NASCAR officials discuss new pit-road and racing-back-to-the-yellow-flag procedures
John Darby -- Winston Cup series director
David Hoots -- Managing event director
Jim Hunter -- NASCAR senior VP for corporate communication
Sept. 20, 2003 -- Dover International Speedway
Re: How will a car be repositioned in the lineup when it gets a lap back?
Darby: The way that procedure'll work is number one, everybody needs to understand that it's the highest scored position not on the lead lap. It won't be the car closest to the leader. In other words, if there's 21 cars on the lead lap, the competitor that'll be affected by receiving that lap back will be the 22nd on the scoreboard, okay? Now the way that will be done, is that lineup will be compiled and that position will be decided before pit road opens, so that if that competitor is a lap down, he still pits with the lap-down cars and exits with the lap-down cars. Before we resume the race, we will move that competitor around the pace car and to the tail end of the lead lap. He will not be able to advance any scored positions. What'll happen is he will receive one lap back. And that competitor may two laps down, may be four laps down. It'll be the first car not on the lead lap.
Re: Why is NASCAR allowing one car back on the lead lap?
Darby: For 53 or 54 years, the competitors in Winston Cup racing, one of the elements that they've found useful and have been able to take advantage of through that time period is the ability to gain a lap back once the caution's displayed. As everybody in here realizes, that has evaporated a lot, probably in the last couple of years. But it was still an element of Winston Cup racing that the competitors could take advantage of from time to time. Because of that and to help soften that blow, we will move one car every caution period around one lap. With the exception of the last 10 laps of the race, where all of the current 10-lap rules will apply.
Re: Why arbitrarily give a lap back to first guy off lead lap?
Darby: I think (the) question was why wouldn't we do it by track position rather than scoring. In keeping Winston Cup racing as exciting and as healthy as we can, there's a lot more benefit from our side to affect the person that is the first car off of the lead lap than there would be to, for example, to give a car that was potentially 50 laps down, one lap back.
Hunter: So the real reason is, is whoever's the first car a lap down, even though he's not in the lead lap, he's raced hard to be only lap down.
Re: Is fair to say this new procedure is a work in progress?
Darby: Yes, I can assure you it is a work in progress. There's a potential we may see some situations today in the NASCAR Busch series race that may affect tomorrow's race. We've reviewed and discussed and hammered out just about every scenario and situation that we can imagine, but as everybody in this room well knows, you can come to a thousand of the these races and there's always something new just around the corner. We're willing to adapt, tweak, change and modify as we need to, to help complete this progress.
Re: Was NASCAR considering this change before last week's caution episode with Dale Jarrett?
Darby: I think it's not a secret that we've been discussing options to racing back to the caution flag for probably a year, if not more. We wanted to continue and have all the faith in the drivers that they could still manage the gentlemen's agreement properly. The situation last week at New Hampshire was probably one of the largest reasons why we knew we had to react.
Re: Is there a maximum penalty, and how would it be determined?
Darby: I don't know if we've got maximum penalties for anything. I think that's a situation that's totally in our control. Where those penalties could vary would be if it's a repeated incident. In other words, if there's a single driver that caution after caution after caution fails to abide by the new policy of slowing down and maintaining your position. The first time he's involved in that he may receive a tail-end-of-the-longest-line penalty. The second time he may receive a lap or two-lap penalty. The third, the fourth, the fifth -- we get to the 10th time, we'll probably put him on the trailer.
Re: Did drivers express any particular concerns during Saturday morning's meeting?
Darby: Concerns were understanding the new policy and the new procedure to make sure that they weren't making mistakes. Most of the questions from the competitors seemed to circle around, 'If I'm already ahead of the leader when the caution is displayed, at that point will I have received my lap back? And, 'If my bumper is six inches in front of the leader, is that being back on the lead lap, or do I have to be ahead of him by six car lengths?' The leader of the race is the one person that we key on real heavily all day long. And those are probably the situations that we'll be looking at and judging more closely than others. If we're going to err, we're always going to try to err in the competitors' favor. Typically at a restart, for example, if a competitor has a fender on the leader at the time that the caution is displayed, then yes, he will be judged as having his lap back at that point. The person that would then be moved, would be the first car not on the lead lap.
Re: How does the new procedure affect race control in the tower?
Hoots: It's going to add some more elements that we're going to have to monitor and make more judgment calls during the event. But I think we're capable of doing that. It's just working through the logistics of it. I don't think it's going to add a lot of new challenges.
Re: Does it clear up any present challenges?
Hoots: I don't see that it clears up any. It's just getting the drivers to understand what we're trying to accomplish.
