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Racing roundup: NASCAR’s new 'no hot track' rule too late for Kevin Ward Jr.

Chris Buescher (60) leads Alex Tagliani through a corner during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 auto race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Lexington, Ohio.

Tom E. Puskar/AP Photo

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.

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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.

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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.

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After Tagliani ran out of gas on a drying track late in the June race, he swapped his rain tires for slicks and went on an incredible five-lap charge from 22nd to second at the finish in his first race in the No. 22. One of the drivers he barged past was Elliott, who was not pleased that a driver who was only doing a couple of races would run roughshod over a championship contender.

By the Numbers: Canadian Bruno Spengler established another record for a North American driver in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Series on Sunday when he started his 100th race at the Nurburgring.

Unfortunately, it was a weekend to forget for the 31-year-old who struggled in qualifying and started 17th on the grid. Spengler looked to have the pace to grab a top-10 points-paying finish in the race, but his Schnitzer team left his pitstop too late and the strategy mistake cost him a few places. He ended up 12th.

"We will have to put this race behind us quickly and concentrate on the remaining three rounds. BMW Team Schnitzer has been through a tough time," he said, referring to the death of one of the team founders, Dieter Lamm, last week at the age of 59.

"Despite the disappointing result today, I am proud of the team."

The St-Hippolyte, Que., native is already the first North American to score a pole and a win in the highly competitive German touring car series, and he remains the only non-European to take the season championship, a feat he accomplished in 2012.

Since joining DTM in 2005, Spengler has also scored more podiums (38) and poles (16) than any other driver. He is also second in wins scored since 2005. Among active drivers in DTM, Spengler is first in fastest race laps with 16.

The only other non-European drivers to win in DTM are Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto, who raced in the old Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft between 1988 and 1992, BMW's Augusto Farfus, of Brazil, who has four victories since entering DTM in 2012, and two-time winner Robert Wickens, of Guelph, Ont., who is in his third season with Mercedes.

The 2014 season hasn't been hugely successful for Spengler, who has just two podiums and no wins in seven races. He is fifth in points with three races left in the 10-stop season.

Technically Speaking: Although the outcome of a meeting of the newly formed DTM Drivers' Association at the Nurburgring on Thursday came too late to help Robert Wickens in his battle with the stewards two weeks ago, it was a bit of a vindication for the Canadian.

The driver association announced that its members would voluntarily change their behaviour in the pitlane in the wake of Wickens' disqualification in Austria on Aug. 3 for not serving a drive-thru penalty. The association decided that they would leave room when exiting their pitboxes when a car is already in the fast lane and when there is any doubt, the driver behind will brake accordingly because they have a better overview of the situation.

Mercedes driver Wickens was assessed a highly questionable penalty in the race in Austria on after he and BMW's Timo Glock went side-by-side in the pitlane. Wickens' team released him a split second after Glock and the pair ended up together, but there was no contact between the two. Glock, who was behind by a metre, yielded just as two rejoined the race.

In the same pit sequence, Mercedes driver Pascal Wehrlein left his pitbox and hit another car after his tire stop and was not given a penalty until after the race. His punishment was being pushed back three-places on the grid for Sunday's race at the Nurburgring.

Quote of the Week: "There's times that you're out there and you get closer than you want to somebody if they come back out on the race track, or maybe you're not even paying attention, you're focused on getting your car going and someone else shows displeasure not even at you and you don't see them until the last second. At the end of the day, we're a resource that a lot of other series and a lot other race tracks look up to, and so hopefully this will help maybe start a trend that not just affects here but affects all the way down to our local Friday and Saturday night races. I think ultimately that would be a huge step in our sport."

– Justin Allgaier on NASCAR's new rule to keep drivers in their cars after on track incidents. The rule was instituted in response to the death of Kevin Ward Jr. in a sprint car race in upstate New York on Aug. 9. Ward walked onto the track during a yellow to confront NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and died when he was hit by the three-time NASCAR Sprint cup champion's car.

The Last Word: As Formula One gets ready to go back to racing after a month off, there have been several "rate the drivers comparisons" out there to fill the news void. Let's be clear, no matter how much the pair of Mercedes drivers continue to dominate the season, one racer stood head and shoulders above the rest in the first 11 grands prix: Fernando Alonso.

Despite driving another sub-par Ferrari, Alonso continues to amaze most observers by scoring points and podiums in a car that is somewhere around third– to fourth-best on the grid, depending on the particular track. That means there are at least six or eight drivers with a better car in most races, and yet the Ferrari driver still has two podiums and seven top-5s in 2014.

In 11 grands prix this year, he has outqualified his world champion teammate Kimi Räikkönen 9-2 and finished ahead of him in every start. Along the way, Alonso has finished in the top-10 in every race so far – the only F1 driver to do so this season – and has four times the points haul of his teammate. Incredibly, the Spaniard is fourth overall in points with 115 markers, while Räikkönen is a more earthly 12th with 27.

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