Aggressive drivers face stiffer scrutiny
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- NASCAR plans to crack down on aggressive driving and bump drafting beginning with Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway, particularly regarding two-car breakaways that have become commonplace with the new car.
"It at least sent a good point of conversation out there in the Motorhome 500 lot,'' series director John Darby said after Saturday's qualifying was rained out.
We're all a little curious what NASCAR is going to do for the race.” -- Jimmie Johnson
"It's Talladega,'' Darby said. "You expect a little of that here. We'll watch it like we like we always do during the race. Hopefully, we won't have to make a call, but if it gets too obnoxious we will.''
NASCAR typically warns drivers about aggressive driving at Talladega and Daytona, where cars are bunched in large packs at high speeds because restrictor plates make it tough to pull away.
The new car has presented a problem because two cars that match up well are able to pull away from the pack.
"It's a phenomenon,'' said Mark Martin, who is 118 points behind Johnson. "I don't know what it is. I've watched for two years on TV and then I was here and I didn't do it but I saw it happen. I don't think any of us really understand how you get hooked together like that and go away like that."
Officials warned teams between Friday's practices about the aggressiveness, particularly on breakaways. They warned a few who didn't listen during the second practice, and black-flagged Waltrip after he failed to back off Johnson's car.
"The two-car draft or two-car breakaway, it's an extension of bump drafting,'' Darby said. "You used to bump draft to get your momentum up going down the back [straightaway]. That was continued into the corners and then we got in trouble with it.
"The two-car breakaway is kind of the same deal. It's fine when everybody is going in a straight line and nobody is dancing or moving around. When you get in the turns and hit somebody too hard or steer somebody too hard there's just a huge potential there for a bad wreck.''
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said that until NASCAR backs up what it says about such aggression, there will continue to be potential for problems.
"I thought there were no-bump zones or something like that, but the reason why that's working and happening is because NASCAR is allowing the cars to push one another through the corners," he said.
Johnson couldn't believe how fast he and Waltrip were when they hooked up. He didn't seem upset, saying, "Was it a bad thing?''
Apparently, it was to NASCAR.
"We're all a little curious what NASCAR is going to do for the race,'' said the three-time defending Cup champion, who will start on the pole because qualifying was washed out. "It's the first time they parked a car in practice for push drafting.''
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.