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NASCAR to police bump-draft

Stock car racing is built on the legacy of the heroic outlaw. But 58 years after Bill France Sr. organized a moonshiners pastime and set it on course to become the big-league sport it is today, NASCAR's appreciation for and tolerance of rules testers and boundary pushers appears to be gone.

Drivers and teams are about to learn just how much has changed in the final five days before the season-opening Daytona 500.

Responding to separate developments Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR's competition directors on Tuesday continued to reduce the gray area where innovative mechanics like Smokey Yunick and hard-charging drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Sr. thrived.

In response to escalating driver outcry over the rough "slam-drafting" at the Nextel Cup's two restrictor plate tracks - Daytona and Talladega - NASCAR plans to station officials and 18 to 20 digital cameras in "no zone" areas of the corners where bump-drafting is especially dangerous, beginning with Thursday's 150-mile qualifying races.

Their mandate: Identify and penalize drivers who ram their cars into the rear bumpers of competitors to gain an aerodynamic or passing advantage. Officials in the scoring tower also will use video replays to assess penalties.

Vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said bumping in the corners no longer can be tolerated, forcing NASCAR to "make calls that won't be popular."

"It crosses over the line when the drivers are in the corner," he said. "That is not a good place to bump-draft. A straight line, it's not the best either, but a straight line is far safer than in the corners.

"There's guys that haven't totally honed the craft of bump drafting."

Second-year Cup driver Kyle Busch, 20, nearly started a multicar wreck Sunday in the Bud Shootout by bumping Mark Martin in a corner.

But there are veterans, most notably Earnhardt Jr., who have mastered the art of bumping roughly but not necessarily recklessly. Though veteran Tony Stewart warned that "we're going to kill somebody" if NASCAR did not step in, the series will truly underscore its seriousness if it penalizes the popular Earnhardt at a restrictor-plate event in which he thrives.

Pemberton said penalties could range from slowing down for a pass through the pits to black flags, and that no consideration will be given for the culprit's credentials.

"We have to fix it for everybody, whether somebody needs it fixed for themselves or not," he said. "We're not picking on anybody. We're trying to do what's best for the sport all across the board."

Pemberton said not all bumps will be deemed penalties. Still, two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip thinks NASCAR is taking on a huge task in policing the draft.

"That's going to be really arbitrary to police because even the most (subtle) bump drafts at a time when a guy's getting ready to make a move in another direction can result in sending a guy out of control," he told the Associated Press. "It seems to me it would have to result in a crash before (NASCAR) could react. If you bump draft going straight really hard, that's okay."

NASCAR officials also were not amused by the latest in a series of rules-bending attempts by crew chief Chad Knaus, which resulted in his ejection for the rest of Speedweeks, a likely two-race suspension, and disallowing Jimmie Johnson's fifth-best qualifying time for Sunday's Daytona 500. Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet was rigged with a mechanism in the track bar adjustment system that pushed out the lower right corner of the rear window by more than an inch - well beyond allowable limits - to create an aerodynamic advantage.

Nextel Cup series director John Darby said Knaus' recent history (he was suspended for two races last year, but won an appeal) had a small part in NASCAR invoking an "emergency action" clause to ban him from the grounds.

"We're aware of Chad's past penalties," Darby said. "Is it a topic of conversation as we meet about the penalty? Yeah, briefly, but it's a lot easier for us to address each penalty situation on its own, with its own merits, but along with that, it's not that much different in the world we live in: A first-time offense for somebody is a lot of the times treated a little softer than somebody that has a history."

Pemberton said "more than likely" a fine or suspension "will get discussion" on Monday.