Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

NASCAR bars drivers from approaching moving cars

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Even Jimmie Johnson has a temper — one that was on display long before he became a six-time champion and one of NASCAR's most respected drivers.

"I guess the one experience that comes to mind for me in Cup was maybe my rookie year at Bristol," he said. "Robby Gordon wrecked me on a restart, and I got out and shot him the bird."

But Friday, less than a week after Kevin Ward Jr. died during a sprint car race in New York after being struck by a car driven by Tony Stewart, NASCAR barred its drivers from approaching the track or moving cars after an incident during the race.

The new rule takes effect immediately and applies to all NASCAR series.

"Really, we're formalizing rules that have been there," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development.

If a driver breaks the rule, the penalty would be on a case-by-case basis, Pemberton said. "It's a behavioral penalty," he said. "We'll acknowledge it when it happens."

Johnson said he supports NASCAR's rule addition. The father of two also has a different perspective now on his "salute" to Gordon all those years ago.

"I'm sure I picked up a few fans and lost a few fans," he said. "Now, as a parent, if my child's hero was out there shooting the bird to another ballplayer, baseball player or football player or whatever it was, I'd probably try to steer my kids away from that. … And if it turns a few fans off, then in my opinion, they're a fan for the wrong reason."

Drivers are to stay in their cars until safety crews direct them to an ambulance or elsewhere unless the drivers are in an emergency situation, such as a fire or smoke inside their cars.

IndyCar reviewed its safety guidelines after Ward's death and the protocol is similar to what NASCAR announced, series spokesman Mike Kitchel said. Drivers are supposed to stay put until a safety team arrives unless there is a fire or other extenuating circumstances.

Stewart, who is skipping Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway, was in an undisclosed location, surrounded by his closest friends and family, according to Brett Frood, executive vice president of Stewart-Haas Racing.

"An emotional week for him," Frood said. "He's grieving — made the decision he's not ready to get in the racecar and will take it week by week."

Sprint Cup qualifying: Jeff Gordon broke the Michigan International Speedway qualifying record, taking the pole for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 with a lap of 206.558 mph. Speeds at MIS have been climbing ever since the 2-mile oval was repaved before the 2012 season. Kevin Harvick set the qualifying record in June at 204.557, but drivers breezed past that mark Friday. It's the 76th pole of Gordon's career and the seventh-fastest pole-winning speed in the history of NASCAR's top series. Joey Logano qualified second, followed by Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers and Brad Keselowski.

NHRA: Doug Kalitta led Top Fuel with a run of 3.812 seconds at 322.96 mph through two runs of qualifying at the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn. Robert Hight led Funny Car and Allen Johnson topped Pro Stock.

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