NASCAR is hoping that there will be a lot less contact between drivers this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. The sanctioning body mandated a new 'softer' bumper be used this weekend by Nextel Cup cars in an effort to reduce bump drafting.
Bump drafting has been the culprit of several mutli-car crashes on restrictor plate racetracks. The dangers of bump drafting were launched into the public eye after reigning Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart adamantly came out about its dangers in Daytona earlier this year. NASCAR designed the changes to be effective this weekend at Talladega.
"I give NASCAR 1,000 percent credit for being proactive," said reigning Cup series champion Stewart. "Hopefully it's the right thing. I mean, it's something we discussed with them in February. If it's something that makes the racing better for everybody and keeps everybody out of that situation (bump-drafting), then it's done its job. At least NASCAR is trying something for this event. We'll see how it works out."
Basically, they have limited the steel plates that reinforce the front bumpers on cars making them more crushable. The process of bump drafting is ramming the rear of another car with your bumper to gain momentum to make a pass.
If it is done improperly, which is often the case with rookie drivers, it can cause the car you hit to turn violently and thusly setting off the chain reaction 'big one' restrictor plate races have become so known for.
NASCAR is hoping the new softer bumpers will disable drivers from striking another car with force without damaging their own car. Most drivers, however, don't think it is going to make much of a difference.
"I'd be surprised if you're not able to do it like you need to be doing it," said Dale Earnhardt, Jr. of bump drafting and the new soft bumper. "With the tubing that I see that they are using and everything, I think you'll still be able to bump draft effective and it will still be an effective way to advance your position and the guy in front of you, as well. If you do it right, the person that's on the receiving end is appreciative of the help.
"People just don't like being knocked the fire out of all the time to where we're knocking the bumpers off. Because at the end of the race when the bumper is all the way mashed into the fuel cell, some guys won't push you because it just basically just lift the car up and spin you out, because all you're doing is getting into the bumper cover and there's nothing there. At least we'll have the bumpers on the back of the cars near the end of the race where you can still get some help when you need it."
Racers will always push the envelope and soft bumpers won't change that this weekend. There will still be bump drafting as drivers sort out how hard they can hit someone without significantly damaging their cars.