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NASCAR taking big steps with rules changes

Jeff Birchfield • Feb 6, 2019 at 4:42 PM

It was a huge announcement by NASCAR on Monday that race-winning cars failing post-race inspection in its three national series will now be disqualified.

The policy isn't new by any means and is enforced by its weekly tracks throughout the country, including Kingsport Speedway.

With the Monster Energy Cup Series, however, there has been a long-standing feeling of not wanting to contradict what a fan sees in the grandstands as the race winner. Twice last season, Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Ford was docked with post-race penalties, but not stripped of the win.

The last Cup Series race where a driver crossed the finish line first, but didn't get the win was Ricky Rudd at Sonoma in 1992. He shoved Davey Allison out of the way on the road course and was later penalized with Allison winning and Rudd scored as the last car on the lead lap.

Under the new NASCAR rules, Harvick would have been disqualified at Texas and second-place Ryan Blaney would have been declared the winner.

Of course, most sports fans would assume that someone caught cheating would have been stripped of a win. It's great from the standpoint that one wants a fair playing field or, in this case, a fair track.

On the other hand, I've always hated the idea of a victory being taken away after the fact.

It reminds me of the NCAA stripping Southern Cal of its 2004 college football championship and Reggie Bush of the Heisman Trophy, or vacating Louisville's 2013 national championship in basketball or Memphis' 2008 Final Four appearance. The school or athlete already got all the positive publicity from it.

OTHER CHANGES

It's just one of the rules that NASCAR has changed for the good of the sport. With declining attendance and television ratings, this offseason has seen a collaboration of NASCAR, SMI (the parent company of Bristol Motor Speedway), ISC (the parent company of tracks like Daytona, Darlington and Talladega), team owners, drivers and others with the intent of fixing problems in the sport and making the sport better.

The group includes Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith, whose decision to change the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to the ROVAL — which incorporated both the oval track an infield road course — turned out to be an overwhelming success.

"Sometimes you have to get out of the box you're in and think creatively," Smith said last Monday in Charlotte. "The thing that is encouraging for race fans is that everyone involved wants to do something fantastic for racing. Whatever we end up with is something that will be great for racing."

Back in October, NASCAR announced two baselines rules packages to bolster competition with enhanced aerodynamic and engine configurations.

The rules packages will be in place for 17 races on tracks 1.2-miles and longer. They were first tried out at the 2018 All-Star Race in Charlotte and given an overall positive review.

"I'm most excited about the racing this year. What we started with the All-Star Race in 2018, it's going to be in the racing package for 2019 — and I can't wait for that package to hit the track," Smith said. "I think Atlanta and Vegas (both 1.5-mile tracks) will be really great and I believe that will play into what we think about the year going forward."

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford, believes NASCAR's new rules concerning aerodynamics will also have a big effect on the short tracks, particularly at Bristol. The 2012 series champion called Bristol one of the most challenging tracks in the sport and believes that will be even more of the case this season.

"A track like Bristol, the cars will be extremely fast, probably faster than ever before," he said. "We will set track records and things of that nature. I also suspect we will see fatigue on the track with the cars and the drivers."

From an overall perspective, Smith likes how everyone is working together for the betterment of the sport, which has been hit hard with attendance, ratings and sponsorship woes. He believes the key to a resurgence is a good on-track product.

"I think there are a lot of good ideas about the racing we will see this year," Smith said. "That's the No. 1 thing, the racing."

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