NASCAR adds rule to increase on-track safety after Stewart crash

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

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 He also has withdrawn from this weekend’s Pure Michigan 400 at MIS.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.”

The new NASCAR rule

Section 9-16 On-Track Incident Procedure

During an Event, if a race car is involved in an on-track incident and/or is stopped on or near the racing surface and unable to continue to make forward progress, unless extenuating emergency conditions exist with the race car (i.e. fire, smoke in cockpit, etc.) the driver should take the following steps:

■Shut off electrical power and, if driver is uninjured, lower window net

■Do not loosen, disconnect or remove any driver personal safety equipment until directed to do so by safety personnel or a NASCAR/Track Official

■After being directed to exit the race car, the driver should proceed to either the ambulance, other vehicle, or as otherwise directed by safety personnel or a NASCAR/Track Official

■At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach any portion of the racing surface or apron

■At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach another moving vehicle

All vehicles not involved in the incident or that are able to continue afterward should slow down to a cautious speed as outlined in Section 10-4 (Yellow Flag), use extreme care as they approach an incident scene, and follow any directions given by safety personnel or NASCAR/track officials. Cars in line behind the safety car should not weave or otherwise stray from the line in the vicinity of the incident.