When the Sprint Cup Series Media Tour rolled into NASCAR's research-and-development centre Thursday afternoon, it quickly became clear that the sanctioning body had decided to take a giant step back from stringent regulation of competition.
The embargo against bump-drafting at restrictor-plate superspeedways won't be in effect when the Sprint Cup Series opens the season next month at Daytona International Speedway. Contrast that laissez-faire
attitude with the stern admonition NASCAR president Mike Helton laid on the competitors in the Talladega drivers' meeting last November.
In addition, NASCAR will open the holes in the restrictor plate in use for the 14 February Daytona 500 to 63/64ths of an inch, the largest diameter since the 1989 Daytona 500.
The net effect is to give the Cup engines more power and the drivers more freedom to use it.
"We'll put it back in the hands of the drivers and we'll say, 'Boys, have at it and have a good time,'" Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said in announcing the changes.
NASCAR will, however, continue to enforce its prohibition against passing below the yellow line that separates the racing surface from the apron at Daytona and Talladega. In extensive discussions during the off-season, NASCAR found the consensus of drivers heavily in favour of keeping the yellow-line rule.
NASCAR also unveiled a version of the Cup car featuring a blade spoiler instead of the current rear wing. The spoiler will replace the wing after a full-field test at Charlotte Motor Speedway on 23-24 March, and NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said he hopes to have the spoiler in place before the 18 April race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Helton said racing had reached a point where NASCAR could back off some of its regulations without retreating on its commitment to safety. He pointed out that the new Cup car, introduced in 2007, as well as installation of SAFER barriers and heavy-duty fencing at racetracks, facilitated the changes NASCAR announced Thursday.
"We know today that this car is safer than five or six years ago - much safer," Helton said, "We are the last people on earth that want to over-regulate the sport, because it takes a lot to do that.
"But there's a lot of steps in regulating the sport that we have to take to ensure the safety and the correctness of the competition between the competitors and also balance the safety between the competitors and the race fans."