Brooklyn, Mich. — On the heels of tragedy on a dirt track in upstate New York last weekend, NASCAR has added a rule to increase on-track safety.
The announcement was made early Friday at Michigan International Speedway, site of this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup series Pure Michigan 400 race.
Kevin Ward Jr., a 20-year-old local racer, was killed Saturday in a sprint car race when he left his car following an on-track incident with NASCAR Sprint Cup three-time series champion Tony Stewart. Ward walked to the middle of the short track gesturing at Stewart. Stewart’s car hit Ward, killing him.
There is an ongoing police investigation, but no charges have been filed. Ward's funeral was Thursday. Stewart, who enjoys participating in short-track racing during his free time, withdrew from last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup series race at Watkins Glen. He also has withdrawn from this weekend’s Pure Michigan 400 at MIS.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development, in outlining the new rule — Section 9-16 — said it formalizes an understanding drivers have had over the years. The rule, which will apply to all of its racing series, is effective immediately.
“Through time, you have to recognize when you get a reminder or tap on the shoulder something that may need to be addressed,” Pemberton said at a news conference Friday morning. “This is one of those times where we look outside our sport and look at other things, and we feel like it was time to address this.
“(The tragedy Saturday night) was one of those that obviously everybody paid attention to. (The rules addition) was on the heels of that.”
NASCAR’s new rule indicates that at no time should a driver or crew member approach any portion of the racing surface or apron, and at no time should a driver or crew member approach another moving vehicle.
Pemberton was asked if this rule will take away from some of the many highlights produced over the years when angry drivers have left their cars and waited on track to either gesture at other drivers or throw pieces of equipment at them.
Will this rule take away from the show that is part of a NASCAR race?
“This rule is really put in place for the safety of all our competitors,” Pemberton said. “It’s safety-first right now.”