Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch 5: 2017 NASCAR Rules that Need a Closer Look

  1. Streamlined penalties with immediate consequences

NASCAR cut its tiered penalty system to two levels and, in general, clarified several points, drawing clear lines in the sand for things like loose lugnuts depending on the number left loose.  There are also now more immediate weekend penalties for inspection issues.  Teams that fail one station now have to repeat the whole process, which should serve as a deterrent to teams that may take a car on the edge of legal and see if it will slide through.  In the past, they could simply pull it aside, repeat that part of the process and roll on, but the tighter rule might give some pause if it’s enforced.

All in all, these changes are good. The exception is the five-minute damage clock, which encourage teams to try patch things together too quickly, and if NASCAR can’t actually figure out a way to time them in their boxes and not rely on the existing timing and scoring, shame on it.  The nature of the sport means that not all teams have equal resources, but they can, and should, be treated with equal fairness, and hopefully that’s what will be ensured here.  The rules do fall short in a couple of areas, mainly postrace infractions, because after all the fines and docked points, encumbered finishes and suspensions, the finish stands.  The old excuse that fans should know the winner when they leave the track is obsolete if it was ever relevant.  Do fans want an instant winner, or a legal one?  I’d venture to say it’s the latter, and it should always be.  And that goes double for drivers who aren’t even eligible for points in a race.

  1. Those stages, though…

I was surprised how little this one bothered me when it was introduced.  What I was afraid of – races segmented with actual breaks in between – didn’t come to pass, and while I don’t love planned cautions either, it’s the lesser of those two evils for sure.  Fans can decry it all they want, but the fact is, drivers are racing harder early for those extra points, and with no incentive, they weren’t going to risk the finish just to spice things up.  The sport is big business nowadays, and like it or not, there is simply more at stake than there was decades ago.

Does it change how we watch the race?  Not really.  That had been my biggest fear, but really, adding a couple of extra cautions early doesn’t change much. That said, though, those cautions need to be shorter. With nothing on the track, it should be a quickie yellow, with all cars pitting together and then back to green in three to four laps at the most.  That minimizes the amount of actual racing lost to the extra cautions.  The best option would be to simply not count those laps, but the problem there is that it’s one small step away from an actual break and NASCAR might be tempted to add one.  The sport doesn’t need that.  Otherwise, though, while the broadcast loves to make a big deal out of the stages, they really aren’t one.

  1. The low, low, low downforce package

I liked what I saw in Atlanta, a lot.  The caveat is that it was the first race with this package, and this same race was fantastic last year, too. Of course, a track with older pavement is going to race better than one with fresh asphalt anyway (kudos, by the way, to Atlanta for being at lease willing to rethink a repave after getting feedback from drivers).  Still, there was promise.  A driver could get a run and if they could get to the inside, they could complete a pass.  It seems simple, but it’s incredibly important, and it has been lacking.

The best illustration of this was late in the race Sunday.  Kyle Larson had gotten to the front running the inside lane, but he’s notorious for liking to run the top. In the past, if you could hold that top line in clean air, other drivers would have a very hard time making a pass stick.  But on Sunday, those passes stuck, and it cost Larson the race.

In general, it’s too soon to really see what this package will do, but the first race was certainly promising.  The elephant in the room is still the low front end and the splitter. Going to a valance and getting the nose of the cars off the ground would seem to be a logical next step as there’s only so much that can be taken off the back end without working on the front.

  1. Where the rubber meets the road

Two things here.  One, I like the tires Goodyear brought this week.  Tires didn’t last a fuel run and that’s such a key to better racing in the strategy it brings back to the table.  Also, good on Goodyear for telling a certain complainer to go pound sand.  When all teams have the same tires and a few have issues, that’s the teams’ management, not the tires.

Also a good move is cutting the number of sets of tires teams get at the Cup level and requiring teams to start the race on the tires they qualified on.  A set of tires costs about $2000, and a couple fewer sets on race weekend lets the smaller teams save that money without giving up something the competition has.  A savings of $4000 a week translates into $144,000 for the season that can be spent on other things to make cars go faster.  That’s the kind of math the sport needs.

  1. Don’t do it, NASCAR

And then there’s the news circulating this week that NASCAR is considering making the engines quieter, supposedly so that fans can talk to each other during the race (Who even does that? That’s what cautions are for).  Stifling the noise would be a mistake. It’s part of the experience that makes casual fans diehards when they go to the track.  You don’t just hear a racecar, you feel a racecar.  The angry, frustrated growl of pent-up power on the parade laps gives way to the throaty song of a race and fans stand and cheer because of that experience.  To anyone who loves the sport and the past it represents, the engines aren’t an annoyance but a Siren song: beautiful, irresistible.  Long may they roar.

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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To even read that NASCAR is considering making the cars “less noisy”, a sound I happen to love..IS ABSURD and treasonous against NASCARS very core!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IDIOTS!


If NASCAR makes the engines quieter that will be the final straw for me. I will not attend Michigan as I do every August, I will just attend more Blue Jay games and I won’t tune in on Sundays, I just wouldn’t. Michael Waltrip came up with this idea. If you remember his cars in his teams final year you ll remember how awful they sounded compared to the rest.

Bill B

If you go to a race, the smell of exhaust and the noise are part of the experience. If you can’t deal with that you shouldn’t be at the race track. Why must everything now days be homogenized until it becomes neutered?


I attended my first Nascar race at Martinsville in 2001. I was fortunate enough to have pit passes, and will never forget standing in the garage area as they fired up the cars. Feeling and hearing the engine…a feeling that can’t be described! I just turned to my friend and we grinned at each other. Word weren’t necessary. It sounds as if the trend these days is to try to make the actual racing fad into the background so it won’t interfere with conversations around the gourmet food being consumed.

Sol Shine

Say what you like, but it was a standard issue cookie cutter race. Not very interesting, sadly. There may have been a bit of action near the end of the stages, but it hardly compensated for the fact that Harvick just owned the joint. The standard issue Nascar tactic of the yellow flag to try to make an interesting finish is just getting way too old.

And noise. People, you miss the point. Some of the best sounding race engines I’ve ever heard have been in series that require some level of muffling to get sound nearer to 100 dB. They sound way better than an unmuffled snarly with the exhausts pointing right at the crowd. And 180 degree headers on a V8 are a true sound delight, to those who actually know what a well tuned engine should sound like.


You ever attended a Cup race?

The Mad Man

If the boys in the Ivory Towers of Daytona are even thinking about putting mufflers on the current spec series cars they’re using then they need to test out the mufflers. And I have the perfect way to test them out. Put them on the mouths of the Waltrip brothers for the FAUX broadcast season. If they muffle out the Waltrip brothers then they’ll definitely muffle out any engine noise.


yeah – the quieting of engines is plain ol dumb. It’s one of my favorite parts, hearing that roar as they fire up the cars for the first time. and – the first time they roll past you under parade and green – so so so cool. no need to change anything about the sounds or decibels.


There is a lot of permanent hearing loss going on in the garage area to the people who face this week in and week out. When two old racers get together, the most common word you hear is “WHAT?” . Some middle ground has ti be found.

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