 to the garage just past the halfway point in the race because of engine trouble. Although Tagliani may have had the spurs to muscle his Mustang back to the front, he instead drove a safe race and scored 389 valuable points.
His eagerness to go for it may have also been tempered by the fact that the driver ahead of him on track on Saturday was Chase Elliott, who had criticized Tagliani following the June Nationwide at Road America and may have been looking for payback.