The 'time out' NASCAR imposed on Michael Waltrip during Friday's Sprint Cup practice at Talladega Superspeedway should be considered a warning shot to competitors in Sunday's AMP Energy 500.
During Friday's second session, Waltrip began pushing Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson in the sort of two-car hookup that had propelled Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski to the front of the field in April - a combination that ended badly when Edwards tried to block Keselowski as their cars approached the stripe.
Though "push-drafting" wasn't specifically responsible for sending Edwards' Ford hurtling into the front stretch catch fence, NASCAR warned competitors between practice sessions that the sanctioning body would take a dim view of aggressive driving and drafting, especially in the turns.
When Waltrip ignored a subsequent warning during practice, NASCAR parked him*.
"What we saw early on in practice yesterday was that everybody was getting a little carried away, and at the start of the second practice, we warned them, just said to relax a little bit and do what they needed to do and stay off the aggressiveness," said Sprint Cup Series director John Darby. "A few teams chose not to, they got warned, and in the case of the #55 (Waltrip), he was warned and still chose not to, so we brought him in off the racetrack."
Though Johnson acknowledged a somewhat helpless feeling as the driver being pushed ('When he got on my bumper and was pushing me, I'm like I don't know what I can do here to stop this'), he knows where to get a ride to the front if he needs it on Sunday.
"I don't know if it was the combination of his car and ours, but we got hooked up and started flying," said Johnson, who will start from the pole because of a qualifying rainout. "So I certainly hope to find him in the race, and I'm glad we found that out."
Darby hopes NASCAR doesn't have reason to intervene on Sunday.
"We'll watch it tomorrow during the race," he said. "Hopefully, we won't have to make a call, but if gets too obnoxious, we will."
* - attached image photo is NOT a shot of Waltrip's car being parked as a result of his aggressive driving
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News