Drafting at Talledega to be monitored

Updated: November 1, 2009, 4:48 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The first and maybe even second, third or fourth car to cross the finish line in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway may not be declared the winner if NASCAR rules an advantage was gained by bump drafting or pushing through the final turn.

NASCAR president Mike Helton warned in the driver's meeting that the governing body will not tolerate bump drafting, pushing, doubling up or "whatever you call it'' through the turns from the start through the finish of the 188-lap event.

He also said more attention will be paid to aggressive driving on the straightaways.

When Ryan Newman asked if the fifth-place car could be declared the winner if the top four are locked up coming out of the final turn Helton said, "Possibly.''

We understand what this opens up, but we are at the point where we think we need to get involved. We're asking you not to do it and telling you not to do it.

-- NASCAR president Mike Helton
during a Sunday drivers meeting

"We understand what this opens up, but we are at the point where we think we need to get involved,'' Helton said. "We're asking you not to do it and telling you not to do it.''

NASCAR hopes to avoid incidents such as April's horrific last-lap crash that sent Carl Edwards' car flying into the catch fence after he and winner Brad Keselowski broke from the field.

A similar incident happened between Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart on the final lap of the last restrictor plate race at Daytona in July.

In both incidents two cars locked up and pulled away from the pack, and one crashed trying to block the other. It is a phenomenon that has been created by the new car, something that drivers seldom saw with the old car.

It has created a danger that NASCAR hopes to prevent by mandating absolutely no pushing in the turns.

"If there's doubt [you were pushing] you may get a warning,'' Helton said. "You may not.''

Track officials hope they got the attention of drivers when they parked Michael Waltrip for pushing Jimmie Johnson's car through the corners during Friday's second practice.

"It at least sent a good point of conversation out there in the Motorhome 500 lot,'' Series director John Darby said on Saturday.

Several drivers in the meeting expressed a concern, understanding the guilty party is completely a judgment call by NASCAR. Juan Pablo Montoya asked what the driver in front was supposed to do when the second-place driver gets on his bumper.

"Say, 'Get off of me?' '' he asked, drawing a few chuckles.

When asked if both or one of the drivers would be penalized in that situation, Helton said, "That's what we have to figure out.''

Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon understands the premise of the rule, but he is concerned on how it will be policed. He reminded that Aric Almirola pushed Kyle Busch to the win in Saturday's Truck Series race.

"They're not under the same stipulations we are,'' he said.

Several drivers said it is almost impossible to pass, particularly with less horsepower because NASCAR mandated smaller holes in the restrictor plates, without locking up.

"Oh, this is going to be fun,'' one crew chief said as he left the meeting.

NASCAR typically warns drivers about aggressive driving at Talladega and Daytona, where cars are bunched in large packs at high speeds because the restrictor plates makes 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 two-car breakaways. They warned a few that didn't listen during the second practice, black-flagging Waltrip after he failed to back off of Johnson.

"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.''

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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