It's not been a great week for NASCAR, and the senior management could be forgiven for looking a bit punch drunk on NASCAR as they unveiled their latest response to a week of scandal that has assailed the sport following multiple allegations of race manipulation at last weekend's race at Richmond International Raceway.
With Michael Waltrip Racing, Penske Racing an Front Row Motorsports all having been accused of seeking to improperly influence the outcome of the Chase decider last Saturday by one means or another, NASCAR management was stung by media reports that had started to describe the Richmond race as 'rigged'. On Saturday morning, NASCAR swung into action in an attempt to limit the escalating damage to the sport's reputation.
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, president Mike Helton and vice-president of competition Robin Pemberton held a 17-minute closed briefing with drivers and teams at Chicagoland Speedway at which they unveiled a new regulation that will be inserted into the series rule book with immediate effect. The trio then subsequently held a press conference to announce the changes that they were putting into place.
"A few moments ago we wrapped up a meeting with the drivers and the owners and crew chiefs, and at the centre of that meeting was what our expectations were going forward," said France. "Those expectations are that a driver and a team give 100 per cent effort, their best effort, to complete a race and race as hard as they possibly can."
The new rule requires drivers to compete "with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in an event. 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.
"Such penalties may include but are limited to disqualification and/or loss of finishing points and/or fines and/or loss of points and/or suspension and/or probation to any and all members of the teams, including any beneficiaries of the prohibited actions," continues the new regulation. "'Artificially altered' shall be defined as actions by any competitor that show or suggest that the competitor did not race at 100 per cent of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the event at NASCAR's sole discretion."
NASCAR also released a preliminary list of examples of action that are allowed, and others which are not. Still considered acceptable reasons are: contact while racing for position; performance issues; drafting; pitting; tyre management; fuel management; yielding to a faster car; alternative pit strategy; and long fuel strategy. When it came to moving over for other competitors, that would only be allowed on the basis of 'let one pass, let all pass' which is fairly common when getting ready for restarts. 'Start-and-park' entries are not affected by the demand for 100 per cent effort, and the leader of the race allowing a team mate to pass in order to claim a bonus point for leading a lap would also be acceptable as it doen't affect the ultimate race result.
The examples of unacceptable actions include: offering a position in exchange for favour or material benefit; offering material benefit in exchange for track position; directing a driver to give up a position to the benefit of another driver; intentionally causing a caution; causing a caution for the benefit of or determinant of another driver; intentionally wrecking a competitor; and intentionally pitting or pulling into the garage to gain advantage for another competitor.
"This is only a working list, it's only a very early list. It's not all-inclusive," admitted Helton. "This list is examples and doesn't mean that if it's not on this list it's okay if it's under the unacceptable, and there could very well be some things that we define going forward on the acceptable list.