For the first time since I started covering NASCAR in 2004, I recently received a copy of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rule book. I've thumbed through friends' copies of the book before, but never had the chance to sit down and really examine one until now.
Since NASCAR doesn't make the rule books available to fans, I figured I'd go through the 172-page book and share some of the more interesting nuggets I found with you.
Right off the bat, something interesting! The first two pages of the book list all the important people in NASCAR, and it's basically in order of their importance. Well, guess what? While the first two names are Bill France Sr. (founder) and Bill France (legacy chairman), the third name was a surprise to me: John Middlebrook.
Yep, that's right. Middlebrook, the National Stock Car Racing chief appellate officer who recently overturned Jimmie Johnson's penalty, is listed before the other four members of the France family – Brian, Jim, Betty Jane and Lesa Kennedy – as well as before Mike Helton.
Guess that goes to show you just how important Middlebrook's job is viewed by NASCAR.
In a foreword written by Brian France, the NASCAR CEO says the rule book is used as a tool to help make stock car racing "highly competitive, affordable and entertaining for race fans and competitors." France urges readers to carefully study the book but also warns: "It may be necessary for NASCAR to make rule changes and/or modifications from time to time. Such changes are designed to enhance close competition."
We haven't even gotten to the rules yet, but the "Preface" page reads: "The Rule Book may be amended from time to time." Clearly, officials like to leave themselves from flexibility.
Also, in big capital letters, NASCAR makes clear that just because one follows the rules does not guarantee a competitor's safety.
Now we're into the rules section, which starts with kind of a "because we said so" element. In Section 1-4, the book says if there's any disagreement over the rules, "the interpretation and application by the NASCAR Officials at the Event shall prevail."
On the same page, the term "EIRI" is introduced. EIRI means "Except In Rare Instances" and serves as somewhat of an out in case officials need it. But here's something else: Section 1-6 says even if there's no EIRI clause specifically attached to a rule, officials can use EIRI anyway.
Section 6-1 starts the "Safety" section, and it contains kind of an odd statement. There's a paragraph reminding participants that stock car racing is a dangerous activity that can cause death, but it also says, "Members are required to advise their spouses and next of kin, if any, of this fact." As if they didn't know?
On the same page, in Section 6-2-C, the rule says competitors are obligated to report any inadequate or unsafe condition in the track to both the track promoter and NASCAR officials.
In the recent Nationwide Series race at Fontana, Kyle Busch was being interviewed by ESPN and was late for drivers' introductions. NASCAR then made him start at the back of the field. But the rule in Section 9-4-E says that decision was at NASCAR's discretion.
It states: "Any driver that is not present at the Pre-Race driver introductions may be penalized." The key word there is "may;" it doesn't say the driver "will" be penalized. So in that case, NASCAR chose to send Busch to the back of the field.
Section 9-8 is a rule I didn't know. If a race ever takes the green flag but is red-flagged before the completion of the first lap (I guess if a downpour was to suddenly hit the track), all cars would return to their original starting positions when it resumed and there would be a double-file restart like the race had never started.
When is a penalty not a penalty? When it's a pit road or procedural infraction. Those type of penalties are not appealable like inspection penalties are. Why? Because as Section 9-11 states, "A lap or time penalty is not a 'penalty' within the meaning of Section 12 (penalties that can be appealed)."
I've heard some broadcasters say an official race means one lap past the halfway point, but that's not what Section 9-14-D says. The actual rule is a race must reach the halfway distance, and then it becomes an official race if it can't be completed.
You know that blue flag with the diagonal yellow stripe – also known as the move-over flag – that's supposed to make lapped cars get out of the way? Well, while Section 10-3 says cars who see this flag "must prepare to yield" to the faster cars, there is no consequence or penalty listed for ignoring it.
At Martinsville, there was talk that David Reutimann would have had three laps to answer a black flag from NASCAR before his laps stopped counting. But guess what? The rule on black flags, Section 10-6-A, says nothing about a certain number of laps to recognize the black flag.
All it says is the black flag "signals the driver must go to the pits immediately." The number of laps given to a driver to answer it is at the discretion of NASCAR officials.
Section 11-2 says if a driver requests a re-check of the finishing order, it has to be done in writing within 20 minutes of the results being posted and must be accompanied by a $200 "non-refundable service fee" to NASCAR.
Ever wondered what happens if a driver doesn't pay his fine? Section 12-3 says it could result in a suspension. Also, if NASCAR doesn't get its money "promptly," then NASCAR can subtract the fine from the purse money.
Section 14 and 15 deal with the appeals process, but they contain slightly different language. For example: If a member of the appeals panel has a conflict of interest with the case, Section 14-4-D says the person "shall disqualify himself/herself from participating as an Appeals Panel Member."
But in Section 15, which deals with the Chief Appellate Officer (Middlebrook), there is no such language about a conflict of interest. I'm mentioning this because Middlebrook's friendship with Rick Hendrick was a hot topic during the recent No. 48 team appeal.
By the way, whoever is appealing the penalty has to write NASCAR a $500 check for each stage of the appeals process.
This one was a jaw-dropper, because I've never heard this rule before and it affects who gets into the Chase. Section 17-3 lays out the criteria for qualifying for a Chase wild card berth and contains this significant language:
In the sole discretion of NASCAR, the win(s) were unencumbered by violation(s) of the rules or other action(s) detrimental to stock car auto racing or NASCAR.
WHOA! If I read this correctly, it means a driver who wins a race but fails post-race inspection (like Carl Edwards in the 2008 Las Vegas race) may not have it counted toward a wild card berth. I've never heard that before, but I'd say that's a pretty important part of the wild card rule, right?
Did you know? Section 20-1.3 says each car model used in NASCAR must be "American-made." I never knew that. The full rule says: "NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races are open to eligible 2012 models of American-made steel bodied passenger car production sedans."
You're probably asking yourself: What about Toyota? Well, the Camry is made in Kentucky, so maybe that's how it works. But Ford Fusions are made in Mexico and Dodge Chargers are made in Canada, so this is certainly a confusing rule.
The C-post rule (Section 20-2.1-E) that got Chad Knaus in trouble is as follows: "Streamlining the contours of the car, beyond that approved by the Series Director, will not be permitted. ... If, in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted."
Which makes you wonder: If Middlebrook considered the C-posts passed inspection last year, then did he view them as being "previously approved" and therefore found reason to overturn the penalty?
We've seen lots of crazy paint schemes over the years, but Section 20-3.11-A lists a couple we'll never see. "Paint schemes using a mirrored or holographic appearance will not be permitted," it says.
You'll notice it's a big jump from page 68 to page 172, but my eyes glazed over on the rest of the book because it's all technical guidelines and diagrams of what the various parts are supposed to look like.
Page 172, though, is blank. It says "NOTES." I figure this page is either reserved for rule changes or for crew chiefs to write down which gaps in the rules they plan to exploit.