Darby: Make no mistake about this -- our drivers still play a huge part in what we're doing, even with the new procedure. And it's for their benefit that we're doing it. So there's still a lot of confidence and responsibilities that we're laying on the guys that are holding the steering wheels to make this thing work right. The extension of this new policy is we're now in the middle of it and we will react and we will assess penalties as we need to, to make sure it works correctly.
Re: Are penalties subject to review and are all calls final?
Darby: I'm going to separate calls from penalties. The calls, it's balls and strikes. Okay? The control tower's going to make the calls and that's going to be the ultimate answer to what's going on. The penalties will be race procedural penalties, which are not appeal-able or review-able.
Re: How will you track car movement with these new procedures?
Darby: For the biggest part of it, and what you're asking me about is technically freezing the field, we don't have a truckload of new whiz-diz gadgets that's going to do that for us. We are adding some scoring staff to the control tower to help up through us. If the ultimate challenge came, there is the possibility that to settle a tie, we would revert back to the previous lap for that position.
Re: Will you use TV as an aid?
Darby: The problem with all the film media is there's nothing on the film media that verifies at what time the caution was actually called for or displayed?
Re: Why didn't you use the contract rule per the truck series?
Darby: The number one objective to this whole new policy is to prevent the competitors from racing back to the start-finish line. The contact rule that you're referring to in the trucks allowed a competitor that was in contact with the leader to race back, but nobody else. So, although you would've known maybe the number of competitors that would have been racing back to the line, you still would have had the situation of racing back to the start-finish line.
Re: What about using the contact rule to determine who gets a lap back?
Darby: Unfortunately, competitors that have a bad day, there's a reason they're a lap down to start with. And it's real hard to determine. And sometimes as compassionate as you'd like to be, and to help everybody you can, that takes a big part of what we do away. The only thing we were looking for was a small buffer to help replace that nobody will have the ability to race for a lap back.
Re: Did you consider reverting back to the previous lap for the total field?
Darby: That was discussed in great length. There's a tremendous amount of complications that come with that. If you look at a race from the green flag to the checkered flag, especially when you start to involve green-flag pit stops, there's a tremendous amount of things. Even to the potential of a lead change with maybe two laps to go in the race under caution. At this point and time, we're going to try to stay away from that the best we can and go with the maintenance of position on the race track.
Re: Any consideration given to allow racing back to yellow only on the race's last lap?
Darby: We can't be guaranteed that the same situation that could happen on lap 15 won't be there on the last lap. So as far as the caution being displayed and the cars slowing down and maintaining positions, it's our feeling right now that we need to apply that to every lap of the race.
Re: When exactly does the car that gets its lap back, get scored as such?
Darby: It'll be after the completion of the pit cycle, and before we go back to green. And probably in most cases you'll see it happen on either a two-to-go or a one-to-go type situation. The reason I bring up the two-to-go is there are some race tracks -- Talladega, for example -- which is long enough in length that a competitor may have a tremendous amount of trouble getting all the way back around and in line, and still being there in time for the green flag. So the key to it is, is the caution comes out, the lineup is dedicated at that time, so that individual is determined. The crew chief doesn't have to try to decide whether he's the person involved or not, so that they can go on and perform a routine pit cycle like they normally would. And after all the dust has settled, the safety workers have cleared from the race track and everything else is ready to resume the race, that's when we'll move the competitor around the caution car and bring him up to the tail end of the lead lap cars.
Re: How long will it take to determine the lead-lap lineup on a caution?
Hoots: I wouldn't think it would add over one or two laps to the yellow (period), understanding that we're closing the pit road the first lap now until we work through this procedure. So count that lap and maybe one other, and then the normal cycle of the pit road. Right now I'm not thinking it would add but maybe one or two laps to a yellow.
Re: What about on a quick caution?
Hoots: I think to be fair about it, because even under a quickie yellow you're going to have a car a lap back, we'll close the pit road. It'll add a lap and at that point you don't need to do a quickie yellow in most cases.
Re: What if there's no cars one lap down, but only ones that are multiple laps down?
Darby: It'll be the highest-scored position not on the lead lap. In most cases that car will be one lap down. But it could be a situation where everybody was on the lead lap except a competitor that cut down a tire early and lost three laps. At that point he would receive one lap back.
Re: Could that driver continue receiving laps back on subsequent cautions?
Darby: If he had all the rabbits feet in his pocket and the horseshoes were lined up the right way, he could receive a lap for the next three consecutive cautions and ultimately work his way back to the lead lap.