As Busch takes lead, NASCAR reinforces rules

As Busch takes lead, NASCAR reinforces rules
September 14, 2013, 7:30 pm
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Jerry Bonkowski

JOLIET, Ill. – On a day that Kyle Busch ran a near-perfect race en route to winning Saturday's Dollar General 300 Nationwide Series race, NASCAR officials told Sprint Cup teams that they expect perfect compliance with a refocused emphasis on the sport's rules in Sunday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Busch dominated Saturday's race, leading 195 of 200 laps – breaking the late Dale Earnhardt's record of most laps led on a 1.5-mile track (194 of 200 laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1986) – earning his fifth perfect driver rating of the season on the Nationwide Series circuit.

It was also Busch's 10th win in 20 starts in the Nationwide Series this season.

But the bigger news of the day was the continued reverberation from last Saturday night's race at Richmond that resulted in a number of penalties, not to mention drivers being added (Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon) and disqualified (Martin Truex Jr.) from the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs.

In rare occurence, NASCAR's top officials met with the media for a second straight day to assure fans that it will no longer turn a blind eye to rules violations on the race track.

Following a mandatory meeting with all Sprint Cup drivers, crew chiefs and team owners early Saturday afternoon, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, President Mike Helton and Vice President Robin Pemberton spoke with the media for the second time in less than 24 hours.

Having endured one of the greatest credibility and integrity scandals in NASCAR's 65-year history, France and his top lieutenants made it clear – especially to disenchanted fans still upset at the nefarious events that took place at Richmond – that no shenanigans will be permitted.

"We wanted to be very clear and we wanted to reinforce the cornerstone of NASCAR, which is giving your all," France said. "We addressed team rules, a variety of other things, all designed to do what our fans expect. And that means that their driver and their team give 100 percent to finish as high up in a given race as possible. We were very clear about that. That's our expectations."

The sport continues to reel from attempts by several teams to manipulate the finishing order at Richmond. Most of those attempts were centered around getting certain drivers into the field for the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship playoff, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland.

Michael Waltrip Racing was the biggest offender, being socked with a record $300,000 fine, the indefinite suspension of team general manager Ty Norris, probation of the team's three Cup crew chiefs, docking of 50 points from drivers Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers, and the biggest penalty of all, the unprecedented disqualification from the Chase of driver Martin Truex Jr.

Since that race, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon were added to the Chase field – making it a 13-driver grid for the first time in the 10-year history of the playoffs.

"It was the right thing to do," France said. "We have to maintain the integrity of our sport."

Among changes fans can expect to see Sunday are:

** Teams cannot swing deals to allow other drivers or teams certain advantages, such as letting another driver go by and lead a lap to gain points, even if that driver is a teammate.

** Drivers that intentionally cause a caution will be dealt with swiftly and harshly.

** Intentionally wrecking another driver (much like Jeff Gordon did last November at Phoenix to Clint Bowyer, effectively ending Bowyer's championship hopes) will also be heavily penalized.

** NASCAR will ratchet up penalties for infractions, including the likely increased threat of suspensions for overt violations.

** Teams will be allowed just one spotter – and no other team officials – on spotter stands. Cameras will be installed to monitor the spotter stands, and the use of digital radios by spotters is immediately banned.

** New restart rules are expected to be announced before Sunday's race, another offshoot of the Richmond race when Carl Edwards appeared to get a huge advantage on a restart after the race leader at the time, Paul Menard, spun his tires just before the green flag dropped.

It was back in January 2010 that NASCAR officials relaxed rules on drivers and allowed them to police themselves on the race track. But given what happened at Richmond, it's clear NASCAR needs to rein in some of those policing duties.

"This is what they want," France said of drivers. "They want to have clarity and they don't like team rules, and they don't like some of the things that have gone on in the past.

"They're never pleased when we call them to a meeting. But I also believe that they understand what we want to get back to — it's to not worry about anything but winning races and doing your best."

Legendary driver/owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty said the sanctioning body had no choice but to act in the way it did. While the reaffirmation of rules enforcement is nothing new, it definitely fell by the wayside in recent years.

"If it had happened at Atlanta (the race before Richmond), nobody would have paid any attention to it," Petty said. "But, it was a perfect storm (at Richmond). That's what makes such a big deal out of it."

NOTES: After winning the trucks series race Friday and the Nationwide event Saturday, the younger Busch brother goes for a weekend sweep in Sunday's Sprint Cup series main event. If he does so, it would be the second time in his career that he's won three races in as many series on the same weekend (also did so in August 2010 at Bristol, Tenn.). Busch will start Sunday from the 12th position. "Not as good as I'd like them to be," Busch said when asked about his chances for a sweep. "It's going to be a bit of a challenge. I think we'll be a top 10 car. We'll just have to push hard and see if we can achieve the trifecta." … Joey Logano was runner-up to Busch in Saturday's race, followed by Sam Hornish Jr., Austin Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. … Saturday marked Busch's 61st career win in 264 Nationwide Series starts, and his 123rd overall win across all three of NASCAR's top racing series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World). … Kenny Wallace finished 17th in his 900th career start across all three series. … Eric McClure finished 25th after missing the last four races due to acute renal failure a month ago. … Maryeve Dufault made her second career NNS start and first race on an oval, finishing 31st.