Rule Changes and Clarifications for 2023
NASCAR revealed some new rules and clarifications for a specific rule today. One of the first things that they talked about was the incredible move that Ross Chastain pulled off at Martinsville last season to advance into the Championship 4. If you haven’t seen it, click here, it will blow your mind that this worked in a real race. We’ll talk more about that later. Some of the major rule changes are removal of stage cautions for road courses, lower penalties for loose wheels, and the choose-rule being expanded. The restart zone will be expanded 50% for the first five races, the damaged vehicle policy (DVP) is established to 7 minutes, and vehicle interference on pit road will be monitored closer this year by officials.
If you haven’t clicked on the link to watch this move, click here, you must watch it. In a basic description though, Chastain was two points behind Hamlin to move into the championship 4 at Phoenix. In a last effort he floors it smashing into the wall, rides the wall around turns 3 & 4, passing five cars, moving all the way to 5th position, and beating Hamlin into the Championship 4 by 3 points. While this move was amazing to see it was completely dangerous. If there had been any defect in the wall, his car could have been a torpedo right into the grandstands. Even though the wall did hold, if he didn’t hit it at the right angle, he could have demolished the front end of his car, throwing who knows what parts into the stands injuring fans.
Not only was it a possible hazard to people in the grandstands, but he also put himself in danger. With the safety concerns already around the Next Gen car there was no telling what could’ve happened from an impact like that. By this point there Kurt Busch had already announced he was done for the season and there was still hesitation about Bowman racing at Phoenix the next week. Sometimes drivers have to be protected from themselves. If he hadn’t hit at that angle, his car would have been a pinball across the track and put other drivers at risk. This was a cool move, but it should never be done again. There is too much risk involved in it.
Road Course Stage Cautions and Loose Wheel Penalties
According to Zach Sturniolo from nascar.com, NASCAR is taking these away based on the NASCAR Fan Council data and industry discussions. This is an unnecessary adjustment for NASCAR to make. They are still going to be awarding stage points through the top 10 at the same number of laps, but just aren’t going to have the between stage caution. The only thing this is going to do is keep the cars spread out and take away the most exciting part of road courses, the restarts.
The on-track racing at road courses is improving, but let’s be honest. There is a reason Chase Elliot is so highly favored at road courses. There are only about 10 drivers that you can honestly say could win at any road course on the schedule and it may even be a shorter list than that. With the amount of road courses on the schedule teams and drivers have been trying to get as much help as possible. Teams are still going to be short pitting the stages, sacrificing stage points to win the race, and NASCAR is going to lose its most exciting part of the race.
Lowering the loose wheel penalty is a good move for NASCAR. Last year, if a loose wheel came off the car, teams were fined, and crew chiefs were suspended four races. Now, if it comes loose on pit road, it’s a pass-through penalty. If a wheel comes loose on the track, it’s a two-lap penalty and a two-crew member suspension. Last season, we saw multiple loose wheel issues. These were from different teams, different manufacturers, which leads me to believe that NASCAR has recognized that it may be an issue with the new design and it’s still going to keep happening.
Track Rule Changes
For the first five races, NASCAR is going to extend the restart zone by 50%. This is a great idea and I think it will go well. When the race is restarted from a caution, the leader “controls” the restart. The other drivers cannot accelerate until the leader does inside the marked restart zone. Currently the zone is so small that there is no advantage for the lead car. Extending the zone will give the leader the advantage back and honestly may bring some penalties with drivers jumping the start.
Another part of restarts that’s changing is the choose rule will go into effect for superspeedways and the dirt races. During cautions, on the last lap drivers can choose which lane they want to restart in. This has been a great success at all the other tracks and I’m surprised it has taken them this long to put it in place at superspeedways. They were currently just stacking them up, odd numbers on the inside, and even numbers on the outside with the leader getting choice of which lane they wanted. The choose rule allows the drivers to decide where they want to restart even if they want to give up a few positions to get the preferred line or take track position on the unpreferred line.
Pit Road Rule Changes
Lastly, NASCAR will be more strictly enforcing pit box rules and changed the DVP, again. The DVP originally started last year at 6 minutes. At the start of the playoffs, they increased the time to 10 minutes. Now, they’re lowering it back down to 7 minutes. They increased the time last season stating that teams were needing more time due to unfamiliarity with the new car. I think it’s just that they knew that a lot of their problems were due to the bad parts they were supplying to the teams. However, 7 minutes seems like a fair amount of time to work on the cars. If something that serious has happened to your car that it can’t be fixed in 7 minutes for you to make minimum speed, you shouldn’t have that car on the track anyway.
NASCAR is also going to be enforcing vehicles encroaching on pit crews when they come in for service. This is something I’m interested to learn more about. We have seen over the last few seasons we have seen a few pit crew members get injured by drivers trying to get into the boxes in front of a crew currently working. However there haven’t been any penalties for this. Pit crew members are at risk every time they go over the wall, but just like drivers we should always be looking for ways to improve the safety around their jobs.
I’m not sure if this is what they were going for when they talked about the rule or if they were talking about drivers going through other boxes to get to theirs. Drivers are allowed to drive through three boxes before the pull into theirs. I think both encompass the same thing no matter which way you look at it. If a driver puts any pit crew member at any additional safety risk, they should be penalized for it.
Even though we won’t be seeing anyone pull the Chastain anymore, it’s for the best. A move like that is just too risky. Along with that NASCAR is looking to improve safety in other areas which is never a bad thing. By extending the restart zone and having more races with the choose rule, they are putting some control of the race back in the hands of the drivers. This will bring us more interesting restarts and competitive racing. I don’t know what they’re thinking by removing the post stage caution. They’re removing the most exciting part of their road course races. We’ll just have to wait and see.