NASCAR rule change will alter strategy
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For years, NASCAR drivers have vehemently complained of having to finish races under caution.
In a year in which the sport's sanctioning body has conceded on several issues and tweaked various rules, officials finally relented in changing an off-maligned green-white-checkered flag rule.
The rule was implemented for Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races for Sunday's 52nd Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
The rule change allows for multiple green-white-checkered restarts as long as the race leader had not taken the white flag to signal the last lap. Previously, NASCAR allowed for only one try at a green flag finish.
The rule change affects all three series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who drives for Pittsburgh's Chip Ganassi, cautioned that the new rule could conceivably punish race leader with a dominant car, giving his nearest pursuers three chances to overtake him during a two-lap shootout to the finish.
"If you have the fastest car, it (rule change) probably really hurts," said Montoya, who qualified eighth with the No. 42 Chevrolet. "If you led all day, and you have a good car, and you had the clear advantage, and you have two good re-starts, and you mess it up in the last one and you lose the race, you'd be really ticked.
"If it happens, you're going to hear some really annoyed drivers. But probably some pretty happy fans."
NASCAR officials denied that last weekend's controversial finish of the Budweiser Shootout factored into their decision.
In the Shootout, a wreck happened on the first of the two laps run under the green-white-checkered rule. The race was called and the cars ran a lap and half before finishing under caution.
Some drivers said they were under the impression that race was supposed to end under green. NASCAR officials said drivers were told during the pre-race drivers meeting that there would be only one green-white-checkered flag.
On Thursday, NASCAR officials met with drivers before announcing the rule change. Almost all welcomed the change, but four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon voiced concerns about the potential problems multiple restarts could create.
One potential pitfall Sunday is teams might have to reconsider fuel strategy, particularly if they pit under caution with only a handful of the 200 scheduled laps remaining. The rule change, too, will likely influence tire strategy — two- or four-tire changes over the final laps could easily influence track position.
"It (race strategy) was a factor in our decision to put a cap on the number of restart attempts," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said Friday. "The fuel issue does come into play and does revive their strategies during the race.
"Certainly, it'll make them recalculate what their fuel mileage is. An unlimited amount of attempts, which had been kicked around, would have made it a roll of the dice.
"Teams are going to have to break out their slide rules, calculators and laptops. And they'll all figure it out."
Gordon, who qualified 21st, said the rule change that might affect the Daytona 500 most is the use of the largest restrict-plate since 1989.
"The extra plate definitely carries a lot of speed off into the corner," Gordon said. "We're still seeing a lot of bump-drafting and you've really got to use the tools that NASCAR's giving us to make the cars handle good, which means the drivers have got to drive the heck out of them."
"The way the cars are now, the package that NASCAR brought this year to Daytona, it's a lot easier to pass," said Brian Vickers, who'll start 22nd in the No. 83 Toyota. "That creates a level of impatience."
Carl Edwards, piloting the No. 99 Ford, said NASCAR's willingness to relax bump-drafting rules may have an even more significant impact here.
"By NASCAR loosening things up, we feel a little free and not as much pressure," Edwards said. "But what you'll see on the racetrack won't be a lot different, except on the last laps."