Drivers howled and fans moaned at Talladega last fall when NASCAR banned bump-drafting -- or at least said it would strictly enforce the already-existing rule -- just hours before the Sprint Cup race. The result was a single-file borefest that ended in two ugly wrecks in the final laps and caused a debate about the rules for restrictor-plate races that still burns.
NASCAR responded Thursday by announcing it will no longer regulate bump-drafting at Talladega and Daytona (the two restrictor-plate tracks on the schedule) and will give teams more power by using the smallest plate since 1989.
In other words, as NASCAR's vice president of competition Robin Pemberton put it, "Boys, have at it, and have a good time."
The Have-At-It rule was among a number of changes announced as part of a stop on the annual preseason media tour, which concluded Thursday afternoon.
NASCAR said it elected to keep the controversial yellow out-of-bounds line on the bottom of the track because drivers were heavily opposed to scrapping it. But even with the yellow line still in place, the Daytona 500 next month should be significantly rougher than normal. It'll be up to drivers how much they shove each other – even through the corners – while running in one huge pack.
The entertainment value will increase, though the bill for sheet-metal repairs will, too.
"There's an age-old saying in NASCAR: 'If you ain't rubbing, you ain't racing,'" NASCAR president Mike Helton said Thursday. "I think that's what the NASCAR fan, the NASCAR stakeholders all bought into, and all expect."
As expected, officials also said Sprint Cup cars would return to the traditional spoiler instead of the wing on the rear of the cars, which could affect the racing but is as much of an aesthetic change as anything. The spoiler is being tested now and could debut as early as March, with the first major speedway race at Texas in early April.
Helton and chairman Brian France also repeated their desire to see drivers "mix it up" on the track and indicated officials would let the garage police itself. Helton acknowledged that the sanctioning body may have over-regulated the sport in recent years and said NASCAR hoped to see more personality from its star drivers.
Among other changes: NASCAR will now put a list of banned substances in its rulebook (it previously refused to do so as part of its drug-testing policy) and Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby has been promoted to oversee all three national touring series. A search for a new Cup Series director is underway.