TALLADEGA, Ala. — NASCAR president Mike Helton banned bump-drafting through the turns at Talladega Superspeedway in a stern warning to drivers before Sunday’s race.
He was immediately peppered with questions, beginning with Juan Pablo Montoya, who asked if Helton guaranteed drivers will be punished if they use the practice to win the race.
“The guy you might penalize might be in Victory Lane,” Montoya yelled from the back of the room.
“If the race winner or the guy that takes the checkered (flag) has gotten that position by drafting up through the turns … then that’s going to be an issue with us,” Helton replied.
The room erupted in discussion as Helton continued to speak over the drivers.
“We will not allow doubling up, pushing, locked-up, bump-drafting or whatever you call it in the turns,” Helton said. “All the way through turns 1 and 2, all the way through turns 3 and 4, you will not be allowed to push someone, bump-draft them or shove them through the turns.”
He insisted it will be forbidden the entire race, even on the final lap as drivers jockey for the victory. NASCAR is taking the measure as a safety precaution at Talladega, the fastest track on the circuit.
Aggressive driving and bump-drafting — the act of pushing another car around the track — has steadily grown to dangerous proportions. The April race here ended when Brad Keselowski bump-drafted Carl Edwards through the final lap, then tried to pass him with the checkered flag in sight.
Contact between the two cars sent Edwards’ car sailing into the frontstretch safety fence, which held, but seven fans were injured by flying debris.
Bump-drafting in a less aggressive form will be permitted along the straightaways in Sunday’s race, but Helton warned that NASCAR will be policing for aggressive driving.
“It’s unnatural competition,” Mike Ford, crew chief for Denny Hamlin, said after the meeting. “The drivers want to do everything they can to win a race, and there’s asphalt you already can’t use, now you can’t use your bumper … it’s going to force them to fit in holes that aren’t there and be more aggressive in lane changes.
“And that’s how you get the big wrecks.”